South Devon Chilli Farm: Meet the producer
February 21st, 2014 | By Clare Levy
Thanks to the wonderful rural landscape, fertile soil and mild weather South Devon is home to a surprising number of food and drink producers. From organic vegetables to fine wines and everywhere in between, the region is bursting with tasty goodness.
When it comes to national recognition though, few can match the South Devon Chilli Farm. What started in 2003 as a back garden hobby by a chilli lover has grown and blossomed into a company whose goods are sold across the country and received the praises of Jamie Oliver no less.
News for 2017: Did you know you can now have breakfast at the South Devon Chilli Farm cafe? What better way to wake up the tastebuds than with some chilli scrambled eggs or huevos rancheros? The cafe is open from 10 am to 4.30 pm every day except for the Christmas holidays. Find out more on the Chilli Farm website.
We took some time to have a chat with the folks down on the farm and find out what makes South Devon, and the South Devon Chilli Farm, so special.
How did The South Devon Chilli Farm begin?
When Steve (one of the original owners) had a glut of fruit from his greenhouse we began to experiment with different recipes for preserving the chillies. We booked a stall at a farmer’s market to see if anyone would be interested and we had an immediate positive response. We soon realised there was a widespread and growing fascination with chillies across the UK.
How did the business grow so rapidly?
Around the time we started, organic food and “buying local” were movements growing in popularity. We were able to offer products made without artificial additives, made in small batches to retain a home cooked flavour and produced locally, with low food miles. We were lucky to find local polytunnels to rent and a few years later, another local farmer supported us by agreeing to sell us 10 acres of farmland on which to build our own polytunnels, a production kitchen and storage facility. We are very proud that our products are now available across the UK in over 600 farm shops and delis and also increasingly in Europe as well.
What sets you apart from some of the other chilli producers in the UK?
As producers who do everything, “from seed to sauce,” we like to think we are “the original and best!” We have managed to increase our production but maintain the natural flavour of our products as we still cook in small batches. We have always maintained our focus is on the flavour of the chilli rather than just the heat and we have stayed away from using chilli extracts. We also are open to the public all year round. Our show tunnel looks stunning in the summer and boasts the largest collection of chilli plants on display in the UK.
What is a chilli’s life cycle, from seed to tasty product?
We sow seeds each year in February. The plants are then nurtured until they are ready to go into the ground in the polytunnels, around April/May. We then pick chilli fruits from May to November. We store the chillies by freezing, drying, pickling or cooking straight into products.
Your chilli chocolate is particularly famous. Do you make the chocolate all on site?
Yes, our chilli chocolate is very popular; it has a lovely warming heat – an unusual but delicious combination. We make all of our chocolate on-site. We buy in high quality Belgian chocolate buttons, which we melt and temper and add in a little of our secret chilli mixture and then any extra ingredients such as orange oil or honeycomb pieces.
Was chilli chocolate an existing chocolate variation? Where did it come from?
We love Mexican food and had read about the Aztecs use of chillies and chocolate and thought we would try our own variation of this. We also borrowed the idea for Chilli Drinking Chocolate from the Aztecs to make a delicious warming drink. We will try adding chilli to most things as you never know – almost anything can be pepped up with a little chilli heat.
What can visitors do and experience when they come to your Devon Chilli farm?
Our Farm Shop and Cafe is open all year round with samples of our sauces and chocolates on display for you to try before you buy – you can even take the “extreme challenge” with our hottest sauce. There are a mixture of chilli and non-chilli specials in our cafe with indoor or outdoor seating where you can enjoy the scenic countryside views. The shop has gifts, seeds and growing equipment. From April to October, you can buy chilli seedlings and plants. From June to November you can wander through our show tunnel with around 200 varieties of chilli to look at. We have a super-size twisty swing and a play tractor along with quiz sheets and trails for younger visitors, as well as lots of information boards with weird and wonderful facts about chillies.
Which are your best selling product/products?
Our Chilli Jam is one of our best sellers – not too hot but quite addictive. Our Chilli Chocolates are also a big favourite and our Hot Habanero Sauce. Finally, as our customers get to love the chilli ‘hit’ our Extreme range is becoming more popular.
If someone wanted to grow some chillis at home is it straightforward? Can you offer any hints?
Chillies are pretty easy to grow at home; you just have to keep them warm and don’t over water them (they don’t like sitting in water). We also sell growing kits that provide you with everything that you will need to get growing!
Is the South Devon climate conducive to chilli growing?
We have found the South Devon climate great for chillies although they still prefer to be in a polytunnel or greenhouse to protect them from wind and rain! and to give them a little extra warmth. Of course the winter frosts do tend to kill off the plants, which is why we sow fresh seeds each year.
What would be your recommendations for things to do, places to go and see, for anyone thinking of holidaying in South Devon?
If you are visiting our farm, you could always carry on a little further and combine it with a trip to one of the lovely beaches close by, such as Bantham or Bigbury-on-sea. Why not try your hand at sailing in salcombe on the Salcombe estuary. The estuary and also provides the opportunity to try a variety of other water sports as well. If you are into foodie things, then Sharpham Vineyard is also a great place to visit for cheese and wine tasting as well as Quercus Brewery and Aune Valley butchers. For lovely local walks, we have Blackdown Rings, Topsham Bridge, Loddiswell Woods and Andrews Wood.
What’s coming up in 2014 for the South Devon Chilli Farm?
We recently received a Great Taste Award for our Chilli Drinking Chocolate. We will be at Exeter Food Festival at the end of April, The Kingsbridge Food and Music Festival at the end of May and holding a tasting at the Dartington Food Fair at the end of May.
If you’d like to visit the South Devon Chilli Farm this year then why not book a stay in one of our South Devon cottages. Visit the farm, explore the beautiful local area and then enjoy a pot of chilli jam in the comfort of your holiday cottage.
Alternatively take a look at our holiday homes in Salcombe and Dartmouth or call us on 01548 843 773 for more information or to book and visit some of the many attractions they have to offer during your stay in beautiful Devon.