Cooking up a treat with great produce

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The starter I placed in front of my dinner guests looked stunning.
That sounds arrogant, I know, and those who are acquainted with me will be surprised because I am such a shy and retiring sort of guy.
But I take no credit for the beauty of the dish that I plated up – the ripe, tasty tomatoes of many shades and sizes, the multi-hued micro-herbs delicate of appearance but powerful in flavour.
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The vegetation contrasted wonderfully with the salty semi-hard Cypriot cheese with which it was served, all bathed in good peppery olive oil.
But undoubtedly the stars of the show were the tomatoes and leaves, all of them fresh and fragrant.
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Step forward and take a bow Westlands Nurseries, growers and suppliers of produce such as micro-leaves, sea vegetables, speciality tomatoes and edible flowers to wholesalers, supermarkets and some high-end restaurants, though to the general public.
A recent visit to their main site in Offenham, near Evesham, was almost as big a treat as tasting their produce.
It’s a huge place – many acres of modern, elegant glasshouses, most eerily empty of staff.
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Much is mechanised, with wide conveyor belts gently taking vast trays on their journey from being scattered with seeds to harvesting.
Computerised systems ensure watering, warmth and lighting are perfect.
But Westlands favours the old-fashioned method of using ‘good bugs’ to control the pests that would otherwise wreak havoc.
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And don’t let the scale or commercial nature of the place fool you – this is a family business run with passion and eye for minute detail and a commitment to the highest quality.
William Boers, the growing development manager, walks the site two or three times every day to check that the tiny plants they are growing are thriving.
Small wonder he has such commitment – the business was founded 60 years ago by his grandfather, who arrived in Britain from Holland and began growing melons, tomatoes and ornamental flowers.
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Now, says William, they aim to develop five to ten new products a year, extensively testing conditions and methods to ensure they’re top quality.
The range is astounding – tiny aromatic shoots of coriander and red basil, punchy garlic chives, peppery nasturtium leaves and flowers, weirdly fishy oyster leaves, salty sea vegetables, refreshing borage flowers and much much more.
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It’s a cook’s dream to walk round the site, tasting zingy fresh leaves and thinking how they might be used.
William shares the excitement: “It’s great to see our produce being used on Masterchef, for instance. Especially since it takes two to five years to develop some of them.”
He says that Westlands works closely with top chefs to get a clearer idea of what works best in the kitchen – and to try to gain an insight into what food fashions are looming.
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But one thing’s already sure – there’s a good chance that if you’ve dined at a great restaurant and been wowed by a dish enhanced by gorgeous tiny leaves or flowers, there’s a chance they’ll have been grown by Westlands.
With love. With care.

Westlands Nurseries, Station Road, Offenham, Evesham, Worcestershire WR11 8LW.
http://www.westlandswow.co.uk