Every month, we will be shining the spotlight on one of our wonderful suppliers or producers to learn more about them and their products. This month, we're talking to Hawkshead Relish founders Mark and Maria Whitehead.
Back in the 1990s/early 2000s, Mark and Maria Whitehead were running a busy cafe in picturesque Hawkshead. Unable to find any suitable accompaniments to the range of local dishes they served, Mark set about making his own chutneys and relishes, with flavours and ingredients based on those which were once imported into local towns and villages such as Hawkshead at the height of the woollen trade.
"We wanted to serve accompaniments that were local in origin and of a high quality," explains Maria, while emphasising that they also wanted to avoid the use of additives and preservatives.
What began as a side business would suddenly become a lifeline when the Foot and Mouth epidemic devastated the local economy in 2001. As tourists stopped visiting the Lake District, Mark and Maria saw a need (and an opportunity) for a change of direction. With an empty café and a young family to support (the couple have two daughters, both of whom are now heavily involved in the business themselves), they decided to bring their relishes to the forefront.
Sourcing jam jars and pots from friends and family, they began selling their homemade chutneys and jams across the local area. Before long, these had become so popular that even once the Foot and Mouth epidemic had subsided, demand was so great that they decided to close their cafe and focus on relish.
Today, Hawkshead Relish is one of Cumbria's many wonderful homegrown food brands, flying the flag for local produce across the world. From their small production base in a 16th century barn on the banks of Esthwaite Water, the family-run business produces thousands of jars of hand-made relish every week, while staying true to their local origins. "Local is very important to the business, in all aspects of the word," says Maria. "We will source ingredients locally, and if we can’t buy ingredients locally (such as mangoes) we will use a local supplier to source them for us, in turn helping the local economy." All staff are local, and Hawkshead Relish also works closely with many local organisations and charities, supporting them both financially and through donations for special events.
Hawkshead Relish has a number of awards under their belt, including over 50 Great Taste awards. Using high quality ingredients which are allowed to speak for themselves, taste is king – and you won't find any additives, colourings or preservatives in your Hawkshead Relish jams and chutneys.
Although they work hard to continue adding new and exciting products to their extensive range of jams and chutneys, the success of their recently launched Black Garlic Ketchup took them by surprise. "We had no idea that the Black Garlic Ketchup would receive such a huge amount of interest!" says Maria. The idea came from a trip to Japan, when a souvenir jar of black garlic cloves was transformed into a ketchup by Mark. Since its introduction to our taste buds in 2018, Black Garlic Ketchup has gone on to win a number of awards, as well as receiving a mention on Radio 2, with Nigel Barden – the station's resident drivetime chef - praising "the rich intensity of the flavour...rarely have I seen the Radio 2 Drivetime team silenced by a condiment!".
It's fresh and innovative creations such as this which mean Hawkshead Relish has become a go to for delicious gifts, interesting accompaniments and mouth-watering foodie finds. "Ideas come from a variety of places: things that we enjoy to eat ourselves; travel to places such as India and the Far East, Italy and the Slow Food events; or through talking to customers and seeing what flavours are currently in fashion with chefs and on TV shows."
We're proud to stock a range of delicious Hawkshead Relish chutneys, jams and sauces in our Food Shop - including their now infamous Black Garlic Ketchup.