Suffolk is a hallowed spot on the culinary map, synonymous with superlative seafood and Southwold’s Adnams ale. But turn inland from the smokehouses of Orford and seafood shacks at Aldeburgh and you’ll find the forests and orchards of the little-known Brecks region, and with them some of the county’s most delicious home-grown produce.
This area brushes up against Constable Country, and the barns and farms appear little changed since The Hay Wain was created. It’s unapologetically arable land, announcing itself immediately as you leave the gateway town of Bury St Edmunds with swathes of shiny, green-leafed sugar beet — and the distinctive saccharine scent of those roots being refined nearby. Narrow country lanes circumvent apple orchards, fields of potatoes and heritage carrots and, in spring, some of the UK’s sparkiest little asparagus.
The sandy soil that spawns these green spears is also fertile ground for some award-winning wines. At Wyken Vineyard’s restaurant the feted Bacchus white — made from the eponymous go-to grape of Suffolk vintners — is the perfect partner for local asparagus, though the estate’s pigeon, venison and lamb are winners, too. Exit through the gift shop for a wealth of premium local goodies, from home-grown fig chutney to don’t-need-must-have kitchenware and cookbooks.
With its turreted mansion house and formal gardens, Wyken is a star among the Brecks’ impressive crop of sprawling old estates. But there are plenty to chose from, such as neighbouring Elveden Estate, the 19th-century home of Duleep Singh, India’s last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, which is now a multitasking venue: a working farm owned by the Guinness family, with plenty of hunting, fishing and shooting pursuits to try out. As well as an inn with rooms, it has a cavernous food hall — a brilliant showcase of the best local produce. The butchery and grocers are packed with the estate’s wild venison, rabbits and game, plus produce from Elveden’s free-roaming pigs and sheep along with estate spuds and onions. And if it hasn’t been grown or made on site, or drawn from the immediate local area, it won’t be on the menu at the Courtyard Restaurant.
More sweet smells linger around the peaty marshland of the Brecks’ Norfolk borders: the ground grist that will eventually become single malt English whisky, matured in Bourbon barrels imported from the US. Back in the early 2000s venerable local brewer-farmer family the Nelsrops decided to put local barley and water to good boozy use, and the English Whisky Company was born. Head here for tours and tastings of its whisky — both peated and unpeated — along with the chance to sample from its rolling programme of cask trials.
If you’re going to bed down in the Brecks, try Tuddenham Mill. Set around a Domesday Book-era millstone, the 17th-century mill house and towering chimney has just added five ‘nooks’ (glamping-style pods) to the meadows alongside its river. Head to the main house for dinner: a candle-lit affair under heavy oak beams surrounded by rustic bits of old mill kit. Here an autumn menu might include Fenland parsnip soup, Breckland lamb, sous-vide Suffolk heritage carrots and — if you’re lucky — foraged fungi, local venison and Baron Bigod blue cheese made from unpasteurised milk.
Published in Issue 2 of National Geographic Traveller Food