Spelt is an aristocratic cousin of wheat. And with its medieval ancestry and willowy stems, it is quite at home swaying in the breeze at Sharpham Park, Somerset. But spelt is not just a posh plant – its rich nutty flavour makes for fine tasting breads and cereals and it has proven benefits for those with wheat intolerances.
‘Spelt is the key to our estate,’ says Sharpham owner Roger Saul. ‘The rest is trimming around the centre.’ This ‘trimming’ takes the form of two flocks of sheep, a herd of cows and a herd of deer – all rare breeds. Mr Saul and his wife Monty have lived at the medieval Somerset estate since they married. Passionate about organically farmed, healthy and natural food, they have gradually bought back former pieces of Sharpham land in order to recreate a profitable mixed economy estate. And as founder of the British design label Mulberry, Roger Saul is no stranger to producing and marketing quality products.
There was a certain ‘naivety’ to begin with, Mr Saul admits, and there were plenty of hurdles to overcome: ‘Where do you want me to start?’ he sighs. ‘I came straight out of the fashion industry and wanted a product we could go all the way through with.’ It was his sister who first heard about spelt and its benefits to those with dietary intolerances. Mr. Saul was surprised to discover it was not grown in Britain and started doing seed trials. ‘There was a whole load of problems,’ he says, ‘Spelt is an amazing looking crop but it is difficult to de-husk and there is very high wastage.’ But he persevered and against all odds Sharpham Park’s first spelt flour was produced 18 months ago. Mr. Saul immediately set out to produce a whole range of spelt food products.
‘I’m now building a flour mill on the farm,’ he says, adding that with up to 6% more protein than flour, spelt is easier to make into bread and better for those with irritable bowel syndrome and other intolerances. ‘It is easier to digest,’ he explains. ‘The vast majority of people find they are not intolerant to it.’ According to Mr. Saul, spelt’s hard outer husk accounts for this. ‘It protects and seals the seed husk from sprays and insects,’ he explains.
An excellent source of Riboflavin, spelt is an important food for migraine sufferers and with its high zinc content it controls blood sugar levels. Spelt is also believed to help reduce cholesterol and lipoprotein levels. Sharpham now have a spelt biscuit range and sell spelt pastas, and pies. A decadent muesli range was launched in October, using spelt flakes and puffs, seeds, grains and dried fruit. The Estate Mix contains all kinds of seed, nut and grain found at Sharpham and the Summer Mix includes a variety of dried summer berries. Packed lovingly in stiff brown paper bags, the mueslis have been selling faster than they can be produced.
And Sharpham spelt muesli is a success story in the fields as well as on the breakfast table. A herd of white park cattle, a flock of Manx Loghtan sheep and a parkland full of red deer are finding it easy to digest, nutritious and extremely appetising. ‘We feed it to the animals with the husk on,’ says Mr. Saul. ‘And as a result the meat tastes exceptional.’
The Sauls only decided to keep animals in order to restore the estate as a mixed economy park: having read the ancient records of the estate they tried and tested every animal that might have been found at the park. Rare breeds were not something they initially set out to buy but it soon became apparent that the less common, more old-fashioned breeds were in keeping with the estate, as well as being rich in flavour. ‘In the end we chose the ones that are easiest to keep outside in a proper organic environment, and it was a bonus that these animals are also very attractive.’ says Mr. Saul.
White park cattle are large with widespread horns and black muzzles, ears and feet. Light brown Manx Loghtan can have up to six horns – for two weeks in spring the fields at Sharpham are filled with tiny black lambs, soon to turn brown like their mothers. The sheep are sold as Hoggits, since cuts aged 12 months or more provide a much greater flavour than lamb. Manx Loghtan meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than other sheep and can graze in sensitive ecosystems without damaging it Sharpham venison, lamb and beef already have a huge following amongst foodies. Animal stress levels are kept to a minimum and top quality finishing and butchery are a priority. ‘The taste is dependent upon every part of the process,’ Mr. Saul stresses.
For mere ‘trimmings,’ the animals at Sharpham are looked after extremely well and the meat is as special as the spelt. ‘Most estates are still being broken down into small pieces.’ Mr. Saul says, ‘but we are working hard to rebuild this one.’ Sharpham Park is a rare jewel of a farm. By entwining the principles of a medieval mixed economy park with pioneering environmentally friendly farming practices and the demands of modern day diet, the Saul’s have enabled Sharpham to produce the highest quality food whilst operating as a traditional estate.
For more information or to order Sharpham Park products please visit Sharpham Park