Masham - A taste of things to come
PUBLISHED: 16:22 15 February 2011 | UPDATED: 13:01 05 July 2014
Fresh and local is the key to Masham's growing foodie fan club, says Penny Wainwright<br/>Photographs by John Cocks
Masham (pronounced Mass-em, not Mash-em, as in potatoes) is rapidly gaining a reputation as a foodie haven. And you can see why. Within a few minutes’ stroll of this North Yorkshire town’s huge Market Square, you can buy the best of local produce: meat, cheeses, sweets – and of course beer, as Masham’s fame rests above all on its two breweries.
Both Theakston’s and Black Sheep offer guided tours – an excellent way to tempt the men in your life to come shopping – showing how your pint of foaming nectar started life as a frankly rather disgusting-looking frothing mess of boiled hops and yeast. Both breweries run tours throughout the day, and there’s a plethora of ale-related souvenirs to buy.
The site of Theakston’s first-ever pub now houses Corks and Cases Worldwide Wines, run by Angela and Philip Newton. ‘Our cellars are still linked to the brewery via an underground tunnel down which barrels were rolled,’ explains Angela.
‘When we opened our business four-and-a-half years ago, there were two breweries but nothing for the ladies. We do good value-for-money wines that aren’t available on the high street. We’ve a great local following and we also sell online through Amazon.
‘We’ve also just launched a home wine-tasting game. Oz Clarke described it as “fab”. You get four wines – red, white or a mixture – with answers in a sealed envelope, so the host can play too, plus help cards and tips so that it can be played by novices or wine buffs. We also make up hampers using local produce such as Wensleydale cheese, Rosebud Preserves from Healey, and Elizabeth Botham cake from Whitby.’
Wensleydale cheese is made a few miles away at Hawes Creamery, the business that narrowly escaped extinction in 1992. It’s hard to believe when you see this popular cheese selling so well in Masham shops. At Joneva in the Market Square, John Maughan sells traditional Wensleydale as well as a variety called King Richard III, made ‘how it used to be done,’ alongside other cheeses such as Mrs Bell’s Buffalo from Thirsk.
But it’s the confectionery that catches your eye at Joneva’s: row on row of handmade chocolates and fudge, brightly-coloured boiled sweets, lollies and 50 different types of liquorice. It’s enough to put Willy Wonka in the shade.
John took over the business in 2006, having previously been with Farrah’s Harrogate Toffee. ‘We have over 4,000 lines and we’ve added a website. We now ship all over the world, to the Philippines, the US, Japan, everything from chocolate bars to bespoke hampers.’ Closer to home, Daniel Craig, better known as Agent 007, is a customer.
It’s a surprise to find another sweet shop only a stone’s throw from Joneva’s, but Bah Humbugs specialises in retro sweets. Many customers shop online where they can have a nostalgic browse through old favourites like Love Hearts, Refreshers and Curly Wurlys.
But man doesn’t live by sweets alone and Masham also supplies some exceptional staples. Beavers Family Butchers became so well known for their prize-winning sausages that they are now just known as The Sausage Shop (not to be confused with another firm who’ve chosen a confusingly similar name).
Richard Welford learned the business from his grandfather, who continued working beyond retirement to teach the then 15-year-old Richard the sausage ropes. These days Beavers produce 30 varieties – country herbs the most popular – as well as home-cured bacon and they sell local game.
‘Customers come from York and Skipton, even Whitby, and I’ve one who calls every month from Middlesbrough. As well as our local customers, we sell to Swinton Park and three local pubs,’ says Richard, as he deals with an unexpected request from a local chef for 50 chicken pieces. ‘At the moment we’re developing a vegetarian sausage for the King’s Head.’
At Masham Bakery, brother-and-sister team Susan and Peter Bonser make all their own bread from scratch on the premises using flour milled two miles down the road in Grewelthorpe. Vic Reeves and Janet Street-Porter are among their customers, along with chef Rosemary Shrager whose cookery school is at Swinton Park. ‘We make some of Swinton Park’s bread, and we supply Vennell’s restaurant with small rolls.
“Customers aren’t ordering pudding, Sue,” came the cry from Jon Vennell. “Your rolls are getting too big.”’ Sue duly obliged so that restaurant customers would still have room for dessert.
Sue recalls that she once had 23 dozen rolls to make and it was her daughter’s 18th birthday party. Then their oven broke down. ‘Rogers, the butchers up the road, who do all their own home-cooked meat, said we could use their oven, so all night we were up and down the street, and got the order finished.’
Sue’s rolls are just one item on Vennell’s menu that are sourced locally. Jon Vennell, head chef at Haley’s in Leeds for 10 years, buys meat from Rogers and fruit and veg from Garners just around the corner, while their game is shot a mile away. They describe themselves as a small country restaurant, seating a maximum of 30, and don’t always open on a weekday if there are no bookings.
‘About 80 percent of our clientele is local, plus holidaymakers when they’re here in the summer and we tend to get walkers in the spring,’ says Jon. ‘When I say local, that can mean anywhere between Northallerton and Harrogate, also Leeds and Sheffield. People either come for Sunday lunch or stay up here for the night at a B & B or a cottage.’
John and his wife Laura, who is front of house manager for the award-winning restaurant as well as caring for their three young children, live over the shop. Not surprisingly, the children eat a lot of exciting things. ‘They have to eat what’s put in front of them,’ says Jon, adding: ‘Our seven-year-old likes lobster.’
Local produce is key to the Black Swan family business at Fearby, says Sean McCourt, the third generation of his family to run this historic pub just outside the town. ‘I totally believe in supporting Masham’s community. We’ve built 12 new guest rooms, and 90 percent of the cost was from buying from local suppliers.’
Here you can sit in the bar and enjoy the view – 40 miles over the Vale of York – or explore beautiful Dales countryside. The McCourts have designed a choice of circular walks, one of which takes you via the Druid’s Temple, legacy of a 19th century work creation scheme.
The Black Swan overlooks Swinton Park, a 20,000-acre estate now the grounds of a country house hotel, whose castle-like appearance owes much to the 19th century fashion for turrets and crenellations. Food is definitely high on the agenda here. The hotel runs cookery courses and gourmet weekends, when visitors experience afternoon tea and a five-course dinner, with wine-tasting, sausage-making and cookery demonstrations between feasts.
Much of the menu comes from Swinton’s extensive walled garden and estate, while a band of local meat, cheese and egg producers help to keep food miles to a minimum. Fresh and local: it’s a recurring theme in Masham. That’s the key to its growing foodie fan club.
Getting there: By car, 10 minutes from the A1, 10 miles north of Ripon on the A6108. By bus, the159 direct service from Ripon, Richmond and Leyburn (www.dalesbus.org).
Where to park: In the market square (50p).
What to do: See glass being made at Uredale Glass, browse in antique shops and art and craft galleries, plus brewery tours. Nearby, visit newly-restored Hackfall Wood with its fountain, and choose from riverside and moorland walks (see noticeboard in the market square for details).