What’s really on your Christmas menu?

With the festive season upon us many of us are already eyeing up the Christmas menus in anticipation – but how much is your choice influenced by descriptions that may not be all they seem?

The No Nonsense Christmas Menu

Organic Broccoli and Stilton Soup
There are detailed standards which must be adhered before the description ‘organic’ can be applied. The name ‘Stilton’ has legal protection so its use is restricted to specific cheese.
Homemade Chicken Liver Pate
The term ‘homemade’ can only be used for products made at home, or made in a way that reflects a typical domestic kitchen, such as a pub kitchen.
Traditional Fishcake
The term ‘traditional’ can only be used to describe a product that has existed for around 25 years.  The ingredients and process used to make the product should have been available, substantially unchanged, for that same period.

Sausages and Free Range Eggs
A ‘sausage’ only contains a minimum of 32% pork, compared to at least 42%
 pork if it is called ‘pork sausage’.  Poultry and rabbit sausage only need to contain 26% meat and for all others, including beef, the minimum is 30%.
Eggs described as ‘free range’ must be produced in poultry establishments, which meet standards such as continuous daytime access for hens to open air runs, access to ground mainly covered with vegetations and at least four square metres of ground per bird.
Norfolk Turkey Roll with Seasonal Vegetables
The turkey could be from anywhere as long as it was last underwent a substantial change, in this case rolled, in Norfolk. Slicing, cutting, mincing and/or packing of meat would not amount to the ‘substantial change’ required by law, so a Norfolk turkey breast would have to be from Norfolk.
Using the term ‘seasonal’ could be misleading if it is applied to imported produce, or produce that has been grown in heated greenhouses outside of its natural season
Fresh Pasta with Wild Mushroom Sauce
The description ‘fresh’ must not be used where ingredients have been tinned, frozen or dried. There is no legal definition of ‘wild’ but action could still be taken if a trading standards officer believed this to be misleading, and that the product had in fact been farmed

Auntie Annie’s British Christmas Pudding
When using a name this should not lead to the product easily being mistaken for another, similar product, a practice called ‘passing off’.  It also must not already be a registered trademark.
‘British’ does not mean that the ingredients must be British – it may just mean the product has been put together in Britain.
A Light Cheesecake with Exotic Fruit
The world ‘light’ may refer to the texture rather than the product being low in fat, SUGAR? or calories.  It is advisable to clarify the meaning so that it is not misleading.  If it is low in fat, sugar or calories it needs to be at least 30 per cent lower than the typical value to qualify as ‘light’.
 ‘Exotic’ fruit should be fruit that cannot be grown outside in the UK
Selection of Local Cheeses
There is no legal definition of the term ‘local’ but action can be taken by a trading standards officer if it is believed that the description is misleading.

How much did you know and how much did you learn? Many pubs and restaurants visited by trading standards officers across the country have been found to be using misleading menu descriptions. The reputable side of the business are getting increasingly frustrated that some are giving them a bad name.
But consumers can find out more for themselves, so we are hoping that by explaining some of the most common terms people will be able to make a more informed choice, ask the right questions and know exactly what they are ordering.
Are there any particular descriptions you have found misleading? Let us know.


A Load of Puff? – Mince Pies “Uncovered”

This month’s blog looks at one of the most popular festive foods – the mince pie.

Shops in Gloucestershire have their shelves filled with these, but how can you make sure Father Christmas doesn’t end up re-visiting you after Christmas, grumpily asking what happened to the amount of filling in the pies you left out for him?

The answer can be found by checking the label!

The law requires that most pre-packed foods which are made up of more than one ingredient have to declare the quantity of a particular ingredient when it:

  • appears in the name of the food (or is usually associated with that food),
  • is emphasised in words, pictures or graphics, or
  • is essential to characterise the food

The amount of mincemeat in mince pies therefore needs to be declared. This should appear as a percentage (%) and it usually appears in the ingredients list. It can also appear either in (or next to) the name of the food.

So if you like your mince pies well filled, you can find out exactly how much you will be getting by checking the label. We found that the amount of mincemeat in pies can vary from between 53% for ‘premium brand’ pies to just 30% in ‘economy brand’ pies!

