Meet & Eat: Willowbrook Farm
The rest of the pack found itself in the pan shortly after, this time accompanied by a crusty bun, yoghurt and fresh mint
As farming is the beating heart of rural life, and as at OX Country the concepts of quality, expertise and distinction are what get us up in the morning, we thought it was only right that we combined the two and launch Meet & Eat, a feature to highlight the very best of what Oxfordshire has to offer in terms of all things top-end, free-range, organic, grass-fed, and high-quality. For our first piece, our resident meat zealot Jack Rayner visited Willowbrook Farm to see how they operate and to sample their goods.
Willowbrook is not your usual farm...
Located just outside Kidlington next to the village of Hampton Gay, the setting, ethics and approach of how the animals are reared at Willowbrook is matched by very few farms in the area and in the country. You’d be hard pressed to find better looked after livestock. How so? Khalil Radwan, son of owner Lutfi, showed us around their lush, green family farm to explain why organic farming is more than worth the effort.
A family business in the truest sense, Willowbrook is managed and maintained entirely by the Radwan family with a small handful of volunteer helpers. Their animals all have room to roam far beyond the normal definition of free-range. The team filled us in on exactly why their treatment of animals creates a much better product:
“Sadly due to factory farming methods chicken has changed out of all recognition. It is now one of the cheapest and most plentiful meats. But the cost to the chicken has been immense, both in terms of the lifespan of the chicken, its living conditions and the erosion of the quality of the meat. Our chicken breeds are slow-growing which gives the meat time to mature - our chickens will live more than three times as long as a factory produced bird.
Many of our more mature customers comment that this meaty texture and fullness of flavour remind them just how wonderful chicken was before factory farming. That's also why top chefs rave about our chicken, because the meat is firm and flavoursome.”
Having met a wide variety of Willowbrook’s animals, OX can confirm that it’s not just the chickens that enjoy such a high standard of living. Sheep, turkeys, geese and alpacas all live happy, healthy and lengthy lives alongside each other, grazing on herbs, clover and sweet grass.
So Willowbrook’s animals are certainly happy, but just as importantly, how do they taste? Khalil was kind enough to supply us with a pack of their organic lamb burgers to see for ourselves. All of their lamb is reared naturally, without the use of any chemicals, so I was curious to see if the taste difference was genuinely noticeable. To make sure the test was fair and I wasn’t being swayed by my impression of the farm, I picked up some lamb burgers from a supermarket (which will remain anonymous) on the way home to properly compare.
To get a true representation of flavour, I decided against using any strong flavouring or accompaniment with the burgers. Instead, I simply added a little salt and pepper to each, fried for around 4 minutes each side, and then let them rest for around 10 minutes. After concentrating on the flavours and textures present in the familiar supermarket lamb burger, I cut off a slice of Willowbrook’s version. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting to notice a radical distinction, but the difference is frankly ridiculous.
The smoothness of Willowbrook’s burger is like nothing I’ve ever bought in the past, and the intensity of the flavours is so different that it leaves the impression that you’re eating an entirely different meat
The rest of the pack found itself in the pan shortly after, this time accompanied by a crusty bun, yoghurt and fresh mint. It might sound like I’m exaggerating how good a humble burger can be, but I dare you to try one of Willowbrook’s for yourself and tell me I’m wrong.
As Christmas is not far around the corner (I know – where has 2015 gone?), it’s worth thinking about where you’ll buy your festive bird from. No chemicals, pesticides or hormones are used in the farming of Willowbrook’s land, nor the raising of their birds, and their turkeys are slow maturing, traditional heritage breeds that provide an unequalled taste. I haven’t had the fortune to sample Willowbrook’s turkey but if their lamb is anything to go by then I’m inclined to believe them!
You can find out more and place orders at willowbrookorganic.org
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