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Holmfirth - a town that’s fast becoming a fabulous destination for foodies

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:05 10 March 2017

The Cheese shop owners Jackie Nelson and Steven Thorpe stock as many local cheeses as possible

The Cheese shop owners Jackie Nelson and Steven Thorpe stock as many local cheeses as possible

Joan Russell Photography

A town once famed for a television series has now become a ‘foodie sort of place’ as Martin Pilkington reports.

Doug Scard of Here Be Monsters Brewery is helping to pioneer the growing foodie movement  in Holmfirth Doug Scard of Here Be Monsters Brewery is helping to pioneer the growing foodie movement in Holmfirth

Three years ago Doug Scard needed a name for his newly opened brewery that said something about its Holmfirth location. He chose Here Be Monsters. ‘I used to live in Leeds and for people there and in other big cities Holmfirth is almost off the map, so I went with what medieval cartographers put on unexplored territories.’ Thanks to Doug and other pioneers before him, however, for foodies especially the town is no longer terra incognita. Here Be Monsters is expanding production at a new site in Holmbridge, and it’s indicative of the town’s growing reputation as a foodie destination that whereas when he started he had to sell where he could across the North, now nearly all of his ale is snapped up by shops, pubs and restaurants within a five mile radius.

For the last 11 years the town’s food and drink festival in September has blazed the trail. ‘It’s become phenomenally popular,’ says Doug. ‘People come from far and wide now – you can’t move in some streets when it’s running. Holmfirth’s developed into a very craft sort of place, art as well as artisan food and drink producers.’

Pure North Cider arrived on the Holmfirth scene at the same period as the festival. ‘Eleven years ago we bought a small farm with the remains of a large apple orchard,’ says owner Rob North. ‘I began making cider as a hobby then, and now it’s the core of our business! We’ve planted more cider-apple trees so now have 400 across four orchards. We converted the old stable into a press and have since added a larger one to meet demand.’ Pure North opened a cafe four years ago that focuses on locally-sourced ingredients and dishes made with, or to match, Rob’s chemical-free ciders, not to mention his apple juices and vinegars. Again most of Rob’s production sells locally, though he does have outlets across the county, and in other areas like Manchester and The Lakes.

Julie Helliwell  is one of the partners in Pure North's  Cider Press Cafe Julie Helliwell is one of the partners in Pure North's Cider Press Cafe

On Victoria Square The Tap House and The Nook Brewhouse have a similar approach, with a nicely quirky twist. ‘One thing we serve in the restaurant is Yorkshire tapas,’ explains Sam Parker, office manager for the operation, ‘they’re a bit heartier than the Spanish version, so things like Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef, or vegetables. It’s a great tourist area with loads of walkers, and the Last of the Summer Wine link, and when visitors come to somewhere like this they want locally made food and drink.

‘When we opened our restaurant next door to the Nook Pub we chose to specialise in beer and food paired together,’ he continues. ‘The pub has been here since 1754 and housed a brewery too, a long time ago. The Nook had been an early beacon for the real ale renaissance, and the owners Ian Roberts and Sheila Sutton thought they should brew their own, so they opened the brew house in 2009 and it has really taken off.’

It’s not just the drink side of things that’s flourishing in the town. At the delightfully named Norridge Bottom you’ll find The Cheese Shop that Jackie Nelson and husband Steven Thorpe opened in March 2015. Steve wanted a change from his work as a builder. Jackie often used local craft cheeses in her role as a chef, so a cheese emporium seemed a natural choice. ‘The town is getting a good reputation as a foodie sort of place now,’ says Jackie. ‘We thoroughly enjoy it, and stock as many local cheeses as possible in the shop, and cheese you won’t find in supermarkets, things like a beautiful brie made in Shelley, Devil’s Rock blue cheese from Todmorden, and halloumi made in Huddersfield. And we have real conversation starters like a cheddar made with charcoal, wrapped in black wax, that’s as black inside as out,’ she says.

Ales and cheeses, and even ciders, are pretty much Yorkshire staples, but it’s more surprising to find a seven-acre 7,000-vine vineyard on the south west slopes of a sheep farm just outside the town. Ian and Becky Sheveling – Becky as a Formula 1 engineer no stranger to risk taking - established what is one of the most elevated and most northerly vineyards in the country 10 years ago. As if putting up with ‘Chateau Compo’ and ‘First of the Summer Wine’ quips was not enough, the winery suffered a major electrical fire in October last year. ‘We lost the 2016 vintage,’ says winemaker Luke Tankard. ‘But we’re rebuilding and expect to reopen in May, bigger and better than before. We can’t wait to harvest some more grapes and make some more wine to replace what we lost.’ We’ll raise a glass to that, though to be fair minded may feel the need to follow it with another of cider and maybe an ale or perhaps two.

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