When it comes to the Slow approach, it seems those early Romans – who built no towns but did establish at least seven farmsteads on the Island – were ahead of their time. While the boar and deer are gone, other resources they latched on to remain in abundance and explain why the Isle of Wight supports an extraordinary range of local, independent food producers. You’ll find everything from fresh fish to cheese, tomatoes, cherries, flour, sweetcorn, pumpkins, broccoli, sprouts, bread, jams, dressings, vinegars and ice cream here.
At the last count, there were more than 50 local food producers on the Island, all either independent or family owned. ‘There are no big companies or businesses here to take up lots of space,’ says Will Steward, who runs Living Larder, which delivers boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables around the island. ‘That creates opportunities for local and smaller operators. If you’re from the Island or have lived here for a long time then you feel an obligation to make it a better place. I think that is why there are so many local food producers.’
A good example of this is the meat reared by the Isle of Wight Meat Co. The emphasis here is on quality rather than quality – their meat is hung on the bone in a salt chamber for up to eight weeks – and visitors to the website will be struck by the statement, especially from a butcher depending on meat sales for their livelihood, that ‘we don’t have to eat meat every day’. The change in emphasis came in 2019 when farmer-owner Andrew Hobson decided to move away from supplying restaurants and supermarket chains and instead supply the local market with Island-produced pork, beef and lamb. For his efforts, Andrew was awarded Beef Innovator of the Year at the 2020 British Farming awards. Note that the company does not have a farm shop as such but does operate a click and collect system for online orders, with options ranging from peppered pork and shish kebabs to boxes of different cuts of meat.
The company recently merged with Greef’s Biltong (formerly based in Seaview). This specialist product is produced by Zimbabwe-born Nick Greef, who learnt his trade as a child on his father’s cattle farm. The dry-cured meat is lean and high in protein – for meat eaters, it’s a good alternative to Kendal mint cake if you’re out on the downs all day – and free of nitrates and emulsifiers.
Like the Isle of Wight Meat Co, many of the Island producers aren’t geared up to sell from their production sites (which are often their homes or farm steadings) so instead you will find them available in shops across the Island. Probably the best known is Minghella Ice Cream, founded by Edward and Gloria Minghella, and which produces high-end Italian-style ice creams and sorbets. (Their son, Anthony, achieved worldwide fame as a film director and playwright.) Others include The Fruit Bowl run by Alistair and Barbara Jupe in Newchurch. The couple produce jams and preserves – plum, loganberry and cherry, rhubarb, ginger and apple, among more than a dozen varieties, and are aiming to become the UK’s first ‘green’ jam producer. Their three cre smallholding accounts for 90% of the fruit they use.
Another local producer, Godshill Orchards, grows cherries, apricots, greengages and plums. Meanwhile, Wight Crystal collects, treats and bottles water from a spring at Knighton and uses their profits to fund the training and employment of people with disabilities on the Island.
There are two vineyards on the island. Rosemary Vineyard is open for tours and has a well-stocked shop where you can buy or sample a spicy white muscatel and oak-flavoured red sourced from Alsatian grapes. Adgestone Vineyard grows around 20 tons of grapes that produce 27,000 bottles of wine. You can take a tour of the estate with an audioguide before finishing off with an inspection of the cellars and, the reason anyone really comes to a vineyard, the opportunity for tasting.
There are also three breweries on the island (Goddards Brewery, Island Brewery and Yates), all of which offer a solid selection of craft beers. The Isle of Wight has also caught on to the UK gin obsession with the emergence of Mermaid Gin.