A handful of flavor: “Herbs add an extra zingy touch” | A vision for better food

Joe Cottingham’s day begins hours before most of us would think to squeeze in a snooze. “It often starts at 4 a.m. to ensure it is as cool as possible when we start harvesting,” says Cottingham, whose huge crop of crops includes basil, beef tomatoes and baby zucchini.

A typical day for him would involve checking how the planting, watering and harvesting are going, managing the packaging and distribution process, and working with retailers.

Cottingham, who has been in agriculture for nearly 25 years, is a principal at Watts Farms Group, which operates in eight locations across Kent and Essex.

The farms grow more than 100 types of vegetables, fruits and herbs, and have customers that range from supermarkets, hotels and restaurants to people who live locally. For the past six years, Cottingham and his team have been responsible for growing the freshest herbs that go into some of Charlie Bigham’s most popular ready-to-cook meals, taking them from delicious to wonderful.

Cottingham tends to increase hrbs

“We grow here a whole host of herbs—flat parsley, curly parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, and basil,” Cottingham says. “And we supply our fresh cilantro and flat parsley to the team at Charlie Bigham’s.” Herbs are intended for recipes such as curries and fish pies.

“The careful use of fresh herbs makes a huge difference,” says Charlie Bigham, founder of the food empire that bears his name. “The herbs give a dish a refreshing look and make it look more appealing.”

Watts Farms’ locations in some of the UK’s warmer regions mean that parsley can be grown most of the year, increasing freshness and reducing the environmental impact of food miles as buyers don’t need to source from abroad.

Sprinkle herbs on Charlie Bigham's plate
Joe Cottingham carrying a bunch of herbs

The herbs are harvested daily and delivered to Charlie Bigham’s kitchen near Wells, in Somerset, the next morning. There, it is washed and chopped by a specially trained parsley team using dedicated equipment (read: the razor sharp!).

Bigham says that freshness is key. There are certain herbs that can only be used fresh. And for me, parsley is at the top of that list. If you have one of those jars of dried parsley at home, I suggest you use what you have and never buy it again! “

How to keep herbs in mint condition

What’s Cottingham’s secret to ensuring that the herbs he harvests are to your liking? “We grow many varieties and have done a lot of experimental work to find the right ones for the right farms in the right weather conditions. The variety we use in the spring will be different than the variety we use now, for example,” he says. “This means we grow our herbs in small batches and each year we evaluate them to make sure we have the most suitable varieties.”

But he says what matters is not just the suitability of the growing environment. “It’s all ultimately driven by taste and flavour, as well as how much life we ​​can get from a plant post-harvest – we want to keep our plants as fresh as possible.”

It then turns out that Cottingham has become an expert when it comes to recognizing the specific flavors of each herb. “When we choose flavors, we are looking for the distinct taste of cilantro or that of flat parsley, but not that they are too concentrated or strong. While it is difficult to overuse fresh herbs, there is often soap with cilantro, for example, which can It can get strong or too floral. So we look for flavors that leave their mark on dishes without being overpowering.”

Close working relationships with clients such as Charlie Bigham make the process enjoyable and successful. “We have a great relationship with the team at Bigham’s, and Charlie has gone out and seen our farmer for himself,” Cottingham says.

“It was great talking to people who are passionate about food like Charlie and his team. It’s also great for our customers to see what we do for them, so they can understand the entire supply chain and how we work.

“We work closely to source the best possible product in Charlie’s kitchens and ensure that the meals that reach shoppers are of the best quality possible.”

Charlie Bigam Dish

Satisfaction with tasting the final product is also a bonus. “It’s great to eat the dishes knowing you played a part in making them. Our classes are long and fairly relentless from a labor intensity perspective – a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into farming. So we actually understand where our herbs are going, why they’re used and to eat them. And we see how one ingredient is turned into a mixture of so many ingredients. It’s really beautiful.”

Even the best home chefs love to spend the night sometimes, and that’s where their Charlie Bigham dishes come in. With everything from meat pies to paella and salmon in cruti, It has never been easier to feed your family well

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