In the Studio with 6 South West artisans

In a new book, we’re given a peek at the lives and inspirations of South West artisans and granted entry into their workshops and studios…

In The Making is a new book produced by the famous Frome Independent. This vibrant, festival-like market is known not only for its sense of celebration but also its variety of independent, talented craftspeople.

In its pages, these makers open the doors to their studios, workshops and kitchens, giving us a glimpse into the lesser-seen spaces where they create their artisanal products and letting us in on their inspirations.

Local photographer Alice Whitby spent much of last year photographing these makers in their natural habitats, catching them in action and documenting the creative spaces they work in.

What follows is just of some of our favourite insights into the worlds of the book’s food and drink-focused crafters…

Quotes and images taken from In The Making by The Frome Independent, with photography by Alice Whitby. Crumbs readers can buy a copy for £15 (RRP £18) by using the code CRUMBSOFFER when ordering at thefromeindependent.org.uk

Westcombe Dairy

Cheese has been made on Westcombe Farm since the late-19th century, when an Edith Cannon was busy making her version. Nowadays, it’s Tom Calver – also a trained chef – and his team that you’ll find toiling over their award-winning cheese at the Somerset dairy.

It’s all about traditional West Country Cheddar, made with unpasteurised milk from the dairy’s own cows. Tom has made it his business to understand the daily changing character of his herd’s milk, which, he says, is hugely impacted by the patch of countryside where the cows graze.

“You see, here in the verdant hills of east Somerset, terroir is – and always has been – vital to producing exceptional Cheddar,” Tom explains in the book. “Without the combination of the lush pastures, plentiful spring water, rolling hills and cool mists we’re blessed with, our cows wouldn’t produce such rich milk and we wouldn’t be able to slowly mature our cheeses so they develop such complexity and character.”

Holdsworth Hunt Knives

When Ed Holdsworth Hunt’s favourite knife broke, he struggled to find a replacement. So – as you do – he decided to make his own. That was five years ago, and he’s been crafting knives ever since.

Working with high-carbon steel and sustainable, often local and reclaimed wood (think old timber beams or hardwood floorboards), Ed now makes a whole range, including sheath – ideal for foragers – and kitchen knives. His work is meditative, he says in the book.

“I find I ‘come to’ after hours of work and see what I have been up to! It is the pursuit of perfection. The most important part being that every stage of the creation has been done to the absolute best of my ability. I never settle for the ‘that will do’ attitude.”

These knives are mostly made to order, but sometimes Ed has some to sell on his stall at the market, too.

Absolutely Preserves

Mary Longford spent her career as a creative, working on performances and installations. She’s always had an interest in food, though, and it was that which ignited the spark for her preserves business.

“My life-long love of cooking was inspired by my Italian mother who spent part of her childhood in Egypt, then on coming to live on a farm in Britain she learnt to cook English food and to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs,” Mary says. “At an early age I was used to eating a combination of different foods: a bowl of ravioli followed by poached Pershore plums or homegrown stuffed marrow and tomatoes followed by steamed blackberry and apple pudding.

“I have carried on combining food in this way, but now mix together unusual ingredients and flavours, which has become a hallmark of Absolutely Preserves.”

Fi Underhill

Having learned her pottery trade in London, Fi moved to Frome in 2017, expanding her range of stoneware pots to include kitchenware like plates and mugs. These items have special significance to her, as she notes in In The Making.

“Tableware is used every day, yet is imbued with the ritual of preparing and enjoying food or drink, and the beauty of company or a quiet moment. The pots I favour in my home have borne witness to these daily moments of meaningful mundanity over many years, and my hope in making objects is that they will hold a similar place in other people’s lives.

“I find making mugs really satisfying – balancing the shape and weight of the thrown pot with the placement and curve of the pulled handle is a process I am constantly tweaking and improving, but that feeling when the handle is just right is so good! I also love the rhythmic, process-driven nature of working with clay; there is an optimum window in the life of each pot for its progression to the next stage and tuning into these rhythms is essential to a pot’s existence.”

Worleys Cider

Neil Worley and Helen Burge are the pair behind this award-winning Shepton Mallet business. Their Special Reserve keeved cider – inspired by the Breton style – won the Nigel Barden Heritage Award at the most recent Great Taste Awards. These guys make cider the traditional way, carefully selecting their fruit and paying great attention to the art of fermentation.

“Cider has always seemed a slightly murky and mysterious world, best stumbled upon in the sheds and lanes of the UK’s South West counties, the Welsh borders, the Spanish regions of Basque and Asturias, or Normandy and Brittany in France,” they say in the book. “It’s full of myth, legend and slightly crazed country folk. When we started making cider, a lot of this mystique and authenticity seemed to have been mislaid in concrete factories making cheap fizzy drinks from apple juice concentrate, artificial colouring and lots of water. Which seemed a bit of a shame. So we set about trying to bring back to cider some of the timeless inspiration anyone can feel in an autumnal apple orchard.”

The Bakemonger

Helen Bakunowicz has had a colourful career – literally. She started it working as a textile designer before becoming a colour and trend forecaster. She founded The Bakemonger in 2014 and is a self-taught baker.

“For many years I baked up a storm at home, experimenting and enthusiastically feeding friends and family,” she recalls. “In more recent years, however, beautiful bakes and culinary delights took over my inspiration boards, and baking has very naturally become my creative medium.”

Her artistic flair and appreciation for colour and form are clear to see in her creative and distinctive bakes, which merge the worlds of food and art.

“I love experimenting with new techniques. I design first, often sketching for the client. Then all the various decorative components are made bespoke before baking commences. I love that moment when everything is ready and it’s time for the design to come to life. Suddenly all the planning and prepping comes together and the magic really happens.”

Photography: Alice Whitby