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The Wipers Times

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Shirlee Posner introduces essence readers to Etherley Farm, deep in the Surrey Hills, just in time for the festive season.

A turkey or goose for Christmas? Why not order from a free-range poultry and sheep farm nestled in the heart of the Surrey Hills: Etherley Farm.

Driving to Etherley Farm, near Dorking in the Surrey Hills, is an adventure through some of the most beautiful countryside this county has to offer. The farm’s open fields are home to chicken, ducks, geese, turkey and sheep. There is nothing fancy here, just a good old-fashioned farm slowly raising its stock in a healthy, natural environment. Sheep are a newer addition and the only animals not slaughtered on site for the butchery. Lamb, hogget and mutton are all available in season and much loved by a growing band of customers who appreciate the quality and provenance.

I discovered Etherley Farm through my friends over at Village Greens Farm Shop in Ockley. Just around the corner from the Coles Lane shop, they directed me to Charlie (who heads the team at Etherley) who not only sells direct to the public from a small butchery and produce shop, but also via a few retail outlets and farmers’ markets, including Ockley, in the county too. In addition, Etherley also supplies some of the top restaurants in Surrey: at the time of writing, Etherley Farm duck is on the menu at Michelin star chef Steve Drake’s new venture, Sorrel in Dorking.

Etherley Farm started life as a dairy farm in 1958 and continued to produce milk up until 2001, but like many dairy farms, it decided to pull out of milk production when it became unviable. In preceding years, Charlie’s husband, Richard, had already started farming poultry to supplement the dwindling income.

It was around this time that Charlie and Richard married and while he looks after the livestock, Charlie runs the shop and visits the markets. Year round, the farm contains chickens, ducks, geese and sheep with laying birds for eggs and fowl destined for the table. In July, 10,000 young turkeys arrive to live outside at Etherley in a massive field to slowly mature for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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My first visit to Etherley Farm was around five years ago. At that time the farm shop was a shed with a couple of freezers. Not very appealing, but because I had already sampled Etherley chicken from Village Greens, I knew it was great quality with a depth of flavour and texture. Thanks to a grant from Rural Surrey Leader Grant Programme, the farm has been able to convert a derelict farm building into a new toilet and shower block for a campsite and add a new farm shop and on site butchery. This has allowed the farm to grow its core business and expand its range of products offered to the public. In addition to whole and jointed birds, it offers a lovely range of prepared products such as duck sausages, chicken, duck and turkey burgers. The duck sausages are apparently delicious with mash and sweet and sour red cabbage. I have a pack with my name on it in the freezer ready to try.

Etherley’s ethos is one of simplicity, with low intensity, low stocking rates and the minimal amount of additives to ensure healthy stock. Ducks (including laying ducks), turkeys and geese arrive as day old chicks and spend the first few weeks in a brooder and airy barns until strong enough to go outside. Both types of chickens (laying and eating) arrive when they are a bit older. However, all the animals have the opportunity to roam the fields. Turkey, geese and ducks here are really top end and it’s no wonder the farm supplies many local award winning butchers and restaurants.
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The newest additions are sheep, a flock of 61 North of England Mules and two rams. Grass fed, they are outside all year round, apart from a short period during the lambing season. The aim is to finish the lambs on grass only, which is always perceived to be the optimum process, however, sometimes the farm may feed the lambs for a short period of time to ensure a quality finish to the meat. Some of the animals are kept beyond one year to produce hogget and mutton which has seen a revival in the last few years. Cooked a little slower, the meat is delicious and full flavoured.

All slaughter of poultry is done on the farm, which means the animals only have a short distance to travel, reducing the stress on the bird. All butchery, plucking, preparation, making of sausages and burgers and packaging is also carried out on site. Sheep, however, are taken to a local abattoir and then returned to be butchered. One of the quality aspects of the farm’s turkeys, Charlie explained, is that they dry pluck the birds which takes longer, but extends shelf life allowing the birds to be hung (like beef) for flavour and texture to develop. Battery turkeys will be wet plucked (quicker) reducing shelf life and increasing water content making the meat drier once cooked.

Turkeys, Charlie says, make great pets, as they are very sweet and inquisitive birds. I asked her if she became attached to them and she laughed and said they have a built in death wish! Apparently, turkeys will eat anything they see, which could be a bit of plastic, string or fabric which often get blown onto the farm. The team has to diligently remove all items on a daily basis or run the risk of a fatality as the birds have an inability to deal with anything getting caught in their throats. So, when it comes to doing the deed and getting them ready for Christmas orders, it’s a sigh of relief all round.

Etherley Farm’s Christmas order book is now open and customers can order online, by phone or in person (I recommend this) or via Village Greens’ farm shops (Ockley and Denbies Vineyard). Charlie will bone and roll turkeys to order and also stuff using the customer’s own stuffing if delivered to them: perfect if oven space in an issue. The farm offers mixed bird roasts too if preferred.

In addition to Village Greens, it is possible to buy Etherley Farm birds from several award winning butchers in Surrey too, see the list on the farm’s website (details below).

So why not support a local independent producer this Christmas by buying the main attraction of the celebration dinner directly from it? It’s a decision that has winners at both ends of the transaction.
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Roast spiced chicken with rosemary and garlic sweet potatoes served with chilli jam
This dish is raised a level when it’s made with really top-notch, free-range chicken. Use any chilli jam, but I love one with a Thai influence. My recipe for chilli jam was published in the September 2016 issue of essence which can be found on my blog.

The chicken:
One tablespoon olive oil
One dessertspoon smoked or sweet paprika
Two chicken breast portions, bone in and skin on
Smoked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two red peppers, roasted for 20 minutes in a hot oven (see below)
Two dessertspoons of chilli jam

For the wedges:
600g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thick wedges or chips
One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
One to two cloves crushed garlic
One dessertspoon fresh chopped rosemary
Smoked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Place the potato wedges in a mixing bowl with the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and seasoning. Mix to coat the potatoes thoroughly then tip into a roasting pan.
• Place the chicken portions on a chopping board and score diagonally three times across the top with a sharp knife. Combine the olive oil and paprika and rub over the entire surface of the chicken breasts and season.
• Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan over the potatoes and place in a hot oven for 35–40 minutes with the red peppers. Remove the peppers after 15–20 minutes and place in a sealed bag to cool.
• When the chicken is golden and thoroughly cooked, remove from the roasting pan with potatoes and keep warm.
• Make some gravy by adding water to the base of the roasting dish to release the juices. Thicken with a little cornflour (mix to a paste with water) and stir into the juices until cooked through.
• Remove the peppers from the bag, peel, discard the seeds and cut into thick strips. Place a heap of potatoes on each plate and top with the red pepper. Place a chicken breast on top with a dollop of chilli jam. Pour over some gravy and serve immediately. A lightly steamed stack of tender stem broccoli is a great partner to this dish.

Shirlee Posner,
essence info
Etherley Farm, Leith Hill Lane, Ockley, Surrey RH5 5PA
Telephone: 01306 621500

Shirlee Posner is a food writer and blogger at and provides social media management, web copywriting and food photography.

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