North Wiltshire, particularly Swindon, has been synonymous with pig farming since Saxon times and Wiltshire ham and bacon are still very popular.
To allow the meat travel to well it needed to be preserved and so Harris’ of Calne came up with the Wiltshire Cure. As the Harris Company grew in size it took over smaller bacon companies in the county, including Royal Wilts and Spears.
Another bacon business in the area was the Royal Wiltshire Bacon Company, based in Chippenham. One of their bacon cookers is in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. It was used for making ‘Bath chaps’ which were made from the meat of the pig’s cheek, made into a cone shape and cut vertically in half. It is pickled in brine, smoked or salt cured then boiled until cooked, and coated with breadcrumbs. It is served cold and tastes similar to ham.
Because of the abundance of lard left over from the pork industry, the Wiltshire Lardy Cake was an ideal way of making use of it. Reputedly first made in Castle Combe, the cake consists of lard, bread dough, sugar and currants.
Wiltshire Loaf cheese was also created in the county. It was very sought after in the 18th century and was worthy of a mention by Jane Austen in her novel Emma:
“Mr. Elton was still talking, still engaged in some interesting detail; and Emma experienced some disappointment when she found that he was only giving his fair companion an account of the yesterday’s party at his friend Cole’s, and that she was come in herself for the Stilton cheese, the north Wiltshire, the butter, the cellery, the beet-root and all the dessert.”
In the 18th century, the cheese was made in the north of the county from the milk of long horn cattle. It was known for intensity of flavour and density. It was much more expensive than conventional farmhouse cheeses because it took longer to mature.
5th generation cheesemaker Ceri Cryer of Brinkworth Dairy still makes the cheese and it is sold at Swindon Farmers Market (Sundays) and Malmesbury Market (2nd and 4th Saturday).
Another traditional food dating back to the 15th century is bacon fraise – a fattening breakfast dish typically eaten by agricultural workers to sustain them throughout their day. We’ve tracked down a recipe from The Thorough Good Cook by George Augustus Sala (published 1896) so you can try making it for yourself:
Beat eight eggs into a batter, with a little cream and flour. Fry thin slices of bacon and dip them in it; then lay them in a frying-pan, and pour a little batter over them. When one side is done, turn and pour more butter over them. When both sides are of a good colour, lay them on a dish and serve hot.
Other traditional foods include Devizes Pie (made from pork, veal, tongue and boiled eggs), Marlborough Cake, Wiltshire Buttermilk Cake, Wiltshire Tatties, Druids Cake and Malmesbury Pudding.
A special Basset Crown cake was created when Wootton Bassett became Royal Wooton Bassett in 2011.
Today there are many food industries in the area including producers of watercress, trout and bison.