Wells Stores of Abingdon – the family stone!

The time has come for me to write about the 8th wonder of the world which is my Mum’s shop…

It has been likened to an Aladdin’s Cave of epicuriosity and it is a winding cavern of tasty treats and well chosen food from around the country. Opened originally in Streatley and taken over by my mother in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in the early 90s, I don’t have many memories that don’t feature around the shop. We were originally based in Stert Street, Abingdon in a network of little rooms next to a stationer’s. Every day after school and many days in the school holidays, I learned to count, weigh things and the names of many cheeses standing at the counter next to my mother and it has in turn given me work experience, financial security and a passion for real food.

Mum’s interest didn’t always lie in cheese and it was only when facing an end to the shop in the hands of another, she took to rescue it with the help of some customers and the bank and since then it’s been very much a family business. Mum lives, breathes and often smells like cheese! She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of British and Continental cheese and this is at the forefront of the business. When the shop moved in 1999 to the new premises at Peachcroft Farm, it took on the mantle of a farm shop but the main onus is very much on the cheese and always will be.

Mum once likened the cheese to ‘her children’ in a local newspaper, something which my fellow pupils at the time were keen not to let drop and which I have never been able to shake, but it’s true. Each cheese requires unique care and although such attention to something which at its most basic is ‘off milk’ seems bizarre, it’s so important if you want to sell things at their best. Which we do!

We have a wide range of British and Continental cheese. Some personal favourites include:

  • Barkham Blue: made by Two Hoots Cheese in Barkham, nr Wokingham. Two Hoots were named the Supreme Champion at The British Cheese Awards in 2008 and deservedly so. Barkham Blue has a very distinctive appearance; shaped like an ammonite in the round, it is covered in a natural mould ripened rind. The inside is a deep creamy/yellow and mottled with dark blue – green veins. It has a rich flavour. Not bitter like some blue cheese. Almost buttery and sweet, it has a semi soft texture.
  • Finn: made by Neals Yard Creamery, Herefordshire. Made from unpasteurised milk with added cream, Finn has a white mould exterior like a small British brie. The inside is a creamy yellow; softer and stronger than brie with the texture of a triple cream cheese. When matured, the flavour is creamy and salty.
  • Wife of Bath: made by the Bath Soft Cheese Company in Kelston, Wife of Bath is a semi-hard, organic, hand-made cows’ milk cheese. It has a chewy texture and a smooth taste. The producers describe it as “redolent of buttercups and water meadows.”

As well as selling cheese, we stock bread made by DeGustibus bakery. Owned by a couple who moved to Oxfordshire in 1990, De Gustibus offer an incredible range of 59 speciality breads, from bagels, ciabatta, focaccia to rye bread, sourdough and everything in between. My personal favourites are the Apricot and Almond Loaf, Spinach Ciabatta and the Onion Loaf.  Absolute fresh bread heaven delivered to the shop in the early hours of the morning when the vans are en route to Harvey Nichols in London, I find it hard not to eat a fresh ciabatta as I walk through the door. We use all their breads in breadcrumbs, puddings, sandwiches and in our own cafe on the side of the shop.

Outside is an abundance of fresh local vegetables, most grown on the farm and if unable to, sourced locally. We aim to sell what is in season and in the summer, pick your own is the real pull for fresh berries but my personal pick your own favourites are the asparagus just after easter, the sweetcorn in September and the pumpkins in October, although I do love a raspberry or two.

As well as all of these, we sell sausages and bacon from a butchers, Dews Meadow, down the road. I wouldn’t dream of a bacon sandwich without it! Bowls of fresh olives sit next to fresh local butter and cream and cakes made down the road specifically for us by two lovely ladies, Pat and Jude, or in house. We sell hot quiches in the mornings fresh from our ovens and cornish pasties, bread and butter puddings and homemade pizzas are all available to buy over the counter. These go out hot and are sold long before they are able to cool down, all ingredients are sourced from the shop itself using our own bread, cheese, olives, cream etc.

We have a huge selection of jars and bottles of pickles, preserves and oils. So many that to list them would take me a ridiculous amount of time but I shall make special mention for the mustards and salad dressing made by Shaken Oak, down the road from my Oxfordshire village. These are my absolute favourites and again are what we use in the shop and at home. We sell our own cranberry sauces, mincemeats, jams and pickles as well as locally made and award winning. Biscuits crowd the shelves, both savoury and sweet, and share space with crisps made by Tyrells in Herefordshire and pastas and stuffing mixes.

We also stock apple juice made locally at Waterperry in Oxfordshire. The bottles indicate which variety of apple you’re drinking and they range from the shockingly tart to the extremely sweet and everything in between.

Our little cafe is open 6 days a week for coffees, teas and cakes and 5 days a week for light lunches. We serve things such as cheese and herb stuffed mushrooms, roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese, homemade fish pies, homemade lasagnes and other delights made in the kitchen on the side of the shop. Again, everything is made with things from the shop and is seasonal and reflective of the temperature outside and what is good that day. Each day, we make a fresh soup from scratch and sell this with sandwiches to take away or to eat in.

And then there is the woman who holds it all together. The woman who stocks a ridiculous amount of liquorice because she can’t walk past a display without eating some of it. But she is brilliant, she understands each and every one of her customers, knows what suits them and what they would like and most importantly, she’s my little old mum.

Wells Stores, Peachcroft Farm, TwelveAcre Drive, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 2HP. http://www.wellsstores.co.uk/

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