Here at Local Food Britain, it’s fair to say that we come across a fair few original and innovative products – but it’s hard to think of many more creative than those of John and Mary Stratton at Stratta in East Sussex.
Using the finest ingredients, sourced locally whenever possible, they make everything from exotic sweet vinegars, flavoured with fragrant flowers and forgotten English fruits, to herb-infused olive oils including rosemary, tarragon and smoked garlic. Then there’s their speciality products, such as spiced Sussex pears, salt-preserved lemons, and balsamic fig paste.
“We are constantly experimenting with new recipes and ingredient combinations,” says John. “It’s almost like a form of alchemy”.
“We also love using old cookbooks, which will often trigger an idea, such as our ‘medlar’ vinegar – using an old English fruit from the rose family, sometimes found in old orchards, that has a lovely appley, honey-like flavour”.
“Our latest concoctions include quince, from the pear family, and bullace, which is a hedgerow plant with fruit that is larger than a sloe but smaller than a damson.”
It all began many moons ago when Mary’s mother presented her with a glut of redcurrants from the garden. Having exhausted the more traditional recipes, such as redcurrant jelly and summer pudding, Mary set about creating her own vinegar – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Mary and John produce a mouth-watering range of some 70 different products from their home on the Sussex coast near Eastbourne – and, to date, they have received an impressive 48 Great Taste Awards, including three coveted three-star awards.
“Best of all, though, was when our Raspberry Vinegar was named the best ambient product in the country,” says John. “It’s the culinary equivalent of an Oscar, so we were thrilled. We have always set out to create the best, and we always will.”
As well as their haul of Great Taste Awards, they also made the final of the Waitrose and Country Living Magazine ‘Produced in Britain Awards’. In addition, they have been featured in two of Sarah Raven’s cookbooks and their products used by MasterChef finalist Andrew Kojima at his restaurant in Cheltenham – who, incidentally, also used their Elderberry Vinegar at a special dinner for the Queen. Theo Randall named them as one of his Food Heroes, and has used the medlar vinegar live on ‘Saturday Kitchen’.
So, of all their mouth-watering range of products, which is their own particular favourite then?
“That’s a difficult question!” laughs John. “However, I think the one most personal to us would be our Black Mulberry Vinegar. That comes from a tree that we planted in our garden some 30 years ago. As we grow many of our own ingredients, that really sums up our ethos.”