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Food: Centenary of success for the Gog Farm Shop

It started as a stall selling potatoes and mushrooms alongside an honesty box, and has evolved into the mighty Gog Farm Shop. Louise Cummings visits the award-winning butchery, deli and café to chat to fourth-generation owner Charles Bradford about its 100 years of success. . .

There’s something inherently special about The Gog Farm Shop, home to an outstanding deli, butchery, and café, where quality, taste and provenance are key. This time of year the family-run farm, nestled in the Gog Magog Hills, is bathed in festive lustre, the rustic barns festooned with fairy lights and glinting with dazzling tree decorations. In the beamed café, customers are seduced by a tempting array of cakes spilling out on the geometric tiled serving bar. There’s freshly-baked buttery croissants, plump fruit-filled scones, and black forest brownies, dotted with jewel-like crimson berries and drizzled in icing. For those craving a savoury repast there’s all-day breakfast options galore (smashed ‘avo’ of course!), but most popular are the triumvirate of signature snacks, so delicious, they’ve each scooped a Great Taste Award. The Gog Scotch egg is made on site using hand-peeled free-range Cacklebean Eggs, which boast a rich golden yoke. The sausage rolls are baked with three-herb pork sausage meat, to a secret recipe dating back to the 1800s, while Monty’s cheese scones feature the best Montgomery’s Cheddar, made in Somerset, and renowned for its rich fruity, flavour.

Over at the award-winning butchery, there’s a team of passionate professionals practicing excellent animal husbandry, led by Miles Nicholas, a veritable mine of information should you want superb steak, Sicilian sausage or Sutton Hoo Free Range Chicken. Customers can watch the masters at work, across the extensive meat counter, as they craft sausages and mince beef, adding an element of theatre to the experience.

VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579934)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579934)

A short stroll past strings of Roscoff onions, through a barn packed to the rafters with gifts from Great Chesterford’s Cole’s Christmas puds to Sophie Allport tea towels, you arrive at the deli, home to the delectable cheese counter. Working alongside Neal’s Yard Dairy, who champion farmhouse cheesemakers, there’s around 30 divine varieties, predominantly sourced in the UK and Ireland. In an adjoining counter there’s glossy-topped pork pies, zingy marmalade ham and air dried dairy beef, whilst shelves are laden with an abundance of local food including Cambridge’s Balzanos bread and sheet chocolate bouquets from Chocolat Chocolat.

With such a marvellous offering of fresh local produce in a simply idyllic countryside setting, (Wandlebury Country Park is just over the hill), it’s no surprise that The Gog Farm Shop has recently scooped Great British Food Magazine’s Independent Retailer for the East of England, (as voted by the readers of the magazine) as well as clinching runner-up in the Observer Food Monthly’s Awards. It’s recognition of its special place in the hearts of the Gog’s loyal customers, many of which make regular pilgrimages from as far afield as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

Today, the business - which is in the midst of celebrating its centenary year - is run by fourth generation family members, brothers Charles and Marcus Bradford.

VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579835)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579835)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579853)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579853)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579984)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21579984)

Whilst Marcus specialises in the butchery business, Charles oversees the day-to-day running of the Bradford empire, and despite the long hours and hard work that entails (Charles rarely takes a day off), he remains incredibly fond of the farm, and equally proud of its history.

“There’s a real spirit to this place,” he enthuses. “We sit right in the middle of the parish of Stapleford and over the last hundred years the farm has often been the centre of the community. When my grandad Charlie was here, you could come down at the weekend to get your lawnmower sharpened, your car serviced, your hair cut, and even buy a dog! There was always stuff going on.”

The Gog story starts with Charles’s great grandad Fred Bradford, who returned from the First World War to Heath Farm, back in 1919. Two generations of children subsequently grew up there, and it was Charles’s parents Colin and Lesley who set up a veg stall and honesty box at the farm gate after finding themselves with a glut of potatoes and mushrooms.

VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21580021)
VELVET Interview, The Gog Farm Shop. Picture: Keith Heppell (21580021)

“It was quite strange really, because back in the seventies, the field which we’ve now earmarked as our Centenary Field, to hold events such as our Sundowners, was planted with a crop of potatoes by my Mum and Dad,” explains Charles. “One morning they came out of the farmhouse, and the field was completely covered in mushrooms, ten thousand of the things! So they ate them, gave them to friends and set up the stall. It was proper old school farming!”

With the proceeds from the veg sale, Lesley invested in some hens, and began to sell eggs. By the late 70s the family had graduated from honesty box to shop, and had expanded into the realm of meat. Charles explains: “Mum was quite horrified when she learnt what went into sausages, so did a course in butchery. My Great Uncle Malyon was a butcher who had a shop in Shelford dating back to 1886, so mum took his sausage recipe and kept the spice mix, but reduced the salt and fat content. To this day, that recipe remains the backbone to our current sausage mix, and the reason I believe they are still so popular.”

Sausage recipe licked, Lesley set to work with her sister Jean to create the famous Gog Scotch egg, now a best-seller. “It’s funny because we’ve never made a big song and dance about our Scotch eggs, but a lot of people know us for them. We produce several hundred a week now and each egg has to be hand-peeled. It’s a proper labour of love.”

