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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Talented Naomi has the recipe for success

USING locally-sourced ingredients and traditional methods to create her gourmet vinegars is all-important to Naomi Darbishire.

So she was particularly pleased it was her Cumbrian Damson Balsamic Vinegar with Local Honey that garnered a Gold Star Award in the recent Great Taste Awards 2012.

She says: “I’m so thrilled our Cumbrian Damson Balsamic using Local Honey has been recognised for its true quality ingredients that Cumbria has to offer!”

In addition to her vinegar picking up an Gold Star at the prestigious food awards, so did her Chipotle Oil, which is also part of the Agnes Rose Fruit Vinegars and Infused Oils – a range which is the creation of Naomi from Whinfell, daughter of renowned Lakeland artist Stephen Darbishire.

Naomi’s passion for real food and her strong bonds to the region are reflected in her products. All her selected ingredients are sourced through local suppliers with many of the hedgerow fruits being collected from the outcrops near her home.

The Damson Honey Balsamic Vinegar with Local Honey has been created using Lyth Valley Damsons, which are renowned for their quality and Cumbrian Honey produced close to Naomi's home near Kendal.

Naomi says her fascination for cooking and using local ingredients, stems back to her childhood: “I did inherit my grandmother and mother’s abilities in the kitchen. From an early age I spent hours watching them – learning and tasting.”

When two years ago Naomi, who was self-employed as a personal assistant, found her hours being cut due to the recession, she decided to use her extra time to turn her passion for cooking into a business.

The idea for the initial vinegar range was born while she was “experimenting” in her parents’ kitchen just before Christmas 2009. “Most Christmas presents were, and still are, homemade jellies and chutneys and one year I found myself with a lot of blackberries left over from jelly making.

“I decided to dig out an old recipe that I had found in my grandmother’s hand written notes and that was the birth of Agnes Rose,” says the 41-year-old. Naomi sold her house in Bowness, moving into the holiday cottage at the bottom of her parents’ garden near Kendal, in order to fund her new business.

She says she thought long and hard about what to call her new venture and finally took inspiration from her family’s homes: “All my cooking ideas start in my parents’ kitchen at Agnes Gill, which has been my family home since 1976.”

To “Agnes” she added “Rose”, which was taken from the name of her grandmother’s home Rosewood, where she spent many happy summers while growing up.

She launched the new range, which then consisted of four oils and six vinegars (but now includes 13), in May 2010 at a local fun day.

Since then, her vinegars and oils have won numerous awards in both the Great Taste Awards 2011 and now 2012 and North West Fine Food Awards 2010 and 2011 – all of which has helped to promote the brand around the country and abroad: “Winning the awards is a fabulous accolade and means recognition for the brand throughout Europe, not just Britain.”

Now her vinegars and oils are stocked in fine food outlets around the county (Holker Food Hall and Low Sizergh Barn, to name just two) and, indeed, much further afield.

She says: “Our second order of vinegars has just gone out to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, while Kew Gardens is also one of our biggest stockists.”

Despite the increase in demand, Naomi still develops all the vinegars herself, using natural ingredients – an approach which she is passionate about: “We don’t use syrups, we use real fruit and I use traditional methods and muslin to make my vinegars.

“If you take that away, you take away the heart and soul of what you’re doing. I really am hands-on and taste every single batch produced myself.”

As Naomi talks about her brand, her passion shines through, but she says she has no plans at the moment to extend her range: “I have no plans to diversify into jams or chutneys, there are so many people out there doing it already, and I have found this little niche I can stick with.”

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