Upside: Fabulous seasonal produce complimented by a staggering array of culinary ingredients, top notch meat and the best stocked cheese counter for miles
Downside: There is only one Secretts in Surrey but even if it’s a hike its worth a visit!
Flipside: The farm shop is also home to Black Barn Butchers, Eliza’s Tea Room and an ethical clothing and accessory shop Jo’s unLTD.
Today Secretts in run by father and son team Charles and Greg Secrett but they partly owe their success to their fascinating heritage. The story starts with Charles’s grandfather who chose horticulture from the range of options open to a young man in the early 1900’s. Starting his first growing venture in 1908 he was, by the time he died a legendary figure known for his innovative growing techniques, irrigation inventions and mobile glasshouses. In addition he was passionate about training and education and responsible for igniting a passion for horticulture to those he came into contact with. His great grandson Greg has carried on his tradition for growing and as well as supplying Secretts famous salad leaves to virtually every restaurant in the South East of England he also grows a huge range of speciality vegetables for many top London restaurants. On direct dial to many of London’s most feted chefs (I wouldn’t say no to his contacts list) his veg portfolio has true street credibility. The 100 acre farm whilst having a thriving wholesale business also grows for their own farm shop so while supply is seasonal; its food metres not miles here.
Entry into the EU in the 1970’s, industrial farming methods and supermarket buying methods all impacted on their original business model. The farm shop opened in 1979 as the family had to diversify their business. In the few years following they added a pick your own service where raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, peas, beans and other English garden classics are available throughout the summer. Recent innovations include poly-tunnels with table top strawberries making them disabled friendly and wheelchair accessible, plus able bodied folk also find this more back friendly too.
Entering the farm shop you are hit by the cheese counter a visual eye candy moment and a taste of what’s to come when you pass into the inner sanctum of food excellence. With over 200 varieties of cheese it’s beautifully managed by knowledgeable staff – ask for a sample or take advantage of featured cheeses. Membrillo, cheese honey and other complimentary treats top the counter and head on you’ll see the cheese biscuit selection. Thick Stockarns oatcakes, my favourites Peter’s Yard, Millers Charcoal damsels and other cheeseboard must haves are represented here. To arrive at the deli section you are taken teasingly past the stunning array of biscuits and chocolate products from independents, artisans and bigger brands. Himalayan pink salt, chilli and lime the variety is endless. Past the cake decoration stand where I discovered Uncle Roy’s Commestible Concoctions for the first time (edible flower petals, crystallised rose and violets, marigold and cornflower)
my cakes have never been better dressed. The large deli counter is heaving with pies, unusual scotch eggs (I spied onion bhaji last visit) quiches made on site plus free-range ham or salamis. Hillyers of Farncombe supply traditional bread and artisan sour doughs come from The Hungry Guest in Chichester and Farretti in Lodsworth. Cakes are from Crosbies and Farmhouse Cookery, gluten free options from Mrs Crimbles (plus a free-from section with pasta and other staples).
The back wall is home to sauces, mustards, pesto’s and pickles while further on olives, oils, vinegars can be found. Cous-cous, basmati & Thai rice plus top quality pasta is next while a central island is home to help yourself olives, chillies and other pickled treats. Vintage food tins, designer napkins, cards and other and other gift shop items are also for sale.
Different from other farm shops, Secretts has a huge selection of meat, jams, preserves, herbs, spices, baked goods, and frozen food. There is a help-yourself ethos so you can buy herbs and spices by the gram, frozen berries by the kilo, or even frozen croissants. A great selection of pre-packed spices from the Seasoned Pioneer, superb Lebanese pomegranate molasses and lots more gourmet ingredients for those dabbling in world cuisine can be picked up here.
Dotted around the shop are also foodie items that will get the memories flooding back! Tunnock’s retro packs of caramel chocolate treats and oddballs like Fry’s chocolate cream.
Arriving at the final section of the shop holds fresh meat from Black Barn (who also have a retail outlet just outside the farm shop) and the fresh produce section. Fresh ginger, garlic (smoked and regular), lemon grass just hint at the exotics. Grown metres from the shop the salad leaf selection and season permitting golden and red beetroot and carrots, cabbage, salsify, kale, leeks, & parsnips. Dotted in-between are bought in items that supplement own grown. It’s a heady display of local and imported produce.
This is more than just a farm shop it’s a family run business with a soulful history. Charles and Greg Secrett have adjusted to the challenges of our political food system and kept the business thriving. The tea room Eliza’s recently taken over by Butter and Cream cakes is brighter with a tasty contemporary menu, the award-winning butcher on site sells rare breeds and free range meats. Even the boutique prides itself on sourcing fair trade jewellery and other items to its stock.
Although this review is really about the farm shop this venue has so much more to offer; and if like me you want to support independents, you’ll find that’s what on offer here is hard to beat.
Tel 01483 520500