MY KIND OF COUNTRY
Artisan food producer, Hilary Blackford
Hilary Blackford brings the delicious taste of Italian limoncello to the Cotswolds
After settling back in the UK 15 years ago, Hilary Blackford’s been making the most of her Cotswolds home, where she produces artisan food and drink inspired by travels with her husband Paul. She makes limoncello and pompelmocello, along with lemon curd, marmellata, lemon cordial and blackberry liqueur. We headed to her 200-year-old stone cottage to see how she makes her products, sample a tipple and hear how she’ll be seeing in the New Year…
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME? Cerney Wick, a village established by royal charter in 999 and now part of the Cotswold Water Park. We moved here after many years in the US, Italy, Belgium and Germany for Paul’s work.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT
WHERE YOU LIVE? I love being in a small, friendly village with a good town, Cirencester, close by. Plus, I can catch a train and be in London within an hour and a half if I need a city fix. I adore that we can leave the house and walk straight into the landscape. WHAT GETS YOU OUT OF BED IN THE MORNINGS? Coffee and Freddie, our energetic springer spaniel! We walk for miles and sometimes go for swims together. I love the sight of our cottage when I’m on my way back; the stone has such a warm feel.
WHAT IS LIMONCELLO AND WHAT’S THE
BEST WAY TO ENJOY IT? Limoncello is a delicious Italian after dinner ‘digestivo’ made by infusing spirit with lemon zest. It’s popular across Italy and most families have their own recipe. Mine was given to me by a lady who made limoncello for a little bar I visited in Marina del Cantone. It’s best served ice cold, straight from the freezer.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE
LIMONCELLO MAKING BUSINESS? Paul and I have always tried to get into the local lifestyle wherever we’ve lived. I used to serve my limoncello to friends and family after supper and this led to requests for bottles for Christmas and birthday presents. We were sitting around our dinner table one evening when one of my sons suggested that I turned it into a business, predicting that it would go down a storm in London. Thus, Blackfords was born. I started making the lemon curd, using a recipe given to me by my Aunty Betty, and marmellata because I didn’t want to waste the juice left after »
zesting all the lemons. I also make pompelmocello with grapefruit, a blackberry liqueur and a lemon and mint cordial.
WHEN DOES THE FESTIVE SEASON START
FOR YOU? We put together our bottle order at the end of the summer and start making limoncello and picking blackberries, ready for Christmas sales in early autumn.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE INGREDIENTS? Our oil-rich, organic and unwaxed Sicilian lemons come direct from a farmer who grows them on the edge of an olive grove overlooking the Mediterranean. The alcohol we use is made in Essex, and the free-range eggs used in the lemon curd come from local hens, including Cathy and Mike’s in our village. I grow the mint on an allotment.
YOUR BOTTLES ARE LOVELY – WHERE DO
THEY COME FROM? We import them from specialist Italian manufacturers in Treviso. I like to think that people reuse them as vases once they’ve enjoyed the limoncello.
WHAT’S YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT? I was thrilled to have my products accepted by Demijohn in Edinburgh, Glasgow and York. It was also great to be asked to make limoncello for Daylesford Organic Farm.
WHAT IS THE SECRET OF YOUR SUCCESS? We developed the business slowly, which has given us time to discover our strengths and weaknesses. Initially I found it difficult to market my limoncello, but now I love taking our products to fairs and explaining how they’ve evolved. Our branding has worked well – it uses the colours of Gloucestershire County Council’s banner of arms.
IT’S TIME TO KICK BACK – HOW DOES YOUR PERFECT WEEKEND SHAPE UP? I love spending Sunday mornings at Westonbirt Arboretum, especially during winter.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE IN THE COTSWOLDS AND WHY? I love visiting Tetbury for its antiques shops and boutiques, as well as the fabulous Yellow Lighted Bookshop, which often has book readings, and Tetbury Goods Shed Arts, where we go to see films and listen to jazz. I share an allotment there with a friend too, and I love meeting up with her for a natter and a bit of digging. We often end up going for a walk in search of coffee and cake afterwards.
DO YOU GET INVOLVED IN LOCAL LIFE? I run a book club and Paul is on the village committee and is also a parish councillor.
WE’RE COMING TO VISIT YOUR VILLAGE FOR A WINTER BREAK – WHAT MUSTN’T WE MISS? The annual panto in Cheltenham is a hoot. This year’s show, Aladdin, will see the return of Tweedy the Clown, who lives in Gloucestershire, and performs with Gifford’s Circus, which is our must-see summer show.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SHOP LOCALLY? The Jesse Smith Farm Shop and Coffee
House in Cirencester is a fantastic place to buy locally-produced and properly hung meat, along with fresh fruit and vegetables and great cheese, such as Cerney Ash, which is made in North Cerney. For sausages I always go to Michael Hart & Son in Cricklade or Cirencester – they’ve won prizes.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PUB/CAFÉ/
RESTAURANT LOCALLY? We go to The Masons Arms at Meysey Hampton for our book club Christmas dinner each year, with Paul organising a get-together for the ‘abandoned husbands’, and we love the food served at The Falcon Inn in Poulton, too. BLACKFORDSFOODANDDRINK.COM
Limoncello bottles are carefully labelled by hand.