SMALL, RURAL-BASED food businesses can find dealing with the big supermarket chains a daunting prospect. But as Diane Halliday busies herself icing cakes in her converted barn-bakery, she”s confident that her latest retail customer is well used to dealing with businesses like hers.

She”s just one of several Cumbria-based producers who have been given the opportunity to champion their delicious food to supermarket customers – but not just on the shelves.

 Diane Halliday”s Country Fare range of cakes and biscuits is on sale in the first supermarket restaurant of its kind in the UK. It”s called Artisan and has been opened at the new Kendal store of the Booths supermarket chain. Artisan will sell only locally-produced food.

This will be the first time a supermarket has given local food producers – most of whom have not yet found their way on to the supermarket shelves – the chance to showcase their products in this way.

FOOD HEROES

Diane Halliday”s converted barn in a remote hamlet near Nateby close to Penrith, is the latest stage in the development of a cake-making business that started in her kitchen. That was just six years ago but her fame spread quickly. She has been visited by TV food guru Rick Stein and appeared on his BBC Food Heroes series last week, and has also hosted one of Jamie Oliver”s chefs” schools for young cooks.

There are still sheep at the Halliday family”s Waterfoot Farm but the biggest earner are the thousands of cakes and biscuits that make up a range of 80 different goodies – all made to traditional family recipes handed down from Diane”s mother and grandmother.

“We use loads of butter and loads of eggs but we don”t use any preservatives,” says Diane.

For those who relish good food that”s a bonus, but for supermarkets looking for long-shelf life products it can be problem.

“When I was a child, baking day was on Monday. All the cake tins were filled and by the following Monday they were empty.

 Everything was made with fresh ingredients and everything was eaten quickly.

“All the shops that sell our products must make sure their customers know they contain no preservatives; it”s a big advantage to those looking for really freshly- made food but it”s something that major retailers can regard as too restrictive.”

OPPORTUNITY:

Country Fare cakes and biscuits are sold throughout Cumbria in specialist outlets but the opportunity to sell in Booths – the region”s biggest family-owned supermarket chain that is renowned for supporting local food – is a big advantage for Diane Halliday and others who will share the spotlight.

Booths have employed leading chef Stephen Doherty to work with local food producers to create an inspiring menu of regional dishes featuring local cheeses, meat and fish as well as puddings to serve in the Artisan restaurant.

Menus will change to reflect the seasons and new foods as they become available. Among the tempting selection will be Wastwater chicken as well as beef cooked in beer from the local Jennings brewery. Cumbrian breakfasts will be one of the menu”s highlights and there will also be a special children”s menu created from local produce.

ORGANIC:

Among others supplying the Artisan concept will be Alison Park whose family were pioneers of speciality food retailing through their hugely successful Low Sizergh Barn near Kendal. The dairy herd at Low Sizergh farm has now switched to organic milk production and organic cheese – Kendal Crumbly and Kendal Creamy – produced from this milk will be among the range of foods used in the Artisan restaurant.

“We wanted to make products from the milk we produce rather than see it go off into a big milk pool,” says Alison Park. “We”ve never supplied a supermarket before but this will allow us to reach a much wider audience”.

And even though another “fresh” product made from Cumbria milk only has a shelf life of 14 days, it has been eagerly added to the Artisan list by Booths. Butter made by Cream of Cumbria based in Carlisle is the creation of Sue Forrester whose catchy slogan is:

“You can whip our cream but you can”t beat our butter.”

Using milk from two local herds, Sue turns out 500 packs of butter each week. Every pack is hand-shaped. “Our cream comes in on Tuesday and Wednesday and the butter goes out on Thursday. You can”t get fresher than that,” says Sue.