This information is called a Quantitative Ingredient Declaration or ‘QUID’. It is there so that consumers can easily compare similar foods against each other and so help them make a decision about whether or not to buy.

Do you know how much meat is in your sausages? how much chicken is actually in your chicken-tikka masala meal? or how much fish is in your fisherman’s pie? The QUID declaration on the packaging should give the answer.

The next time you are out shopping, perhaps check the QUID declarations on some of the foods you buy, you might be quite surprised!

Contact us if you find something unexpected when looking at QUID declarations on food labels, let us know if you have any concerns.

Dec 08 – What’s Your Christmas Feast?

rob_christmasWhat’s your favourite Christmas food?

Rob Rees tells us his…

December is a month so full of traditions and for me the winter larder is a massive contribution to the tradition of Christmas. Here in Gloucestershire we are lucky enough to be living in an area well placed to bring the foody Christmas traditions to fruition.

Many of the region’s butchers bring us a variety of game, which is rich in flavour and natural goodness at this time of year. By its very nature it is extremely difficult for game to have been manipulated at the hands of mass production and the unadulterated meats sold by the man who has shot, hung and plucked it have a rich, raw and wholesome flavour unrivalled in today’s culinary world. Venison will always be a favourite for me at Christmas time. Whether it is a slow roasted haunch steeped in rich red wine, juniper and sage or perhaps some quick grilled medallions served as a winter salad or with “neeps”, it is always a winner.

Goose is always a great bird for the festive feast itself. Often now it is second best to the turkey, which is a shame. If you are thinking about goose this year then you need to take care during the cooking process to ensure maximum potential from your bird. Its important to add as much flavour as possible by filling the cavity of the bird with aromats such as thyme, bay leaf and garlic, maybe a studded onion and even pickled lemons or cooking apples if you like.

You also need to make a small incision under the wing of the goose and around the back by the parson’s nose – this will allow the fat to escape from the gland. As with turkeys and contrary to tradition it is best to cook any stuffing in a separate container so that the heat can penetrate all of the bird thoroughly till the juices are clear and safe to eat.

Whilst in the oven the goose still requires our respect. Before placing in the oven cover the legs with tin foil. I would then cook the bird on its back for the first hour and then turn it over. Take care to continue to baste with the excess fat keeping the bird moist. Cook till the back is golden brown and then recover with some foil. Cook for a further hour depending on the size of your goose – still keeping the legs covered. Sprinkle the back of the bird with a touch of sea salt, flour and cracked pepper to crisp up the skin in the final 30 minutes of cooking.

As with all meats you need to allow it time to relax once removed from the oven. 20 minutes should be enough time before your start to carve as required. Off course it has to served with great classics such as bread sauce, watercress and even game chips – simply shallow fry some thinly sliced washed and peeled potatoes to make your own crisps.

‘Tis the season to be poorly?

Of course turkey remains a firm favourite, but whatever meat you choose, make sure you know how to cook it safely to avoid the danger of food poisoning. See the FSA’s guide to seasonal food safety.

Five – a – day…

It always amazes me how we struggle to get the population to eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day and yet on Christmas day we consume absolutely tonnes of the stuff. I say keep it simple, don’t go over the top – try to balance it out over the other 364 days!  

The classics are always there – Brussels sprouts are vibrant, succulent and extremely earthy. Cross the stem, parboil till al dente then sauté with some spices, bacon and herbs. Bunch carrots and parsnips once scrubbed are delicious roasted with rosemary and honey. Remember that around Christmas time we are likely to have had a number of frosts – this is great news as the starches turn to sugars giving vegetables an even sweeter taste. With this in mind adapt your traditional recipe to cut back on the added sugar.

Say cheese…

As always the “pièce de résistance” has to be the Cotswold cheese board with the many local pickles and chutneys we have to choose from.

The cheeses produced in the Cotswolds are the best in the world. Forget the foreign imports. Don’t touch the ones with bits of apricot or cranberry just go for the real quality natural flavoured cheese.

I would actually suggest that this year you take time out from endless fiddly canapés and only offer a gem of a cheese board with freshly baked breads and some mulled wine.

What a year with so much food in the headlines. Let’s hope that the next actually achieves a cultural shift for the better in terms of foods we choose, cook and eat. 

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year to all.