David’s Carleton Farm Food Shop, Penrith: a farm shop with its feet on the ground

David’s Carleton Farm Food Shop, Penrith is everything you’d expect from a farm shop—actually, scrub that! You won’t find something quite as singular anywhere else in the area. And yes, we’re inundated with some quite good farm shops in the area, but when they’re ‘good’ they’re usually also costly, and mainly out of my economic range—with the great quality, lovely customer service and food I can actually afford, for me, David Dickinson wins hands down … Read on for unadulterated enthusiasm!

What’s it got?

Look, what hits you when you walk in is how clean the place is. It’s immaculate. The shelving is unique and painted the same colour blue—everything’s on brand and smart.

There’s loads of room, so you can easily get a wheelchair or a child’s buggy in there without ramming the other customers, and if you can’t reach or you’re not sure what something is, David’s happy to help.

If you’ve got a child who has sensory issues, or if you don’t like fighting through crowds, the spaciousness here is something worth considering. It’s a far better experience than a stressful supermarket.

Properly local meat

First up is the local meat. Last week I got myself a free range chicken (1.26kg) for the tiny sum of £3.25. It’s a trade secret where David gets it from, but let’s just say it’s from no further than 10 miles away and it’s definitely free range. I know because I grilled him about it before I bought it and when I tasted it at home, I knew he spoke truth.

I took it home, jointed it, converted one of the breasts into chicken nuggets and made the tastiest chicken stock from the fresh carcass that I’ve had in a seriously long time. The rest is in the freezer waiting for the next flash of greedy inspiration. The chicken nuggets were chickeny and succulent. You can’t really say better than that.

He gets the majority of his meat from a butcher from Melmerby who makes his own black pudding (tastes great), his own haggis (variety of sizes available from very small to very large), his own bacon and sausages, and sources the majority of his meat locally. The furthest he goes is Scotland, for some of his beef.

Check out the display: the prices aren’t ridiculously cheap, but they won’t break the bank either. Beef and lamb costs what it does. The haggis you can see is under £5 for the large one and £3.45ish for the small one. Sensible prices, nice meat, good quality, and local.

Local meats at sensible prices

And goat sausages. GOAT SAUSAGES. Mediterranean style. From Capra Meats at Ravenstonedale, near Kirkby Stephen. Literally six minutes drive from where I live. I’ve got a packet in the freezer awaiting a lentil and sausage stew. No doubt a recipe will appear on this blog in due course.

The availability is variable, which is natural when you think about the season and locality, but the range is always great. It’s a small display fridge, but continually topped up.

Good range of local, British and foreign fruit and veg

If you want to eat seasonally, you can get a fair variety of British veg without the air miles from David’s Carleton Farm Food Shop. Off the top of my head there’s spring cabbage, cauliflower, pea pods, carrots, English strawberries, swedes, local new spuds from just down the road, and the availability changes by the week (seasonality and so on, British summers being what they are), which makes it a bit more interesting.

Don’t be fooled by the emptiness of some of these baskets, they’re refilled as necessary.

If you’re just after a strong range of fruit and veg from around the world, David sells everything you’d expect, from sweet potatoes to butternut squash, bananas, cherries, peppers, Costa Rican pineapple at a price far better than anywhere else I’ve been recently, and fabulous Chilean grapes.

Chilean grapes are a bit of a find for me as all I’ve been able to find locally for the last few years have been Thompson grapes from India and South Africa. Those have slightly sour, tough skins, not the greatest when you’ve got a sweet tooth. Chilean grapes, however, are the best in the world. Thin-skinned, succulent bursts of sweetness.

Fresh peapods, from basket to paper bag, to bag for life, to gob.

It’s great to find somewhere that doesn’t stock mainly Spanish and Dutch produce (the former: undemocratic; the latter full of water) and although you might suspect that some of the more unusual veg is missing (I can only think of fennel right now), we’ve certainly been able to fill our boots baskets with a week’s worth of goodies.

And it’s fresh. David’s deliveries are as often as 6 days a week, so you’re not sorting through old stock hanging around. Cherries and strawberries are sold in punnets, rather than leaving them loose in boxes to be mauled by the customers, and the prices are seriously competitive at the moment.

Spring greens are the secret of Chinese-style deep-fried ‘seaweed’. Shred, deep fry, and toss with sugar and salt.

Local and gluten-free baked goods

David’s contacts include Jane Hurd at Fiend’s Fell bakery, delicious cakes and bakes, including a Bakewell tart with—to my rather cynical surprise—melt-in-the-mouth pastry. I never enjoyed gluten-free pastry before. The Bakewell tart is made with what seems to be a metric tonne of ground almonds, nubbly and damp and it didn’t go stale in the few days it was in my biscuit tin. Price? Far more reasonable than what I could have made it for.

There’s also Kath Earl’s Bakery products (from Long Marten near Appleby-in-Westmorland) with homemade delicious peppermint crunch (you know, the type we used to get at school in the 1990s with coconut chocolate base, topped with peppermint ice and real milk chocolate) and other traditional tray bakes that take you back to other times.

