Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Occombe Farm Shop, Paignton

For some time now I have been planning to venture into South Devon to visit Occombe Farm Shop near Paignton. Having spent many years wandering around West and East Devon, poor old South Devon has been sadly neglected in my travels. This is mostly due to the large volume of tourists that head towards this part of the world every summer and partly due to the fact that I just don’t get the time to visit everywhere I would like to. So … last weekend I jumped in the car with my BFF (Best Food Friend) and we headed off to see what Occombe had to offer.

Only 30 minutes later, with little or no traffic on the road (it was, after all, February), we arrived at the farm and the first thing that hit us as we extracted ourselves from my restrictive little coupé, was the smell of proper farm animals. Yes, proper farm animals - Ruby Red cows in fact, as we quickly discovered. Right next to the main parking area was a barn full to the brim with mooing cows munching happily on bales of hay. I don’t know about you, but when I visit a farm shop I very much enjoy the prospect of the ‘full’ farm experience, complete with sounds & smells. I live in a city, albeit a relatively ‘rural’ city, so I cherish my trips out of Exeter. Occombe is a 150 acre organic farm consisting of a mixture of pasture, wet meadows and woodland and is part of a 1750 acre area that is managed by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. The ethos of the farm is centred around community and education, and in 2009 they established the Lottery funded One Planet Food Project which has enabled them to set up a Community Garden and Kitchen with an aim to teaching local adults and children how to grow and cook seasonal produce. This is a farm that has big ambitions and seems to be on the right path.

On entering the farm shop, you are greeted with a wealth of fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, a fish counter and several shelves of West Country, Fairtrade, eco, organic and generally enticing, feel-good produce. At the back of the shop is a large deli counter and alongside this a butcher’s concession run by Mark Gribble. In the main part of the store there is a wide choice of general groceries and store cupboard essentials including tea, coffee, dried pasta, tinned products, juice, wine, flour and biscuits. I spotted several well-known gluten-free brands during my browse including Doves, Clives, Mrs Crimbles and Manna from Devon. Customers with an interest in taking care of the planet will find an extensive range of eco products which include the recognisable big brands like Bio, Ecover and Faith in Nature as well as some more unusual items such as Eco-Force recycled clothes pegs, Geo Organic Atlantic Bathing Salts and Michael's Biodegradable cleaning brushes and sponges.

The delicatessen boasts a selection of over 50 cheeses from the West Country including Organic North Devon Farmhouse, Sharpham Brie, Devon Blue, Beenleigh Blue, Godminster Vintage, Quickes Mature and Ticklemore Goat. A good range of cooked meats, quiches, pies and pasties as well as olives and tapas round of the selection. My eyes were immediately drawn to Tom’s Pies as I am a big fan of Tom's work. Without a second thought I bought some Ham Hock and Pea pies for our dinner and grabbed a loaf of organic granary bread, made daily on the premises, for JC to munch on. There can never be too much bread in our house.

Gribble's Butchers, unsurprisingly given Occombe’s ethics, are focussed on supplying local, sustainably-farmed meat and stock a good organic range. Mondays are a self-service day, but the remainder of the week the Gribble’s staff are happy to offer any help needed with information on cut selection, cooking tips, animal welfare or product ingredients. Creedy Carver poultry and Gribble’s home-made sausages are also available with exotic sausage flavours that vary and can include Thai, Wild Boar & Apple, Venison Cranberry & Rosemary and Gluten Free Pork. The butchers was in fact such a constantly busy area during my visit that I didn’t take any photographs for fear of upsetting business!

After a good look around and a bit of restrained retail therapy, we headed upstairs to The Bakehouse Cafe to take the weight of our feet. We didn’t exactly need a rest given that we only shopped for around 20 minutes, but when the prospect of coffee and cake is distracting concentration it’s best not to fight it. The Bakehouse is a lovely area above the shop with glass doors and a balcony that looks out over farmland. I can imagine in the summer months this would be a peaceful place to while away an hour or two. We ordered our drinks and I just had to add a vanilla and chocolate cupcake to my choice as I never ever want my coffee to feel lonely. It doesn’t seem right to consume hot beverages without accompanying cake. Cakes are either made in the farm bakery or off-site by a local artisan producer. We shuffled over to one of the sofas and spent the next hour relaxing, chatting and wondering why we had waited so long to visit Occombe.

We didn’t eat lunch this time, but I made a point of checking the menu in lieu of future visits. More unusual offerings on the menu include Occombe baked cheese scones served with butter and local chutney, breakfast baps (served from 9am to 3.30pm) with free range eggs, Occombe bacon & sausages or perhaps an Occombe Steak Burger containing Occombe beef burgers in an Occombe bap. You can’t argue with that sort of provenance. If you fancy a glass of wine or local beer with your meal, Occombe also offer a small selection of alcoholic drinks. The childrens menu is served from 11.30am to 3.30pm and is larger than many I have seen in other cafés and restaurants. The Bakehouse will also put together a kiddies picnic lunch to eat in or take out, consisting of a bap, a piece of fruit, a bag of Burts crisps or an organic cereal bar and a carton of fruit juice.

Occombe Farm is lovingly operated as a community project with it’s visitors at the heart of it’s raison d’etre. Regular events are held at the farm and have included sausage-making courses, planting projects, product tasting days and outdoor classroom lessons in the farm yurt. I suspect that the farm shop and cafe are important means of revenue for the continuation of the project and allow Occombe to move forward with their admirable education plans. I for one am happy to put forward my tiny financial contribution towards the ongoing development of this sort of community work by frequenting the shop and café as often as I can. If you also appreciate this sort of community endeavour, you might like to consider a related, but more urban project, about to open in Exeter called The Real Food Store. I’ll be telling you more about their story very soon.