Middle Farm, East Sussex

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Middle Farm, East Sussex

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Review of "Middle Farm, East Sussex"

published 06/08/2009 | Thehonesttruth
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"Making merry with cider and perry at Middle Farm"

I'm currently on another visit to my boyfriends home in sunny Eastbourne, and as has become my custom, I've been dragging him out of bed every day to go and show me the local sights, aided by a little yellow book that gains us free entry to a variety of attractions - his mum works in a local attraction herself and gets us these trade passes .

On this occasion , we decided to go visit Middle Farm, nestled at the foot of Firle Beacon, just outside Lewes . As with many attractions in this area of East Sussex, the drive, for a city girl like me is an attraction in itself - driving past stunning sea views part of the way, and rolling Sussex Downland interrupted by small villages full of character filled old buildings and the occasional country pub. For someone whose normal travel in my home city of Nottingham generally involves taking a bus through run down council estates, this is a great drive .

Middle Farm, luckily enough since we were driving, has plenty of parking right outside the door . I should point out here that Middle Farm is not one attraction but many - as well as a working farm, there is also a farm shop, restaurant, gift shop, and the national collection of Cider and Perry . We visited all except the restaurant (our visit was in the afternoon, so we'd already had our lunch).

We visited again a few days later to go to the monthly farmers market too, so I've plenty to write about .

The Farm Shop
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I'll start with the farm shop, since that was where we started our visit. You enter the shop and immediately see a colourful display of fresh fruit and veg, as well as walls lined with displays of chutneys, sauces, teas, coffees, and wines . Venturing a little further in is a small dairy section, selling a variety of cheeses, the farms own milk, and also a small selection of olives and sun dried tomatoes .

Further in still is a bakery, with fresh bread and cakes, as well as hot home made cornish and other pasties, and freezers with crumbles , and full meals (Lasagnes, shephards pie, Steak and Ale Pie ) all ready to take home and slip into the oven.

There is also a butchery section, selling some lovely meats, including a variety of smoked meats (duck, venison, chicken) some lovely flavoured sausages (Venison and Merlot , and Beef and Harveys (Harveys is a local real ale) being just two examples) and some lovely looking joints and chops .

I was delighted with the fact that there were plenty of samples out for us to nibble on, particularly in the cheese section . I'm a bit of a cheese addict, in fact my dream job would be to work in my own cheese shop, so I was in heaven here, and sampled seven or eight different cheeses , including Cornish Yarg with Wild Garlic, Scrumpy Sussex , a local cheese made with locally produced cider and flavoured with garlic and herbs , Red Windsor - a dark pink coloured cheese that takes it's colour and a lot of its flavour from being soaked in port!

We purchased a selection of items from the shop - Huntsman, Scrumpy Sussex, and Smoked Applewood cheeses, some untreated jersey milk from the farms own jersey cows, a chocolate yoghurt cake, and some Beef and Harveys sausages.

The milk was lovely - I don't think I've ever had untreated milk before - it was rich, thick, and very creamy. In fact, we skimmed off some of the cream to use with the chocolate cake, which although very flavoursome lacked moisture .

The sausages were plump and moist, and went wonderfully with a cheesy mash made using a small amount of the Applewood Smoked cheese grated into the mashed potato.

The huntsman cheese ( Red Leicester (I believe) with stilton running through the middle we used on some lovely fat burgers, and it melted quite happily onto the meat tasting wonderful, and the Scrumpy Sussex we simply cut chunks off and ate .

We enjoyed everything we purchased from the shop. The prices were a little high, although not extortionate , and I do believe you pay for quality .

The National Collection of Cider and Perry
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This was the next section we visited on the farm - as well as selling a huge range of bottled ciders, perrys, real ales, wines, spirits, and mead, it also has 100 or so barrels of cider and perry lined up along the walls and on various surfaces. I am delighted to say that sampling was again encouraged, and we simply picked up our small plastic sampling pots from the front counter, and made our was around the room, sampling as we went.

I can't remember the names of every cider I tried, but a few stood out in my mind . Hellishly Strong Cider for example, with the abv on the cask displayed as *&?!, rather inplying an uttered curse, had to be tried . Sad to say, it was foul, and an enquiry at the front desk informed me it weighed in at 13.5 %, which certainly is very strong .

We then tried Oldfield Perry. I'm afraid I've forgotten the percentage, but I was tempted by the label saying it had been sampled by James May and Oz Clarke . It was very sweet, with a slight aftertaste of bananas, and a delightful fizz . We purchased a litre of this to take home, but sadly when we wanted to drink it several hours later, it appeared to have grown considerably sharper, and tasted slightly of vinegar.

Now, I had the bright idea of adding in a little sugar to see if I could make it bearable again . Sadly, due to the strange way my boyfriends mum likes to organise her kitchen, I instead ended up lacing my drink with a considerable amount of salt, making it utterly beyond redemption.

We also purchased 2007s champion cider, Janets Jungle Juice, which was a medium dry cider with slight tastes of roses and pineapple . This cider remained drinkable when we were home, which was great considering the Oldfield Perry seemed to have suffered from the journey.

I also purchased a small sample sized bottle of honeyed mead - which was pretty potent with a strong honey taste . Not something I could easily drink on a regular basis, but I could imagine adding a hearty measure to a lemsip to combat a cold .

