“ Chilli farm in Chawston, Bedfordshire offering guided tours and tastings - Address: Cherwood Nursery / Blue Bells / Chawston / Bedfordshire MK44 3BL / Tel: 01480 405663 „
* If you are interested in booking this tour please read to the bottom of the review*
Himself is a man who much prefers to do than to have so a morning at a chilli farm sounded like an ideal birthday present. Here at Chateau Fidaz we've tried our hand at chilli growing but living in a ground floor flat we tend not to get the amount of direct sunlight necessary for such an undertaking and our plants have borne only meagre yields. Chillies are a staple ingredient in our household; Himself believes that there are no dishes that can't be enhanced with some fresh chilli or at least a splash of hot sauce. He's what is known in the world of chilli aficionados as a 'hothead'.
I found "Edible Ornamentals" by chance while looking for something else entirely on Lastminute.com. The company has a large chilli farm (they also grow lovely green tomatillos - basically a green tomato that grows inside a papery husk, they're used a lot for salsas in Mexican cooking) in Chawston in Bedfordshire and visitors can tour the farm and learn about the different types of chilli and how they are grown.
There are two tours available but they take place at the same time. There is the standard package where you get to tour the farm and take part in a tasting session, and the deluxe option whereby you get to pick three of the company's sauces or relishes to take home with you, and a light lunch: I chose the deluxe option.
I booked through Lastminute.com and within a couple of days I received a voucher and gift certificate, along with some information about Edible Ornamentals, in the post. I then had to contact the farm to arrange a date to visit. My first date was no good because the farm was holding a special event for father's day weekend but my second choice was fine. I was advised what time to arrive and promptly mislaid the piece of paper. However the information sheet that had been sent to me said the farm was open for tours from 11.00am until 5.00pm so I assumed that we were due there at 11.00.
On the appointed day we turned up nice and early at 10.30 to find out that we should have been there thirty minutes earlier. Fortunately the tour had not begun until 10.15 so we hadn't missed a great deal and, besides, we were told we could do the first fifteen minutes of the next tour if we wanted.
EDIBLE ORNAMENTALS at CHAWSTON
The taxi driver who brought us from St. Neots had never heard of the chilli farm but, once I had furnished him with the postcode, used his trusty sat-nav to get us there. It's fifteen minutes at the most from St. Neots. There are plenty of parking spaces for visitors coming by car. Joanna met us at the little wooden cabin that doubles as a shop and tasting centre, put our overnight bags in the office and took us to join the group.
Joanna's husband, Shawn, is the tour guide; an American by birth, he is passionate about chillies and if there's something he doesn't know about chillies, it's probably not worth knowing. Over the course of the tour Shawn had plenty of talking to do but he did a good job to keep it interesting and engaging, inviting questions and offering advice to amateur chilli growers among the tour group.
During the tour you'll learn about the world's hottest chillies, how to effectively grow chillies (when to plant, what to grow them in, and so on) and lots of other chilli related facts. You'll pick your own chillies (one of two each of several different kinds) which you can take home with you and at the end of all that you'll take part in a tasting session. First you get to taste the various sauces and relishes that Edible Ornamental make from their own chillies; among them there's a wonderful citrussy chilli jam and a really hot sauce called "Inferno".
Then the chilli tasting begins. Nobody is under pressure to take part but everyone in our group tried at least the first couple because Brad starts with the mildest and slowly turns up the heat. Cold milk was on hand for anyone who felt that his or her mouth was burning. I surprised myself at how much heat I was able to tolerate: I think the fact that I'd spent that money and travelled so far was instrumental in pushing me further (though I bowed out two chillies from end). As we tasted Brad asked us to talk about the flavours of the chillies, not just the heat level; this was a real eye opener and in future I'll think more about about the flavours that fresh chillies are adding to the food I'm cooking rather than the fire power.
At the end of the tour you're welcome to stay as long as you want, looking around the farm or sitting with a drink in the garden area. As well as their own products, Edible Ornamentals sell other chilli related products and the gear for growing your own.
We ate our lunch at an outside table although we could have eaten inside the main greenhouse if we'd wanted to. Lunch was a plate of sandwiches in made from lovely crusty bread, one filled with ham, the other with cheddar; they looked tasty and the salad garnish made the presentation look very colourful. Alongside this there was a dish of tortilla chips, and a tray of the different relishes and sauces made by Edible Ornaments. I tried the caramelised onion relish with the cheddar, a really tasty combination but the "Luscious Lemon Relish" with the ham was even better. Finally there was a juicy poblano chilli filled with cream cheese and wrapped in ham before being cooked - we did the same thing with the poblanos we took home.
Just after eating we were met by fellow Dooyoo-er, koshkha and her husband who had come to pick us up. We were ready to leave when it was discovered that there was chilli ice cream. Naturally we all had to sample it and very good it was too - deliciously creamy with a serious chilli kick; I'm not sure I'd want to eat it every day but every other would suffice.
Himself really enjoyed this tour and would have gone round twice if I'd let him. We both consider ourselves fairly clued up when it comes to chillies but we learned loads of new things and got some ideas for improving our own meagre crops. Joanna and Shawn are great hosts and praise must go to Shawn in particular because his commentary was really inspiring. It was fun to pick our own chillies and we are still enjoying them several weeks later. If you don't want to do the whole tour I believe you can come and "pick your own" too.
To get the most out of the experience it's suggested that you visit between May and September - at other times there won't be so much to see as the chillis need the heat from the sun to grow. The minimum age for the tour is 16 if accompanied by an over 18 year old (however I would contact Edible Ornamentals directly if you wish to bring children as it may be possible). There is a small amount of walking involved in the tour but some of it is on uneven ground.
I went to lastminute.com to check the current price for the tour but they no longer sell this one. However you can book directly with Edible Ornamentals, or with Virgin Experience Days (and if you go through Virgin Experience Days, be sure to visit that through topcashback.com and get a whopping 10% cashback).
I paid £59 for a deluxe tour for two. A standard tour costs £35 for two. It was money well spent.