Through the 80s and 90s the farm shop grew, but by the millennium it began to struggle, which is when Charles and Marcus joined the family firm.

“I was working in London selling IT systems to banks, but within a short space of time I realised it was no longer fulfilling. The farm was in a bad place and Mum was working four jobs to keep it ticking over,” explains Charles. “I agreed I’d take over running the farm for four years. I’m not sure where I conjured up four years from, but four years has since turned into 15!” Charles smiles.

In those early days, the brothers did a lot of groundwork, heading off to farmers markets each weekend to test their various products on the public, and spending weekdays renovating the barns to create more space. “I’m no renovator; before this I struggled to hang a picture on the wall!” laughs Charles. “I taught myself carpentry and bricklaying. It was a proper evolution and an amazing journey.”

The old cart shed became the original deli and café, from where cheese and coffee were served, then as the hospitality side of the company grew, Charles converted the chicken shed into the rustic café which we see today. A popular spot for coffee and cake, the café fills up quickly, so there are plans in the pipeline for a bigger dining space, potentially utilising The Shack, a wonderful outdoor area, which is a favourite with dog walkers and cyclists in the summer.

The first ever Gog vegan sausage will also be on sale soon, with Marcus busy fine-tuning the recipe in time for Veganuary.

“It’s interesting because obviously people are cutting back on meat and thinking more about the welfare of the planet. But what we’ve found is that our butchers have become significantly busier,” says Charles. “We think it’s because people are becoming more conscious of the quality of products and how it’s produced, so when they eat meat, they choose the best. We know all our producers and regularly visit their farms.”

One of the latest success stories has been the Flexitarian Sausage; startling green in hue, it’s made up of free range chicken breast, spinach, chickpeas and Moroccan spice. They’re selling like hotcakes, so it’s clearly a winning fusion.

The Bradford family marked the farm’s 100 year anniversary in August with a huge picnic on the Centenary Field for a thousand people, and have committed to doing ‘100 Good Gog Things’ ranging from laying on buses from warden-controlled homes to bring elderly people to the farm, to giving away one free shop a month to a random shopper.

“Being friendly and part of the community is key for us – and the interaction we have with the customers is the best part of the job for me,” enthuses Charles, whose faithful dog, Border collie Molly, was a huge hit with customers over her 17 years at the farm. Charles has since taken on boisterous puppy Jensen, a collie spaniel cross, who is already lapping up the attention from dog-loving patrons.

So, with its first centenary under its belt, what’s next on the menu at The Gog?

“I’m conscious that I need to set the business up for success for the next hundred years now,” Charles asserts. “Back in the early days, I rolled my sleeves up and made things happen, but it’s not just my brother and myself going off to farmers markets now. We’ve got nearly 50 staff here, and that’s 50 families to think about, so we’re keen to grow, have longevity and remain true to our values of great provenance. We are really fortunate we are now on the map for some really great producers so we get to sell brilliant food. It would be nice to be able to deliver this locally. That’s something we’ll be looking into.”

Parents Colin and Lesley, though retired, still play a big part in The Gog Farm Shop story. “They’re like the chairpeople of a football team; I say to my staff that they’re very much part of the fabric and history of the business but just don’t ask them any day-to-day operational questions!” laughs Charles. “Seriously though, they’re really proud of what we’ve achieved. Being on this journey and seeing the business evolve around them has been wonderful.”

Festive picks: The Gog Farm Shop’s staff lift the lid on their favourite produce. . .

Zoe Barkes, Deli Supervisor – Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese, £15 each, boxed

“This is a winter cheese from the foothills of the French alps. It’s a very strong, soft cow’s cheese, which is only available four to five months of the year. Deep Camembert in style, it’s perfect for dipping at Christmas parties.”

Alex Funess, Head of Foods – Saffron Grange English Sparkling Wine, 2016 Cuvee, £32 a bottle

“We’ve recently launched this amazing wine, which is produced in a vineyard in Saffron Walden. Because the grapes are grown on Chalklands, it adds a different dimension to the flavour. I’d describe the wine as balanced, with notes of strawberry and a hint of brioche. It’s incredibly refreshing.”

Charles Bradford, Owner - Scotch egg, £3.95 each, choose from traditional pork or three herb & mustard, with piccalilli

“I love the fact the Scotch egg is made using my Mum’s original sausage meat recipe from all those years ago. It’s the recipe that’s won a Great Taste Award. Made with free-range Cacklebean eggs and served with piccalilli, they taste awesome.”

Miles Nicholas, Butchery Manager - Flexitarian ‘Green’ Sausages, £4.95 a pack (3 for £12)

“These are brand new; we’ve been working on perfecting the recipe for a while, and they are proving popular. Eating less meat seems to be the future, the way we’ll save the world. These sausages have a great taste with the Moroccan spices and the colour really stands out.”

The Gog Farm Shop is at Heath Farm, Shelford Bottom, Cambridge, CB22 3AD. Find out more at thegog.com

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