Shropshire Fine Herbs
PUBLISHED: 17:24 17 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:42 20 February 2013
The couple behind Shropshire Fine Herbs believe their surroundings are fundamental to their success
Annie and Hugh Laughton of Shropshire Fine Herbs have been producing fine herb oatmeal biscuits since 2006. Hand-baked in a converted stable block at Alderton, north Shropshire, the biscuits are made using local organic oatmeal and flour and freshly chopped herbs from their flourishing walled garden.
The biscuits are fast becoming a popular accompaniment for cheese and charcuterie across the country and the Laughtons believe their base in Shropshire has been fundamental to their success.
Shropshire is such a rural county and there is nothing remotely commuter-beltish about it. This means that farming and the food industry in Shropshire is much less geared toward commercial mass production than other counties. Food is a culture here, explains Annie.
Shropshire Fine Herbs began as a result of an over-abundance of parsley in Annies herb garden, which she supplied to a local fishmonger. Keen horticulturalists, the Laughtons decided to develop this herb-growing business by renting two acres of walled garden from a local country estate. Soon, they were supplying fresh herbs to local restaurants and delis in Ludlow and supplying mint tips to the dessert chef on the Orient Express. Annie says: We found that our customers really appreciated the wide range of different herbs we could provide and the opportunity to buy rarer varieties so we worked on developing our produce.
This first success was abruptly halted when an early winter frost destroyed most of their tender crops. While trying to find alternative and more reliable ways of using the herbs, former chef Annie created a batch of oatmeal biscuits which incorporated local organic flour and oatmeal and their own freshly chopped herbs an instant hit with family and friends.
They were very basic indeed in the beginning, says Hugh. We packed them into cellophane bags and hand tied them with raffia and ribbon and took them to Ludlow. Thankfully, we found enough people there who were willing to take us on.
After a month of developing the product and creating a range of biscuits that includes garlic, chive and parsley, thyme and the more unusual lavender variety, it wasnt long before Shropshire Fine Herbs was supplying delis and farm shops across Shropshire.
Moving production to the new bakery allowed Annie and Hugh to boost supply they now employ seven full-time bakery staff. And as the popularity of the biscuits grew, demand increased and Hugh and Annie now supply more than 400 fine food retailers across the country, along with exporting internationally and making biscuits for other prestige UK retailers.
The response from the public to our biscuits has been amazing. Our point of difference is the freshness of our produce, and the locality of our ingredients, enthuses Hugh, a
former wine buyer. Every ingredient is organic and carefully sourced.
The ethos of quality, locality and sustainability extends to their biscuit packaging which is made two miles from their home and is recyclable.
The biscuits have won five Golds at the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste Awards and last year attracted the attention of Cotswolds-based food, farming and environmental marketing specialists, Whisper.pr, who asked the Laughtons to supply biscuits to accompany the Yellow Peril cheese, commissioned from Charles Martell of Stinking Bishop fame, for the party and awards ceremony celebrating the 75th anniversary of Farmers Weekly magazine.
We dont claim to be farmers, but we are certainly agriculturalists, says Hugh. We believe that we can make the best biscuits only by using the best British ingredients from our local area, from our own fresh herbs, right down to pure Halen Mon Sea Salt crystals from Anglesey.
This emphasis on quality and provenance is unquestionably inspired by their Shropshire surroundings and neighbours, many of whom are busy with similar ventures to Annie and Hugh.
We all help each other out here, says Annie. People have such a great knowledge of food and we share it with each other. We make the best of the land and grow produce which is geared toward quality, not quantity.