Meet the Producer: Lodge Farm Kitchen

09 October 2023, 07:00 AM
  • The demand for premium ready meals, just like you’d make at home, is on the rise. With 30 years of expertise, Lodge Farm Kitchen has all the products you need to deliver this category in your store
Meet the Producer: Lodge Farm Kitchen

All’s well that ends well…or so the saying goes.

Someone who can wholeheartedly relate to this is Louisa Stout, who has spent the last three decades crafting delicious ready prepared meals for the fine food retail market alongside husband John, as Lodge Farm Kitchen.

Each of the range of 50 dishes (sold from Glasgow to the tip of Cornwall) is painstakingly researched, trialled, and sampled in their professional kitchen in Herefordshire, and is made using only the best, all-natural ingredients, just as their customers would rustle them up at home.

As is the case with many artisan food producers, the business was never in Louisa or John’s ‘five-year plan’.

Newly imported to a smallholding from London, each of them with big careers, the couple had designs on living ‘the good life’ when they arrived in the countryside 30 years ago. A field was converted into a kitchen garden. There was plenty of space for their three young children to run about in. The house was ripe for renovation. But, says Louisa, things changed very quickly.

“I ended up not working, and John’s job lasted six months, so we ended up with three children, no income, and a farmhouse falling around our ears!”

It was time to change tact, with Louisa drawing inspiration from her family to start a restaurant from their home two evenings per week. “My mother is from Iran, and my background is very much food,” the former teacher says. “All I remember doing with my grandmother and mother is cooking, and entertaining large family groups. It wasn’t daunting to me to cook in large quantities. We ran the restaurant for just a year, but the kids loved it. It was the only night of the week they were allowed to have pizza on their laps in front of the TV, and pudding for breakfast!”

Very soon, Louisa began to think about food in a more commercial way. Gluts from the garden, from asparagus, to lusciously sweet tomatoes, were transformed into preserves for the local WI and farmers’ markets, and there was serious thought and discussion about what the next step would be.

After a year of deliberating, Louisa and John gained SALSA accreditation, and launched Lodge Farm Kitchen with a collection of six ready meals based on the farmhouse favourites they loved to eat at their own table – from a warming fish pie (which remains a bestseller) to creamy chicken pie.

It’s been full steam ahead since moving the business to a new kitchen in Ross-on-Wye, where the couple work alongside 15 dedicated members of staff.

“We are a small business though,” Louisa says. “We’re not in supermarkets, nor do we want to be. We try to set ourselves apart as we’re a kitchen, not a factory. Everything we cook is made by hand. I want seven-year-olds to be able to spell the ingredients on the deck. I don’t want to use ingredients people don’t recognise. We only use what people might have in their kitchen at home. It is real, wholesome food.”

In addition to using locally-sourced meat (including free-range chicken) and as much other local produce as possible to ensure the very best quality, Louisa says one of the most important things to note about Lodge Farm Kitchen’s food is that it goes through a blast freezing process. “When you put it on your plate, it’s as if I just cooked it fresh for you. It retains all the nutritional qualities that make it so fresh.”

Each of the 50 meals is sold frozen in single, double, or some family-sized portions, with a similar cooking time across the range for ease of the end consumer.

Louisa’s absolute favourite is the Beef and Root Vegetable Casserole. “It’s inspired by a trip to Provence John and I went on with our son, Sam. We walked into this very very uninspiring-looking café. It was like a greasy spoon, with plastic chequered tablecloths. But there was this amazing French woman cooking this beef casserole, and it was just incredible. Full of red wine and herbs de Provence. She gave me the recipe.”

Lodge Farm Kitchen’s Lancashire Hotpot was developed alongside a friend of the family, Josh, who worked in the business for a year to gain experience before setting his sights on positions in Michelin restaurants. “What really helped,” says Louisa, “was having a Northern male in the kitchen! He had a completely different perspective. He said ‘why don’t we put some black pudding in this?’. I hate black pudding, but he said it would be really good, and it’s been a huge success. I love it now.”

The range includes options for vegetarians and vegans too, with several vegan products waiting in the wings for Christmas, including a Gaia Wreath, two Wellingtons, and bread sauce.

All Christmas options will be available on the website from mid-October.

The spice of life
Louisa and John are delighted by their new line of curries, available from the beginning of November. The couple have drawn inspiration from their holidays in India, and the range has been in the making for quite some time, with a tremendous amount of love, care and attention put into ensuring the recipes are as authentic as possible.

“These are the meals I’ve found hardest to make,” Louisa admits. “It’s because we don’t buy any pastes. We easily could have done that, but then our meals would taste like everybody else’s, and I didn’t want that. We’ve developed our own blends of spices, which we roast to really carry the flavours through. And we cook the sauces very slowly to maximise their taste.”

While mass market producers may boil the chicken for their tikka masala, Louisa insists on the best, so at Lodge Farm Kitchen it’s marinated and grilled, adding body, texture and a truly smoky flavour to the finished dish.

Completing the line-up are Aloo Gobi, Beef Massaman, Chicken Jalfrezi, Jackfruit Jalfrezi, Lamb Rogan Josh, Lentil Daal, Paneer Tikka Masala, and Squash Curry. Several of the dishes are certified organic.

Food that sustains
Every part of the chain that Lodge Farm Kitchen can control in the making of its meals, is as sustainable as possible, which is incredibly important to Louisa and John. Every product is presented in a wooden tray (which customers are encouraged to recycle in the garden, perhaps for starting off vegetables). Sleeves are made with recycled cardboard and printed with vegetable ink. And there is little to no waste, with food regularly donated to a local food bank. Additionally, the kitchen is palm oil-free. 

Contact Lodge Farm Kitchen directly online for enquiries, with delivery available across the UK.

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