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When my daughters were both at school in Colchester, about 20 miles from where we live, I would sometimes have to go to the school for various reasons, and this was the first time I really discovered the town.
Sometimes I would walk from their school into the town, and this route always took me past a shop, which I had to venture into, because it was a delicatessen, and these always entice me in with their extensive ranges of locally and internationally sourced products. The trouble was I would spend ages in here, because every shelf was stocked with the most amazing array of foods and drinks I have ever seen in one small shop. As I love to cook this was such a thrill to me, and still delights me when I make trips to Colchester, and will often divert to this Aladdin's cave from the town centre for a browse, especially near to Christmas or Easter, when the ranges swell to incredible proportions encompassing delights from all over the globe.
The History of H Gunton Limited. ***********************************
H Gunton is a family business, and a very long standing one too, dating right back to 1936 when it was founded by Herbert Gunton. Continued by his son Geoffrey, the shop has gone from strength to strength over the years, and is very well thought of in the local community.
In 1960 the shop expanded taking over the number 83 in Crouch Street, and this enabled the cheese counter to grow into what it is today-a showcase of more than 50 varieties of cheese, including my all time favourite-the lavender-more about that later on! This extension also allowed the delicatessen fresh counter to come into fruition, and today this is stocked with all kinds of fresh produce from pies to pates.
The shop is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday but closes on Sundays.
The Coffee Shop ******************
There is a lovely coffee shop upstairs in the building. This opened in 1960 and is a delightful space to sit with a cafetiere of coffee. I particularly like the fact that Guntons allow local artists to display their work free of charge in this area, and do not charge commission on any sales which result. It is only open in the mornings between 9.30 and 12.30, which is rather a shame as I am sure an afternoon tea with scones and jam would certainly be appreciated here-maybe with some local Tiptree Jam.
The Stock ***********
There is everything you could wish for here and if you have a look at the website you will see what I mean, the shelves have everything you could imagine. I really like the space given to local producers such as Tiptree Jams and Aspall Suffolk Ciders, and less well known companies are always given a chance to sell their produce if it meets the high standards of the shop.
If you are looking for a gift for someone this is an excellent place to start- not only do they have an excellent range of hampers, but also they also have so many unusual items, which you just don't see on supermarket shelves, that you can make up your own basket. I have done this for several elderly people I buy for at Christmas, and it has been really appreciated.
I think though my favourite aspect of Guntons has to be the Katy's Lavender Cheese, which I always buy when I visit as it is delicious. It is a fresh white cheese made with sheep milk which is marinated in lavender flowers, it has won a bronze at The World Cheese Awards in 2005, and I am not surprised, because on oatcakes it is out of this world! Also it's veggie too! It is a round cheese and the lavender flowers are visible all round the edge giving it a lovely violet, days gone by Victorian look to it.
Good For Veggies and Meat Eaters ***************************************
Talking about vegetarians we are well catered for in Guntons, as are vegans. This fact was really brought home to me when my daughter visited the shop, and spotted a lot of her favourite products, and some new ones-all vegan including vegan cheese. That isn't to say that meat eaters are forgotten-indeed hams and so on are very well represented in the deli counter and are high quality.
New Mail Order Service *************************
Recently Guntons have started a mail order service, which is excellent news if you live too far away to visit the shop, and they take PayPal which makes it easy to pay and secure too.
Ah The Smell Of Coffee *************************
When you walk along Crouch Street you will have no problem finding the shop as the air is scented with the smell of freshly ground coffee. They actually stock a very wide range of coffees, some they hand roast themselves, and will freshly grind beans for you to purchase. The teas are also extensive, and they stock many local wines including those from Carter's Vineyard which is made in Boxted on the Essex / Suffolk border.
There is always a supply of fresh locally produced bread and cakes and these are simply delicious.
If like me you love cooking then any unusual ingredient from spices to herbs will be found lurking somewhere in the shop, and just searching them out is pure pleasure.
The staff are decidated and passionate about what they do and will always help you, if you ask, but they leave you alone to browse, recognising that this is the very nature in which you discover new foods, and enjoy the experience the shop offers.
We don't have a shop like this in Chelmsford, though we used to when I went to school here in the 1970's, but sadly it closed down. I hope this store continues to be supported and to flourish. It has many regular visitors and continues to survive despite economic challenges from local supermarkets. Still there will always be a need for shops like these with long histories and traditions, and certainly a visit here will reward you with a choice of foods which encompass so many delights you will stagger home with a bursting basket- I can promise you!
Summary: A shop with a long tradition for providing service and quality.