A few weeks ago I went to a brunch hosted by A Rule of Tum (the team behind The Burger Shop, The Bookshop and Hereford Indie Food). I found myself sitting next to Jake and Amie from Jake's Cured meats – a genuinely shiny pair of souls, if ever I saw one. They told us about their Herefordshire farm, and their new venture (alongside making salami for adventurers), Stoked Feasts.
Whilst Jake and my partner became heavily invested in a conversation about butchery, Amie and I chatted about the realities of rural living. Being a city person who craves company and diversity can be hard when you're out in the sticks. Farm living requires dedication and routine. Your life plan stretches out ahead of you in year-long chunks, reflecting the lifecycle of livestock and the changing seasons.
It's no wonder farming isn't seen as a contemporary vocation.
"Jake's worked all over the world as a chef, he even did a stint at Noma," Aime told me. For a moment my superficial side was incredulous. How could you stop all of that travel and experience and come home to settle down? I get itchy feet thinking about having to do something next week. I mean, Noma!
But that's just it. Noma was all about taking the local environment and curating it, presenting it as an edible and transcendent window through which the consumer could eat their way into the landscape, to become imbued with nature by appreciating it for it's realities – moss, sea vegetables, urchins, the smell of the earth and the air still tangible.
And that is, I suppose, what Herefordshire's contemporary farming generation - the farmers like Jake and Amie - give us in this age of supermarket 'meat-nappy' packaging and cultural dissociation from farm-to-table.
As we arrived for the first Stoked Feast - held on the Jake's Cured Meats farm in Longtown, on the Herefordshire border - we drove for 40 minutes on thin country roads in the dark. We passed two other cars.
Our instructions asked us to 'please close the gates!' on entering the farm, as the animals are roaming free on the land. Coming down the driveway through twisted trees, past burning logs, the barn appeared in a puddle of light in front of us. We parked up, walked across a cattle grid and met Amie in the hallway where she hung up our coats and handed us a cocktail. It was deliciously real. Nothing constructed – this wasn't a faux-farm-chic restaurant, this was a farm.
We sat at one of the long tables with the band, and with some of Jake and Amie's family, who call the farm home. We even met the youngest generation when baby Erin woke up from her nap next door.
The food, of course, was incredible. We ate for three and a half hours. Ember baked scallops, the best lamb charcuterie I have ever eaten, apple and smoked yoghurt, perfect pickled carrot which still tasted like the ground. As we ate, bonfire smoke came in through the barn door and elevated the whole experience to something quite visceral.
Looking around, I saw a lot of Hereford's progressive foodie faces as well as, I was told, the women who own the dairy which provided the milk for the cheese course, the woodworker who helped renew the barn, fellow farmers, chef friends, and restaurant owners – the people who are making things like this happen, not just here but all over the region.
There's a tendency to view farming as a nostalgic lifestyle, one at odds with contemporary lifestyles. But here in Herefordshire the younger generation are adopting and advocating real farming, and it's all the better for it.
This type of food, and the care with which it is produced, is our own window to our environment – this is our transcendent and genuine food culture, we don't have to travel the world to experience food with complex integrity, it is grown and cooked right here, by people who care about our future, as well as our history.