The Special ‘Source’: The Secret Behind Best-Selling Vegan Lasagna | A vision for better food

With an estimated 5-7% of people in the UK following a vegan diet, according to market researcher YouGov, food producers across the country have readjusted their ready-to-cook portfolios to include more vegetarian and vegan options.

Charlie Bigham is one of the guys who has embraced this planet-friendly evolution, and the results – a delicious array of vegetarian dishes – have gone well with customers.

For over 25 years, the ready-to-cook food empire that Bigham founded has been producing meals based on fresh, nutritious produce.

He was originally inspired by flavors and ingredients he came across while traveling the world, and he wanted to reproduce this quality in the UK.

As the company grew, Bigham saw the need to cater to the growing number of people interested in caring for animals and the planet. By working with British producers to source the highest quality ingredients, Bigham has created a collection of seven vegetarian dishes that has more than just a spot with shoppers.

The bestseller is the vegetarian lasagna, which Bigham describes as a more planet-friendly evolution of the company’s best-selling beef version. “We thought the world was changing – so let’s challenge ourselves to do more,” he says.

“At the heart of good lasagna is ragu. So we made a beautiful lentil and mushroom based ragu. It’s rich, earthy and well balanced by the first-class cheese flavour. People really like him.”

Ragu needs pasta to make lasagna, and Charlie Bigham’s adds five great layers so the portion stands up nicely on the plate. The pasta is made by its own chefs while trusted farmers grow fresh peppers, eggplant, zucchini and herbs for the dish.

Served with a salad and easy-drinking Italian wine – perhaps a ruby ​​red Ricasoli Fiodo della Trabola (2019) from Tuscany – it adds up to a hearty meal with minimal effort.

A view of the barber's fields
Barber's Holstein-Friesian flock

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to that cheese layer with a tasty tang. For her cheeses, Charlie Bigham turns to Barber’s, a Somerset dairy farm and cheese maker that dates back to 1833.

It is headed up by Giles Barber, who with his father, uncle, siblings and cousins ​​has been supplying the company with vintage spare cheddar cheese for many years. “Our farms and factory are only 15 miles from Cheddar Village. Here, you have the right climatic conditions for dairy cows; the right amount of rain, the right types of soil, and green grass rich in proteins and sugars, which is what dairy cows love,” Barber says.

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He believes that “happy cows equal great milk” so the Holstein-Friesian herd has some of the best farming conditions around, with Red Tractor’s certified dairy standards being the starting point for barbers. Cows spend as much time outdoors as possible, and when winter drives them indoors, they have enough room to roam.

Chris, Giles’ brother, is the director of agriculture and takes care of everything from raising young livestock to managing the people who do the milking.

Only four ingredients—milk, vegetable rennet (used to separate solid curds from liquid whey), salt and a starter culture—are necessary to make cheddar cheese. “We are custodians of a group of starter cultures that have been harvested from milk many generations ago,” Barber says. “They break down protein to release flavor compounds. This is where the flavors of cheese come in. Our vintage reserve for Charlie Bigham is the result of proteins being broken down for 20 to 24 months.”

Giles Barber is looking for cheddar cheese for vegan lasagna
Cheddar piece

An important tradition of Barber’s cheese making is ‘cheddar’ – the curds are sliced ​​and stacked by hand. This technology, along with adherence to farming and other cheesemaking guidelines, has made Barber’s one of only six makers able to name West Country Farmhouse Cheddar cheese under the Protected Designation of Origin scheme.

“Our cheesemakers, including my 79-year-old uncle, are in the dairy every day watching how the curds change,” Barber says. We measure levels of moisture, fat, protein, acidity, and salt. The trick is to determine the shape, aroma and taste of cheddar curd. We’ve added science to sense skills. It’s a two-pronged approach, using science and art, to make the best quality cheese.”

Charlie Bigham and Giles Barber

When it comes to environmental awareness, Charlie Bigham suppliers are one step ahead. This ethical reasoning is one of the reasons for the company’s certification as a B-Corp. “Sustainability is important to us and to the people who buy our cheese,” Barber says. “It is genetically our business to take care of the land we farm, the cows in our care, and the community in which we work.

“It’s actually something that should be important to all of us who live on this planet.”

Tuscan panzanella salad – great with vegetable lasagna

to equip 30 minutes
serve 4

500 grams tomato Looking for the best possible quality
200g ciabatta or sourdough
2 garlic cloves,
finely chopped
sea ​​salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
20 ml of red wine vinegar
1 medium cucumber,
Peeled and cut into small pieces
1 medium red onion, finely sliced
A handful of shredded basil leaves
a small handful of capers,
Squeezed from brine

Wash the tomatoes and cut each into six slices. Put in a bowl and toss with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Leave it to soak those lovely juices will form the sauce.

Cut the bread into small pieces about the size of tomato wedges. Leave it in a warm place for 20 minutes – this helps dry it.

Add chopped red onion and chopped cucumber to the tomatoes, mix everything together gently. Add the bread pieces and leave for a few minutes until the bread begins to absorb the juices. Sprinkle capers and fresh basil before serving.

Illustration of tomatoes and lentils

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

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