Exploring the Guernsey Food Scene – Seafront Sunday and More:
Just 24 square miles of pretty countryside, narrow lanes and small towns and villages, the tiny island of Guernsey packs a punch well above its size where food is concerned. Spending just a couple of days exploring really didn’t seem long enough, though we were lucky our Sunday was the last of four ‘Seafront Sundays’ this summer run by Taste Guernsey giving us something of a potted food experience. I’ll be writing more about my trip in later posts though, despite the fact I was there for just three days, there seems to be a lot to share.
It’s a time when many of the local producers and suppliers gather along the seafront of St Peter Port to showcase their products and sell to the public. St Peter Port seafront is closed to traffic and transformed into a feast of market stalls. A great overview of the Guernsey Food Scene, for me it was a chance to try all those things I’d heard about on my journey around the island. Guernsey is a Cruise Ship destination and I learnt that part of the rationale of Seafront Sunday originally was a desire to welcome the cruise passengers onto the Island, even when many of the shops are shut. It’s grown like topsy and is now a major draw for visitors and locals alike during the summer months.
I start my own food trip around Guernsey at Rocquette cider. Nestled in the Fauxquets Valley the farm was revived by the Meller family who took it over in 1998 and produced their first commercial cider in 2001. Starting with 3,000 apple trees (Bramley, Dabinett and Michelin), the estate has now expanded to 5,000 trees and produces a range of quality ciders and apple juices – both sparkling and still. They are planning to produce apple brandy too!
It’s a charming place which sets the tone for the rest of the trip. Chalked up on a blackboard as you approach there’s a notice with dates for their apple swap – where locals can bring their own apples and sell them or swap them for Rocquette cider. There is a row of new apple trees which Craig tells me are from Madeira – an experiment by the Meller family at the suggestion of one of the team who comes from Madeira. The cider tastes just like it should – my mother is from Somerset and my great grandfather made his own Somerset scrumpy – so I was brought up on cider made this way – with just apples and time. Rocquette cider is an award winner – and while not much makes it off the island, it’s definitely worth a visit.
While Guernsey Cows are famous around the World, their Golden Goats are less well known. Mandy Girard from Le Douit Beuval Farm explained that when she started to read them, numbers were declining. She laughed wryly as she told us that she’d sent her husband Peter out to get goats milk for his own mother. He returned with one goat, who got lonely, and the rest is history.
Of around 1,200 Golden Goats in the world, Mandy currently has 32 adults and 32 kids born this year (of which they will keep two). She started hand-milking the goats but has now invested in a milking machine. The farm sells home made soft goats cheeses, a cheddar style goats cheese called Girard, yoghurts, milk and at certain times of the year, goats meat.
Her hedge veg box has quail eggs and I’m intrigued as we haven’t spotted any quail. She tells us that it’s actually a shared box with a neighbour who keeps the quail- as her’s is in a better place for people to stop. We saw these hedge veg boxes all around the island – at this time of year, packed with home produced veg, fruit and jars of jams and pickles (though once with a whole collection of ‘my little pony’ outgrown toys – with a hand written notice asking for a contribution). Anyone choosing self-catering for an island break certainly wouldn’t lack home grown food to eat!
In fact, it’s hard to go hungry at all on Guernsey. I quickly become a huge fan of island hikes – here you can walk around the coastline or spend time on the beach safe in the knowledge that the next kiosk – small huts selling tea, crab sandwiches Guernsey gâche and more – will not be more than a few miles away. Open from Easter until October they are an island institution.
The island also has two Gin distilleries. I’m staying at the beautiful Bella Luce hotel where owner Luke Wheadon has just invested in a full size still to produce more of his artisan gin.
His own background as a chef means he has an excellent palate and he’s clearly passionate about creating gins that epitomise the island’s produce. He told us he’d started making gin using two table top pot stills. The new copper still (‘Old Nick’ – named after his father) means that he can experiment more with new ranges and produce larger quantities of his Rock Samphire and Pink Grapefruit gin for sale both in the hotel and, duty-free, on flights with Aurigny! We taste – both neat and with the addition of a little feverfew tonic and a garnish of pink grapefruit. It’s refreshing and piquant – a perfect aperitif. Rock Samphire isn’t the same as the stuff I know from Norfolk – foraged on the island, it’s more citrussy and easier to eat raw than marsh samphire. It’s also apparently rarer – though perhaps not here, as we spotted it growing on the beach in both Guernsey and Herm.
We next spot Luke at Seafront Sunday, with his team serving up gin and tonic and various nibbles to eat along with Oysters from the Guernsey Oyster Company who are on the next door stall.
They grow their oysters just off Herm, the small, car free island which forms part of the Balliwick of Guernsey. It’s just 20 minutes on the ferry to reach Herm from Guernsey and a popular day trip for locals and visitors to the island alike. We were lucky enough to be able to visit and out on bear’s beach, to meet Charlotte Dickson and Justin de Carteret who, just like the Meller family at Rocquette bought their business from a family who were retiring, this time as recently as 2016.
In fact, the Guernsey Oyster business has two bases – the oyster tables on Herm which we visited and Rocquaine Sea Farms just off the coast of Guernsey itself. All the Oysters are grown from seed, sourced from their own Sea Farm and are grown, tended and harvested on site. They grow Pacific Oysters (crassostrea gigas) which are plump, soft and tender – and which thanks to their unique provenance, have never been diseased. Justin told us that if he did take the boat outside their own boundaries, it was bleached on return, along with his boots and anything else that might have become contaminated!
Here at Seafront Sunday, Charlotte is busy chucking oysters for a keen queue of customers. Perfect with one of Luke’s Rock Samphire and Pink Grapefruit gins. Or actually with any one of the other beverages on offer – I’m not a beer drinker but even I enjoyed the three offerings from White Rock brewery, whose founder Ross Gledhill is one of the leading lights of Taste Guernsey.
Ross takes us off to try the liqueurs from Haut Maison too, another artisan drinks producer founded in 2012 by Stephen & Katherine Paine and now owned and managed by local entrepreneur, James Le Gallez who also runs Aperitif, a luxury drinks catering company. James’s involvement in Taste Guernsey and the Food Festival is to set up the Guernsey Cocktail Week – complete with a wristband entitling those wearing one to cocktails at £5 a time.
There are plenty of delicious things to eat too. We sample some of Lisa’s award winning Bean Jar – a traditional slow cooked Guernsey stew with white beans.
And I’m tempted by the Guernsey chillis – after sampling the ‘medium hot’ sauces I don’t dare try the ‘hot’, but instead buy a jar to take home.
If lunch wasn’t booked in for me, I’d have eaten a whole slice of the Guernsey gâche, slathered with deep yellow Guernsey butter
and I might just have joined the queue for fish and chips from the Cobo Bay fish shop!
By now I am wondering if I can get back to Guernsey in time for the food festival. It’s a ten-day event running from 15th – 24th September which boasts over 70 dishes and 100 different drinks. It includes the cocktail week, a street food evening and Guernsey Afternoon Tea Week in addition to an extended version of Seafront Sunday at St Peter Port called Crown Pier Weekend and a whole series of special events, dinners and open days. What I suspect will make it unique is the enthusiasm of each and every one of the people I met. This is an island that knows it has something good going on. And, it’s an island that wants to share.
For more about the Food Festival check the Visit Guernsey website
Or the Guernsey Food Festival website
I was a guest of Visit Guernsey
I stayed at the Bella Luce Hotel
I travelled to Guernsey with Aurigny Airlines who offer regular flights to the island from London, various regional UK airports and from Jersey and France
Thinking of going yourself? Why not pin this post for later!