Cheese: great prices, more localness to come

As a cheese freak, I like to keep my eye out for more cost effective ways to get the melty goodness. If you’re after the everyday cheeses to grate over chilli, blanket your toast, or fill up your sandwiches, you’ll currently catch blocks of 200g from £1.75. Red Leicester, cheddar, brie, Lancashire, and last week we picked up one of those wax covered rounds of Red Hot Dutch which just about finished off our taste buds permanently.

David’s on the look out for local cheeses, so if you’ve got any tips, you know where to take them. If there’s one thing Cumbria and the surrounding counties do well, it’s quality food products.

Milk: however you want it

Want ‘normal’ homogenized milk in plastic bottles? No problem.

Want non-homogenized silver or green tops in glass bottles? (The ‘milk man’ kind with top of hte milk). David can get those for you.

Want local goats milk? It’s right there on the top shelf of the fridge in cartons.

Want to go get your own cows milk from a farm tank? There’s a place just outside of Penrith at Bunker’s Hill with their own dispenser. Take your own bottle or get 1-2L bottles while you’re there. You can get the details from David if you’re not sure where to go.

There were also cherries and pineapples, but stupidly I took the pictures AFTER I’d been through the shop, and David hadn’t the time yet to refill everything.

Why is it good?

David’s not trying to be posh, but he is smart. You won’t find a range of fancy olives, sundried tomatoes in open bowls or a massive deli counter. This isn’t the place for designer napkins in carved ring holders, fancy kitchenware or every type of boxed cracker you can think of. Plenty of farm shops in the local area offer that stuff, so why do what everyone else does?

What he does is provide what people are looking for: good—often local—fresh fruit, veg, free range eggs and meat, and everything at a price that walks a line between supermarket prices and what you’d expect for an independent shop that doesn’t have the economy of scale to rely on.

See, one of my bug bears these days is the classism of good food. It’s fair enough to state that food production has costs and this should be reflected in the price. It’s fair enough to raise prices when the costs of delivery and production and wages go up. But what I object to is this idea that cheaper food should also be crap. That it can only be bulked out with fillers and poor quality ingredients. If you get the chance to source better—or good—quality food for a bit less, please support those places, even if they’re a little more out of your way, because all small and independent shops have to fight the supermarkets for customers.

This is what I call honest, feet-on-the-ground product. If you ask him, David will tell you. I asked about the pork pies last week, and he admitted those particular ones didn’t have the stock jelly. I didn’t buy them, and that was okay. This guy doesn’t pretend he’s something he isn’t, and neither does he force the shop to be something it’s not. That’s why me and my family will be going back. Repeatedly.

Most of what David sells is fruit, veg, eggs and meat: basic ingredients, at sensible prices that won’t bust your wallet. You can make great quality home made food with his produce and you don’t have to use scary ‘mystery meat’ masquerading as ‘ham’.

He tops up the shelves with essential and less essential (but nice) provisions that are mainly well-known brands, because it makes it easier on his customers. We’re talking pickled chillies and peppers, pickles, sauces and jams, sugar, a brand of dry complete dog food and so on. There isn’t a wide range of different brands of the same product—where’s the need for that?

A small range of ‘posh’ provisions (and essential spices) for the more adventurous.

And by the way. I’m writing this while stuffing fresh pea pods, cherries, strawberries, grapes, and half a kilo of licorice allsorts. I may be a little biased.

Who manages Carleton Farm Shop these days?

Okay, so David’s only been open since 16th May this year, and this initially surprised me, as he seems to have a better grip of the concept of local Cumbrian produce than many food shop proprietors in the area, and he’s actually a Yorkshireman.

I interrogated him for more information. Most recently the manager of Ullswater Yacht Club, David’s been in hospitality and catering for over 40 years. His background ranges from working in a pie factory to running a bar in Majorca for 6 years, and he’s been in the Penrith area a long time.

Retiring a bit back from the yacht club, he’d always wanted to run a shop, so when Carleton Farm Shop came up, he thought he’d have a go. Much to his wife’s surprise (although to be fair, she’s probably used to this). Margaret went off on holiday for three days, and when she came back, he’d bought a shop.

Understanding what people want, how food is produced, the difference between styles of food and why customers come back is all important, and it’s largely information that can only be learned through experience. David’s got decades of experience to bring to the business, so hopefully he’s going to be around here a good while longer.

The more customers and local producers realise the value of David’s Carleton Farm Food Shop, Penrith, the better.

Friendly proprietor, David Dickinson, will put up with all kinds of requests and interrogations.

Opening times and contact for David’s Carleton Farm Food Shop

Monday-Sat: 10:00am till 6:00pm

Sunday: 10:00am till 2:00pm.

Telephone: 07837 005115

*Prices are more or less correct at the time of publishing, but they’ll be subject to change depending on the usual issues of weather, availability, cost of product and so on.