NATALYA WILSON discovers what makes Thixendale’s artisan producers so special ahead of Tuesday’s Taste of the Wolds event

“CHILLI? And jam? That must be weird for breakfast.” This is the reaction that Simon Barrett, aka The Chilli Jam Man, often gets in response to his innovative food products when he takes them to market.

“I call it the Peter Kay effect, like ‘garlic? And bread?’,” laughed Simon, who lives in Thixendale.

“So I ask people if they’d like to try it, and that’s how it works.”

Simon has been producing his range of award-winning mainly savoury chilli jams since June 2009, when he took a few jars of the jam he produced in his own kitchen to Pudsey Farmers’ Market, near Leeds.

“I’d been making these jams in my own kitchen since 2000, when I’d returned to England from living in Australia, where I’d been exposed to some fiery Indonesian and Malaysian flavours. I found there was a great big gap in my cupboards that needed filling,” said Simon.

“I used to be a mortgage broker and when the recession hit, I found myself without an industry. I always knew there was a market for these jams I made and people said ‘don’t be daft’ – so I decided to give it a go.”

From producing a few jars in his kitchen each day, he now makes batches of 1,200 in his factory in mild, medium and hot flavours. The jam is slow-cooked like curry and is a versatile product that can be eaten on its own, and used as a chutney, to flavour dishes or as a base for curries.

“All the jams contain completely natural products – I like to know the provenance as much as I can, but more than that, I like to team up with other local producers and work with them.”

This includes Adam and Jennie Palmer of Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil, who Simon met at York Farmers’ Market, and who also live in Thixendale. In fact, it was because of a developing partnership with them that Simon and his family moved just across the road from them 18 months ago.

“We’ve teamed up to make ‘Jamonnaise’, a chilli mayonnaise, plus a range of salad dressings and oils, and I’ve also started building other partnerships with other local producers to make sausages and pies and ice cream with Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream and even brownies with Brown and Blond.

“We small producers very much work with each other and support each other. It’s a lovely, close-knit community and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Thixendale has been dubbed ‘the most artisanal village in the Wolds’ and, with only 130 inhabitants, there are three independent food producers, as well as Robert Fuller’s art gallery, where Jennie is staging the first Taste The Wolds event on Tuesday, 7.30pm-9.30pm. It’s a free tasting event to showcase local food and drink producers and an opportunity for people to create bespoke Taste the Wolds Christmas hampers or buy ready-made ones.

“A lot of people know we are here but don’t necessarily know what we do, so this relaxed and informal event will allow local people to see what we do,” said Jennie.

“Because we are independent producers, they might not necessarily see our products on the shelves, though the pub and gallery do stock them, and perhaps people don’t know much about us, so it’s bringing the community together.

“Victoria at the gallery suggested it as part of Robert’s winter exhibition and now producers from some of the surrounding villages are also taking part.”

Jennie and Adam, who have been arable and sheep farming at North Breckenholme on the Garrowby Estate since 2001, came up with the idea for Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil after Adam put in place pipes for sustainable fuel in 2008.

“The ‘waste’ was this fantastic oil product, and we had a tasting evening where it went down very well, so we decided to bottle it, taking it to a farmers’ market at Murton in 2008. And from there it has really grown over the last four years,” said Jennie.

Now they produce a range of flavoured and natural rapeseed oils, all for cooking, including their ‘Original’ and ‘Deli’ ranges, which include flavours such as ginger, basil garlic and chilli, plus six dressings and two mayonnaises, stocked at independent delis in Yorkshire, which they also take to farmers’ markets.

“Everything is made with as many locally-produced ingredients as possible and we came up with all the recipes ourselves,” said Jennie.

“We get plenty of feedback from people at farmers’ markets who ask about certain flavours or make suggestions.

We like to play around with flavours.”

Jennie believes that they are very lucky to live and work in Thixendale.

“We have formed quite close relationships with other producers and ‘share’ products with Simon, the Chilli Jam Man,” said Jennie.

“It keeps you a little bit more involved, as we bounce ideas off each other.”

Julia Medforth of Raisthorpe Manor Fine Foods, which produces all manner of award-winning liqueurs, agrees that Thixendale and the surrounding area is vital to her business.

“We’re a shooting estate and we would give our home-made raspberry gin to parties for ‘elevenses’ during ‘flyers’,” said Julia.

“It was my grandmother’s recipe and people from all over the world who come shooting here enjoyed it, so we decided to bottle it and sell it.”

In 2008, the company was set up and the gins were produced in two rooms of the house. Since then, Julia and the team at Raisthorpe Manor have extended the range and now produce a whole range of fruit gins and liqueurs in their factory in a former cow shed, including their gold award-winning sloe gin, plus chocolates and preserves, and the only sloe port and sloe sherry produced in the UK.

“We attend a number of shows and exhibition and that’s where our customers get to know us, and suggest ideas,” said Julia.

“We use local ingredients; the strawberries, raspberries and damsons are local, and many of our sloes are found on the estate, underneath the three trees made famous in a David Hockney painting.

“We like to bring out something different and always like to try new things. It’s all trial and error,” she added.

“We’ve recently come up with Raisthorpe Wild Vodka in chocolate and caramel and green apple. We’re always thinking of new things.

“We’re really looking forward to the Taste of the Wolds event as it makes people aware of us. It’s good to keep the community together and a lot of our staff are local, which also helps the local community by keeping people in work.

“When you live here everyday you don’t really know how special it is, but Thixendale really is a lovely place.”