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A perfect Cornish ploughman’s lunch

A perfect Cornish ploughman’s lunch

by Nancy Anne Harbord Friday, August 14, 2015

A ploughman's lunch is a staple on many a traditional pub menu, but this rustic fare shouldn't be confined to dingy drinking dens. With plenty of options for customisation, the ploughman's is a worthy lunch for any occasion.

Specialising in vegetarian food, Nancy has cooked her way around Europe and now writes full time for publications and her blog, Delicious from Scratch.

A simple, hearty lunch of country bread and strong cheddar, washed down with a pint of ale, has been the choice of hungry workers for many hundreds of years, although the phrase ‘ploughman’s lunch’ was only given to the meal in the twentieth century. The rise of craft beer, coupled with modern trends towards casual sharing plates, mean the ploughman’s is due for a renaissance.

Offering a pleasing range of flavours and textures, there is a lot of flexibility about what components you choose – and what you wash it down with. A ploughman’s can be the quickest of meals to put together, but the simplicity of the meal means each component must be of excellent quality. This is not to say the ingredients need to be refined, but flavourful, well-crafted accompaniments, full of local character, are a must. Here, the focus is on Cornwall, with its speciality cheese and dairy, beers and fresh produce, it is the perfect location to explore a truly regional ploughman’s lunch.

Bread and cheese

With a warm climate that is ideal for growing the lush grass at the root of wonderful dairy, Cornwall is the home of creamy, churned butter – essential on a ploughman’s – and distinctive, matured cheeses. It is difficult to imagine a true British ploughman’s without a strong cheddar, and in Cornwall, that means Davidstow; if you’re feeling adventurous, their three-year reserve vintage cheddar tastes remarkable. Serve both cheese and butter at room temperature for the best possible flavour and texture.

A good, strong cheddar
A good, strong cheddar
Nathan Outlaw's cheddar scones
Nathan Outlaw's cheddar scones

Bread should be hearty, sturdy and cut thick. A lovely cool sourdough would be excellent, but pairing the bread with the other ploughman’s components is even better. This Bacon, onion and cheddar flatbread matches with all the basic components of a ploughman’s, or go for a beer pairing with this Ale bread. Although this may invoke a howl of outrage from traditionalists, there’s room for a savoury scone on a Cornish ploughman’s. Nathan Outlaw does a lovely Cheddar scone with pickled celery, which sounds just about perfect with the flavours of a ploughman’s.

Meat and fish

Baked, thick-cut ham is seen on a ploughman’s almost as frequently as cheddar. Some kind of rough pork terrine is also a popular choice. Meat pies – a speciality of Cornwall – are often found on a ploughman’s in some form or another and scotch eggs are another common addition. On your ploughman’s, keep things classic by including a few slices of Honey mustard glazed ham, some Ham hock terrine or a Quail scotch egg.

 
 
Thick slices of baked ham
Thick slices of baked ham
Venison salami
Venison salami

Although not strictly traditional, venison is a speciality of the region. Wild Cornish venison, delicately flavoured as the animal grazes on the flora of ancient moors and woodlands, lives and dies on Cornwall’s famous Bodmin Moor. Venison even shares flavour compounds with cheddar, particularly the stronger cheeses, making it a flavour match as well as a regional pairing. Consider the addition of Venison salami or go for a rustic Raised game pie with venison to showcase these wild flavours.

As today’s ploughman’s recommendations are focused on Cornwall, it would seem remiss not to include some kind of meaty fish. A little smoked fish, flaked onto the plate, makes a good replacement for the ham, or try these Smoked mackerel scotch eggs if you’re going all out. Cherry wood, pear wood and apple wood smoke flavours work best with a strong cheddar.

Fruits and vegetables

Freshness, colour and textural contrast are in the hands of fruit and vegetables on a ploughman’s. A whole apple is the most rustic, visually appealing choice, which pairs beautifully with Davidstow cheddar. Keep with the Cornish theme by choosing a variety particular to the region – Cornish Aromatic or Sweet Merlin would both make elegant, romantically named choices.

 
 
Beer-pickled onions
Beer-pickled onions
Crisp, fresh apples
Crisp, fresh apples

Fresh tomatoes offer acidity and crunch, or if you are including ham on your ploughman’s, this Root vegetable coleslaw would go well. A handful of interesting mixed salad leaves make a pleasingly crunchy bed to nestle your scotch egg on; if you’re open to a little forage, common hedgerow finds in Cornwall include sorrel, hedge garlic, dandelion, ramsons, chickweed and alexanders.

Some kind of pickled vegetable is also a must. Malt vinegar pickled onions are the classic choice for a ploughman’s, but many find their sharpness overwhelming. The flavours of the cheddar are lifted better with just a touch of piquancy, so a more delicate pickle, like these Sweet beer-pickled onions, works well. If you’re looking for bite with a more spreadable consistency, try a tart Gooseberry chutney or this sweet Onion and marmalade chutney.

Beer and cider

A pint of beer is almost essential with a ploughman’s. Almost, only because there’s definitely a place for cider to accompany the cheddar, pork and crunchy apple. Although cider doesn’t have a long tradition in Cornwall as the growing conditions are not optimal for this fruit, newer cider farms such as Cornish Orchards and Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm are having success with specialist cider apple varieties. Choose a full flavoured medium or medium-dry cider for the best match with cheddar.

But beer is certainly the classic choice. Earthy, fruity, flavourful brews go fantastically with the deeply savoury cheddar, yeasty bread and the umami meats and fish. Cornwall boasts many quality breweries – St. Austell, Sharp’s and Skinner’s being the most popular. A hoppy, bitter IPA can help to cleanse your palate between cheesy bites, or a malty brown ale with a touch of caramel sweetness sets off the cheese beautifully.

 
 
My taste for pickles is something I've acquired as I've grown older.

Nathan Outlaw

Nathan Outlaw’s Perfect Ploughman’s

We asked multi Michelin-starred Cornish chef, Nathan Outlaw, for his thoughts, and suggestions for the best execution of this simple, classic meal.

Do you have any early memories of your first ploughman's?

My earliest memory of eating a ploughman's is being taken to a pub as a child and eating one in the garden. In those days children weren't allowed in pubs, so it was a summer thing. The pub garden was always a magical place to be because it usually had a swing or other play equipment and if I was lucky I might get a peek into the mysterious adult world of the pub itself.

I must admit, the only parts of the ploughman's I was interested in were the bread, usually a hunk from an old fashioned cottage loaf, the cheese, which was usually plentiful, and those little, individual, foil-wrapped pats of butter which were always rock hard! My taste for pickles is something I've acquired as I've grown older.

In your opinion, what special touches make the ultimate ploughman's?

The secret to a really special ploughman's is good quality crusty bread cut into doorstep slices, a generous portion of tangy Davidstow cheese and some really crunchy pickles.

If you were to add a twist to the ploughman's, what would it be?

To add a twist to a ploughman's lunch, I'd add some smoked fish. After all, most of the farms in Cornwall are very near the sea!

 

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