We tried a fair few ciders there - its really a shame I didn't have a notepad handy to take notes really, as some of them were truly marvellous . I did very much enjoy being able to sample the ciders for free , and loved the smell of the room, a strong smell of apples and alcohol that took me back to my younger days working as a pub barmaid.

It should be noted that ciders can be purchased by the pint or by the cask . If purchasing in pints, the prices vary between £1.55 and 2.30 a pint as far as a I recall, bear in mind you do have to pay extra for the containers to take it home in, which I think is fair, and isn't expensive really, at around 20-50p depending on the size of bottle . You can also pay more and get a stoneware jug to take your cider home in, I forget the price but it would make an attractive gift for someone .

Although I didn't purchase any real ales on my visit, its worth noting that they had an extensive range of locally produced ales, many of which I'd sampled already in the local pubs .

Skies and Scarecrows Gift Shop
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We didn't spend too much time in here, it mostly sold home decoration items, such as candles, blankets, etc, as well as locally made toiletries . It sold a small range of traditional childrens toys, and some books on local history , which tempted me but seemed expensive for what they were, however, you have to pay here to enter the actual farm section.

The Farm
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With our cheeks pleasantly flushed from our cider sampling, we finally made our way to the open farm . This is the only part you have to pay to enter (although we had free entry vouchers) and entry is a flat rate of £3. Upon entering , we saw chickens and cockerels, some wondering about freely, others happily nestled in their coops . It was very amusing watching one of the free cockerels antagonising one which was cooped up.

In a barn to the side were young chicks and younger chickens - and a cacaphony of various squawking and chirruping . There are a wide variety of different breeds of chickens here, including some that has legs so feathery it looked like they were wearing giant flares.

A little further along still was a shed that housed mice, ferrets, guinea pigs and rabbits, and one duck that had wondered in and made its home with the guinea pigs . There was an information board telling the names of all the guinea pigs and rabbits, although I was a little concerned about the Guinea Pigs and Rabbits being housed together, as my dad keeps guinea pigs and I've always been informed that rabbits are much stronger than guinea pigs and can inadvertently cause them some real damage with a kick.

Further along still was a field, with fields on all sides of it which housed Llamas, sheep, and horses . The animals were not as friendly as I've seen on some open farms, and stayed back from the edges of the fields toward the centre . I found this very disappointing, as was the fact that any petting of any of the animals was not encouraged . Having visited another working farm in the area which sold feed and encouraged interaction, I found this farm not doing so frustrating . If I'd just wanted to look at animals, I could have done so in a book, or online .

We then went to a milking display. Well, I say display - the man hooked the cows up to the machines and let the pumps do the work . Despite there being a crowd of 15 or so people watching, he made no effort to interact with us or to explain the process - the only thing that explained it to us was a small chalkboard, sadly placed uncomfortably high for me to read, so I imagine even more useless to a child.

The farm did provide a tap for washing hands, located right next to the exit - although since we couldn't pet or feed anything, I don't see how dirty we were expected to be!

The farm also has a small swing park - Nothing too exciting .

One feature of the farm children might enjoy is the hay play barn - a barn stacked full of hay bales for children to clamber over . However, I feel this is not enough to draw my own daughters interest (she was not with me, but I was visiting with the intention of seeing if it was suitable for her) and certainly wouldn't pay again to visit this section of the farm .

The Farmers Market
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This is held each month, generally on the last sunday . We decided to return to the farm to visit this. There were a wide variety of stalls selling all sorts of produce - locally made soaps, home made baked goods, a stall selling slices of hog roast in buns , cheeses, teas, chutneys, sauces and fruits . We had fun sampling, and discovered some delicious fruit vinegars, a lovely Assam tea, and a cheese that was a combination of cheddar and parmesan, which I imagine would be lovely grated over some pasta . We purchased a stilton and celery quiche from one stall, which we ate later in the evening and was delicious . As each stall is run by a separate trader, I imagine the products on sale vary with each market - however, I do think it's worth a visit .

Overall
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The farm shop, the market, and the cider collection were all wonderful, and worth visiting in their own right, particularly as sampling was encouraged . I had a great time trying all the different ciders, and the cheeses, and this made my shopping fun . I recommend visiting these areas, especially as they are free to enter.

However, the actual farm section of the visit I found disappointing - the staff didn't try to engage us during the milking display, and nothing was pettable or available for us to feed ourselves . If you are looking for an absolutely fantastic farm shop,a nd a good day out for adults, I do think this place is fantastic. Sadly I just don't think the farm itself is 'hand on' enough for children, and would instead recommend a visit to the Seven Sisters sheep centre, near Beachy Head, which positively encouarages petting and feeding.

I'm going to award this place 4 out of 5 stars - while the farm section was dissapointing, I still had a great time in the shop and cider areas.

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Comments on this review

  • StewwyB published 23/11/2014
    well reviewed, nice one
  • sunnyfox published 07/08/2009
    E as promised! :)
  • plod591 published 07/08/2009
    Excellent, detailed review. The farmers market would be the day for a visit for me, I go to a few up here quite regular. Having drunk proper scrumpy in my days in Plymouth, I would have to pass on the that stuff now though !!LOL
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Product Information : Middle Farm, East Sussex

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Farm

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City: East Sussex

Type: Farm

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Listed on Ciao since: 05/08/2009