Town & Country (UK)
THE EGGS FACTOR
The head of Clarence Court shares the secrets to rearing exotic hens for the most exquisite produce
From ostriches to quails, Clarence Court has freshly laid treasures of any size – we talk to the man who ensures they’re cracking every time
How do you like your eggs in the morning? Poached, fried, scrambled, boiled to perfection for three and a half minutes, with soldiers dutifully lined up for dipping into a runny golden yolk?
When I ask Adrian Gott, he can’t quite decide. Some days, he’s partial to a pillar-box red shakshuka – ‘the modern-day full English’ – on others, a fried duck egg or a poached Burford Brown. But then, Gott is spoilt for choice, as the CEO of Clarence Court, supplier to Claridge’s, Annabel’s and Fortnum & Mason, and provider of the prettiest blue-shelled eggs, stamped with a crown, to British breakfast tables.
His company is not, as my imagination leads me to believe, in one bucolic location, but encompasses more than 50 farms across the length and breadth of the country, and hundreds of birds of all shapes and sizes. As well as Burford Brown and Old Cotswold Legbar eggs, you can buy rich, butter-hued rhea eggs with lighter, fluffier whites; dark green-blue emu eggs whose high yolk-to-white ratio makes them an exemplary choice for baking; football-sized ostrich eggs, which are perfect for cooking for large house parties (one being the equivalent of 24 normal eggs); and bitesize quail’s eggs, a staple of the smart summer picnic.
The history of Clarence Court dates back nearly 100 years to the exploits of the intrepid explorer and botanist Clarence Elliott, who set sail to South America in 1927 to collect plants for Kew Gardens. Upon his return to Stowon-the-wold the following year, alongside some edible frogs and a rather large Galápagos tortoise called Tommy (which he donated to London Zoo), he brought three wild Araucana hens from Chile. Larger than their English cousins – the male can weigh up to 3.2 kilograms – they have fetching ear tufts, lavender-hued feathers and lay distinctive blue-shelled eggs, one of the very few breeds to do so.
Elliott procured his jungle fowl for the genetic study of poultry at Cambridge University, where the birds were cross-bred to create an English variant, the Old Cotswold Legbar. Although the eggs were locally appreciated, they were not commercially produced until the 1980s, when the Legbars’ blue eggs became sought-after as a novelty.
‘We have maintained those bloodlines with a quite sophisticated breeding programme and have exclusive arrangements with our geneticists,’ says Gott.
He is self-deprecating, jolly and hugely passionate about egg farming, thanking me multiple times for taking an interest in his birds. He lives in Newmarket and keeps a few hens himself, from whose produce he whips up his signature egg mayonnaise with Tabasco.
Indeed, he is so irrepressibly cheery about his chosen profession, it is hard to imagine him in his past life as a property developer, before the 2008 financial crisis brought his investments to an untimely end, and he opted for a rural existence.
Yet hens, you may say, are in his blood. Gott’s grandmother ran delicatessens in the Lake District, and his father’s poultry company played a large part in the ‘chicken in a basket’ culinary trend of the Seventies. Since taking the helm at Clarence Court, Gott has expanded its reach to supply more than 300 restaurants and hotels in London alone, from traditional bastions like the Ritz to newer outposts such as Oslo Hackney, Eggslut and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi. The company has its own innovation lab, while its eggs are used in The Great British Bake Off and count Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver and Tom Parker Bowles as devoted fans.
Clarence Court birds are fed on a diet of maize, wheat and marigolds – rich in the pigment xanthophyll – which is what gives their eggs that deep-orange yolk. ‘But we’ve also got exacting farm standards and protocols. It is about taking your time, not rushing them to lay,’ Gott adds. Clarence Court’s hens are allowed to roam free and to lay at their natural rhythm. As a result, they produce half as many eggs as their battery sisters but, Gott explains, ‘the egg possesses better taste and quality.’
Indeed, however colourful their shells and yolks, perhaps the real consumer draw is these entrenched ethical standards. Gott ‘scrupulously’ vets their farms across the UK. ‘I think all our farmers become very connected to their girls,’ he says, fondly. ‘We have a few farms that even play music to them. In the morning, they like to get up and go to some upbeat pop, whereas in the afternoon, it might be a bit more relaxed, maybe a bit of classical…’
Birds laying to the melodious strains of Chopin? Perhaps that’s the true secret to the perfect breakfast egg. www.clarencecourt.co.uk