One of the thing’s I love about Christmas in Oxford is walking around the covered market first thing in the morning.
The covered Market is a Victorian shopping area in the centre of Oxford. It can be accessed from the High St., Market St., or through the Golden Cross Arcade in Cornmarket St. It was originally established in the 16th century in order to remove the ‘untidy mess and unsavoury stalls’ from the Oxford streets. Originally it housed only butcher’s shops but eventually had a variety of food stalls.
The market has changed quite dramatically in recent years. It used to house almost only food shops, the majority supplying the kitchens of the University colleges but in more recent years many of the traditional shops have given way to a variety of different businesses, all independents I think, but many are still very food related. Whichever entrance you use the aroma of food, fresh or cooked or cooking greets you and it is impossible to leave without being tempted by something.
The covered Market has a good variety of traditional shops including butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers, and a bakery. Several of the food shops have Oxford specialities including Oxford sausages, Oxford Lardy cake, Local rare breed meats and also the now world famous Oxford Blue cheese. Modern shoppers used to the sanitary conditions and shrink wrapped cuts of meat of the supermarkets might find the carcasses hanging outside the butcher’s shops distasteful but regardless of how it is packaged this is how all meat begins.
A couple of the Butchers are worthy of note: firstly there is R.R. Alden & Sons who have been there since 1793 and originally owned half the market. Just one shop remains now and they are one of the countries longest trading butchers. They specialise in rare-breed meats, including pork from Oxford Sandyback pigs, Longhorn beef from Christchurch meadows, and lamb from local Oxford Down sheep. They are also renowned sausage-makers and still follow the shops original recipes, including the famed Oxford Sausage, which they claim to have invented.
Then there is M. Feller, Son and Daughter, that’s a bit different isn’t it? Feller’s have been very successful since they started in the market in 1979 they have adapted to public demand and have established themselves as a specialist organic butcher and have won the Organic Retailer of the Year award for meat. They also offer free delivery on orders over £15 which overcomes the problem of carrying meat around town. Feller’s have a web site with information on their range of organic meats and price lists. See http://www.mfeller.co.uk/index.htm
The Oxford Cheese company originally only supplied the University but now has what must be one of the best cheese shops in the UK. It specialises in farmhouse cheeses – mostly unpasteurised and sourced direct from the producer, wherever possible. The staff know their business inside out and can recommend cheeses suitable for any occasion and you get to taste it. At Christmas queues are so long they stretch out into the road which says something about the superb quality. The Oxford cheese Company is home to the now world famous Oxford blue Cheese which is simply one of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. This is what their website says about it:
Oxford Blue is made entirely by hand to our specifications in a leading Stilton dairy. The World Encyclopedia of Cheese describes Oxford Blue -`When ripe, the cheese is a luscious creamy blue with distinct but not strong blue flavour. Aromatic and spicy, it has a hint of dark chocolate and white wine, with tarragon on the finish.”
My favourite way to enter the Market is from from Market St as you will be greeted by the gorgeous aroma of rich freshly ground coffee emanating from Cardew & Co. a specialist coffee shop. In addition to the fine coffees they also sell coffee making accessories and spares for traditional coffee making machines.
You have to get there early to see it at its best before it gets busy and at this time of year it really does get busy!
We met up with Dean’s sister and brother in law for a coffee and a chat in Broad St before doing a bit more shopping.
We then met up again at ‘All Bar One’ for a mug of Gluhwein.
It was good to see Dean’s mother because 4 weeks ago she had half a knee replacement and although she is doing well she is still in a lot of pain. A big thank you to Amanda (Dean’s sister) for looking after mum for a few days when she was discharged from hospital.
If all goes well she is having the other one done in 12 weeks time! Good luck with that.