The art of the Ploughman’s

Bread? Cheese?  Ham? Pickles? Check! On the face of it a Ploughman’s lunch is a very simple combination of staple foods. But done well, it can be not only incredibly tasty, but a fantastic way to make the most of great local produce. I’ve had some delicious Ploughman’s (and some terrible ones!), so I thought I’d have a look at its history and how it’s come to be so varied, in both contents and quality… with a look at some of the best local ingredients we’ve found along the way.

Imagining the history of the Ploughman’s lunch, I would picture a farmhouse kitchen table, with a humble spread, waiting for the farmer to come in ready to be recharged for the afternoon’s work. And the fact that people would think that today is probably way beyond the wildest expectations of the Milk Marketing Board when it started to promote a new meal called the Ploughman’s lunch in the 1960s, as a way to encourage people to eat more cheese after the Second World War.

That’s not to say that what we know as a Ploughman’s hasn’t been eaten down the centuries (it has without doubt), but rationing broke so many food habits that the combination of bread, cheese, ham and pickles needed to be rebranded to get people eating it again. And they obviously did a good job as it’s been a staple of pub lunch menus ever since. There’s a far more detailed article on the history of the Ploughman’s on the Pong Cheese website.

Part of the joy of the Ploughman’s is that there aren’t any fixed rules about what goes into it. And with such a simple combination of base ingredients, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could go wrong. But I think it can often be seen as a quick fix, low cost menu item with part-baked baguettes and cheap ham and cheese padded out with lots of lettuce. It’s not only about quality of ingredients though, balance is also crucial in making it enjoyable to eat.

We had an excellent Ploughman’s recently when we visited the cafe at Emmett’s Store (@EmmettsHam) in the really pretty village of Peasenhall near Framlingham. The photo doesn’t really do it justice because the speciality at Emmett’s is the ham, but the rest was spot on too; homemade spicy banana chutney, sourdough with poppy seeds, a rather nice piece of Stilton and a small amount of salad.

Ploughman's board

Ploughman’s board

Emmett’s Store is worth a visit, even if you don’t have time to go to the cafe. It’s been trading on the same site since 1820 and they sell a huge range of their own ham and bacon products (all produced on site from Blythburgh free range pork), as well as beautiful charcuterie from Spain and Italy, cheeses, preserves and sweet treats. It really is a great place to visit.

Hams at Emmett's Store

Hams at Emmett’s Store

I also wanted to mention a couple of excellent local cheeses that we’ve tried recently, which would be a great addition to a Ploughman’s: Baron Bigod, a soft cheese, from Fen Farm Dairy (@FenFarmDairy) near Bungay, and Shipcord, a cheddar style cheese from Rodwell Farm Dairy in Baylham near Ipswich. Both are made from raw (unpasturised) milk, and both are produced on their dairy farms. We got hold of them at the Suffolk Food Hall (@suffolkfoodhall), just outside Ipswich.

When it comes to additional items, you can never go wrong with a pork pie, an apple and of course a nice ale on the side, but if I start writing about all of those things, this blog will never end! A good Ploughman’s is as simple as it sounds, the trick is to choose just a few quality ingredients, and they will speak for themselves.

If you’ve found somewhere that does a great Ploughman’s we’d love to hear about it!

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