Whilst I normally use fresh produce as the highlight ingredient for the Isle of wight flavours blog, this time I’ve taken a slightly different route.
My partner first discovered Medham Farm when she was searching for some local honey to improve her hay fever symptoms. We soon realised that the owners of the farm; Ruth and Michael not only produced Medham Farm Honey, but were also the creators of Tipsy Wight, specialising in a range of flavoured vodka and vodka liqueur.
Medham Farm estate is made up of acres of fields, woodlands and hedgerows, so naturally there is an abundance of produce, ranging from wild herbs, berries and tree fruits. In 2010, Ruth and Michael decided to utilise this produce and started producing flavoured vodka.
I arranged a visit to Medham Farm to meet Ruth and Michael, and talk more about the produce and vodka. It was an extremely windy day, however after meeting me at the gate Ruth ushered me in to a warmer old stable which they had transformed into their preparation kitchen. I could already tell this was a seriously organised operation, with containers of finished products stacked high, sterilised bottles waiting for the vodka and a very special container of a limited edition flavour (which is to remain top secret!).
Our first discussion was the honey, given that is how we first heard of the farm. Ruth explained what had initially started as a hobby had turned into a small business. There are several hives in a field just a short walk from the house, which we did venture down to once the rain had eased. It was so fascinating to hear the detail of a bee’s life, and how they ultimately all work together to support the Queen. Ruth explained that the collector bees would often travel a mile or so for the right nectar, and so pollinate various flowers on the way. I found it intriguing that the pollen collected by the bees would have an impact on the taste of the final product – honey.
Ruth showed me through to a cellar where she had a new hive, which was waiting to ‘discover the Queen’. The gentle hum of the bees was somewhat comforting on a miserable day, although I’m glad the hive was sealed!
The honey is collected from the hive and cold extracted, where it is then sieved of any pollen dust, and then decanted into jars. It really is that simple. The vibrant amber colour is something you just don’t see in mass produced honey; it’s obvious the bees have a great life in their wildflower field.
They use this delicious product in two of their vodkas; spiced honey liqueur and honey & lemon.
And so we moved on to the vodkas. I was surprised at the huge variety of flavours available, but once Ruth started to go into the distilling process, it became clear that it was very similar to making flavoured gin.
All flavours are made with the raw products that are collected from around the farm, nothing else is added, it’s no wonder they have won so many awards! I was particiulary interested in the Wild Garlic, as at the time of visiting I was using wild garlic for a smoked chicken pizza.
Tipsy Wight has almost become a household name, sold in various supermarkets and independent shops, as well as being stocked in several bars around the Island and mainland, it certainly seems to be gathering pace to be the next trend. Gin, eat your heart out!
With the trend of flavoured vodka clearly here to stay, since launching the product range has grown massively, with the addition of flavour sets, paddle boards and shot glasses. They really are perfect gifts!
I was lucky enough to test a couple of flavours, which I was surprised were so different and packed with flavour. The medlar liqueur was my favourite, it had almost a rich date like flavour, one that is reminiscent of a sticky toffee pudding on a cold winter’s evening.
I caught up with Ruth from the farm –
So firstly, why vodka?
Vodka because it’s flavourless, odourless and clear therefore the taste, colour and character of the fruits or flowers truly get to sing! and everyone is making gin these days so we wanted to be a bit different!!
How have alcohol trends changes in recent years?
We have definitely seen a rise in interest and indeed support for small, local, sustainable and artisan producers. People want to know where their food has come from, what is in it and how it has been made. Many are looking for something that can’t be found on a supermarket shelf and is therefore more special.
What does the future hold for Tipsy Wight?
We have had a tough year, the same as everyone else but the hedgerows continue to flourish as does our online business and as long as we are enjoying ourselves we will continue to produce our lovely flavours!
What is your favourite vodka and how is the best way to have it?
