Helen Peacocke finds out about all that’s cooking at Chris and Vix Mills’ Upton Smokery

More than eight years have passed since I first visited Chris Mills at the Upton Smokery, which stands on the edge of the Cotswolds, just off the A40 and reasonably close to Burford.

I remember how proud Chris was when we met, for although his business was in its infancy, he was already supplying a broad range of oak and beech-smoked meat, game and fish products to both the public and catering outlets, wholesalers and distributers in the area. There was no farm shop then, just the smokery and much of his business was mail order. Most of the meat he smoked then included game birds and venison which he hunted in the vicinity.

Over the years Chris and his wife Vix have expanded their business, and now boast a superb farm shop housed in a converted barn close by, which can be found on a right hand turning from A40 that leads to Bibury (B4425) This shop is a gourmet’s wonderland as it stocks a superb collection of fruits, meats, cheeses and sauces, many of which are unique to US which is the name Chris and Vix couldn’t resist giving the shop when they realised that the letters not only stood for Upton Smokery but also signified it was their shop. “Everything is chosen by us, made by us, smoked by us, grown by us, found by us and loved by us. When we realised this we just had to change the name to US,” Chris said proudly.

I have used the shop frequently, particularly when I’m seeking unusual produce that will transform a simple picnic into a feast or add a special dimension to a dinner party. I also love using a pinch of the smoked salt or the smoked sea salt, tomato and basil mix when I am cooking a cassoulet.

My visit this time saw me leaving armed with bags of firm Heritage tiger tomatoes that not only look simply amazing but taste fantastic, also a package of smoked guinea fowl supreme which goes very well with salads and is the perfect ingredient for a picnic. I got carried away when I noticed the kiln hot roasted salmon too, which I knew would be perfect for a kedgeree (see recipe, left) and a jar of smoked potted shrimps which I simply couldn’t resist. I bought the shrimps because this product keeps well stored in a fridge and is particularly useful when unexpected guests arrive without warning. Only one snag – they are so good you may find yourself eating them long before those guests arrive! I am afraid I ate mine last night, having spread them on a couple of slices of hot toast made from Chris’s sourdough bread which is baked on the premises. They were a perfect evening snack.

Witney Gazette:
Chris Mills with some smoked specialities

Potted shrimps are something our ancestors ate before modern preserving methods come into being, as pouring clarified butter over cooked shrimps is an excellent way of preserving them. The brown prawns used now are gathered mainly from Morecambe Bay. Clarifying the butter and filtering it to remove milk solids before pouring it over the shrimps prevents the butter from turning rancid, and helps it set with a more robust seal. Chris sees this product as a nice little extra variety which his customers are looking for.

Chris and Vex attempt to acquire most of their stock locally, they accept this is important, but they also accept that occasionally it is necessary to go outside the Oxfordshire boundaries if they want to offer their customers a real choice. They even drive over to France and Italy now and again to collect cured meats and fresh pasta that they can’t get in the UK.

Chris explained most of their stock, which includes: chicken, duck, goose, guinea fowl, pigeon, salmon, trout, ham, smoked garlic and sometimes wild boar is not only local, but smoked on the premises. During the weekend the shop also serves pizzas they make themselves flavoured with their smoked products.

And there’s the Bullshot sauces which boast “a bit of a bite” which are also created by Chris. He describes these sauces as a kitchen essential with a hint of smoke and a touch of fire, in other words the perfect ingredient to add to a Bloody Mary. It heightens the flavour of winter soups, casseroles and stir-fries too.

On Fridays and Saturdays their newly acquired, wood-burning pizza oven becomes a big attraction.

At the moment the smoker stands three fields way away from the farm shop, but soon it will be incorporated into the shop as Chris and Vix plan to extend their enterprising business and provide customers with a chance to see how some of their products are prepared. This will take a year or more — in the meantime, free cups of coffee and a warm welcome is offered to all visitors, many who just come to look round but leave carrying armfuls of mouth-watering products.