Quince is my favourite!! I love a quince sour – shot of quince, muddled with fresh lemon, thyme and ice – top with soda for a longer drink or combine with your favourite gin for a stronger drink! Michael’s favourite is Crabapple which is heavenly shaken with the fruit of a passion fruit, lime juice, gomme and strained over crushed ice
Have you tried any flavours that you thought would work, but just really didn’t?
So a flavour that was a complete disaster was nettle & sorrel – it looked and tasted like fertilizer!! you need to know that we have masses of nettles and wild sorrel here so it really seemed like an opportunity to try something really different!! However on a more positive note, Wild Garlic has been a real success for us, giving a bloody mary a really wild twist!
What is the best way to eat honey?
The best way to eat honey in my humble opinion is spread thickly on a freshly toasted muffin with a big mug of tea! Though you can’t beat a bit of cut comb melting on a hot crumpet either!
Have you been impacted by the decline of bee populations – if so, what steps are you taking to improve your numbers?
There are so many factors causing the decline of the bee population. We are lucky here on the Island not to have some of the serious and notifiable diseases that are present on the mainland. However the bee keeping community here on the Island stay vigilant and recommend actions for us to take throughout the year. We have all got used to managing the varroa mite but a new threat is the Asian Hornet, not yet confirmed on the Island but we will see it and it will need to be dealt with swiftly. Personally for us here on the Tipsy Wight Farm we never use pesticides that can be a big problem to bees and we inspect our hives regularly throughout the season to be sure that they are strong for the winter.
Where do the ingredients you use in your flavoured vodkas come from?
All our vodkas are infused with fruits and flowers that are foraged for or grown here on the Island. Some flavours just need a few days of steeping and while others need several months but all end up reflecting and showcasing the flavour of whatever has been infused!
My mind was racing with various desserts I could make, however for this blog I’ve decided to give you two recipes. A savoury one, using Ruth’s favourite – quince, as the jelly for a giant pork pie. And a sweet treat using the honey, – delicious honey and almond financiers
Medlar vodka jelly pork pie
Hot water pastry
550g plain flour
- Boil the water, butter and lard
- Add the flour and salt and mix well with a wooden spoon
- Pour into a mixer or large bowl and add the eggs, mixing well and beat until smooth
- Rest for at least two hours in the fridge
- Roll out the pastry with some flour and line a 6” greased cake tin, keeping some pastry for the top
800g gammon unsmoked
650g pork belly
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp nutmeg
1tsp fresh chopped thyme
- Dice all of the meat and mix together in a food processor with the spices, herbs and some salt and pepper
- Pack the mixture into the pastry case and then top with a layer of the pastry to seal it, crimping around the edge. Brush with eggwash and cut a small hole in the centre using a cutter or piping nozzle
- Bake at 180C for 30 minutes and then reduce the heat to 160C and cook for a further 90 minutes or until golden and cooked through in the centre
- Leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight before adding then jelly
100ml medlar vodka
200ml apple juice
6 leaves gelatin (soaked in cold water until soft)
- Heat the apple juice and squeeze out the gelatin. Mix together until the gelatin dissolves
- Add the vodka and mix well
- The meat will shrink away from the pastry and leave a gap so you will be able to pour the liquid jelly through the hole in the top of the pie to fill this.
- Leave to set in the fridge before cutting
Honey and almond financier
350g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
430g egg whites (about 9 eggs worth)
25g Medham farm honey
20g baking powder
50g Medham farm honey
- Cook the butter in a pan until it bubbles and then starts to turn light brown in colour. It will start to take on a slightly nutty sort of smell
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature
- Mix all remaining ingredients (except the 50g honey) thoroughly and then add the cooled butter. Blend until smooth with a stick blender or in a food processor
- Leave in the fridge overnight and then pipe into silicone moulds. Bake at 180C until golden brown
- Top with the remaining honey and allow it to seep into the cakes.
- Serve warm and fresh