Q&A: Samantha Wallace

Categories: Behind the stalls

One half of honey, flour and rice stall, From Field and Flower

What brought you to Borough?
I’m a native Londoner. Before I started the business with my partner Stefano I worked in corporate communications, but I’ve always been a bit of a foodie. I come from a family who love to cook.

And Stefano is almost a walking cliché. He’s Italian, loves food, great at cooking. He just gets it. He’s always been connected to food in some way: everything from a delivery driver, to a sausage maker, to a fishmonger at Furness Fish.

I was made redundant at the same time that Stefano decided to stop working for his friend’s gourmet sausage company, so we were both at a crossroads—we thought it could be a real opportunity to do something we genuinely love. We eventually applied to Borough. I remember getting the email and how excited we were. We started From Field and Flower at the Market in April 2014, and haven’t looked back since.

Why honey?
On a trip to Italy with Stefano—Piedmont, which is where he’s from—we went to see some family friends of his who were beekeepers. I’d never particularly liked honey. I associated it with the stuff you get in the supermarket—sweet and a bit boring—but this was just completely different. It was a revelation.

After that we spent months trying all the Italian honeys we could find, deciding which would work for our range, developing our own brand. We wanted to make sure we stood for something that’s quality. The honey we sell can’t be mass produced. It has to be raw—which means it hasn’t been heat treated—and can’t have anything added to it in terms of sugars.

Honey is always sweet, it’s the nature of it, but sweetness shouldn’t be the predominant flavour—it’s like wine, you should get different notes as it hits different parts of your palate. Ideally it’s 100 per cent one pollen, or if it’s not it’s a multi-floral honey. It’s got to be distinctive.

What else do you sell?
We have two types of risotto rice—arborio and carnoroli, which is a bit firmer and has more bite—as well as two types of wholegrain rice, red ermse and black venus, and a range of flours including one that’s gluten-free. We have two main producers: the Enrici family and another family-run business called Tenuta Margherita.

All our rice and flour is unbleached. There’s nothing ‘quick cook’ about it. I know it would be quite nice not to have to stir polenta for 40 minutes until your arm aches, but at the same time, there’s a reason you do it. It’s worth it.

And what do you expect of your producers?
We work with artisanal, family-run companies. Our two main flour and rice producers have been going for generations. They look for the finest grains, they take care of their crops, they check for quality throughout.

We have a few different honey producers, but they’re all pretty small. The beekeeper should understand the cycle of the bees. The bees have got to feel like they’re family. There are 80,000 bees in a hive, all working for them and they should want to look after them.

What does that mean in practice?
The beekeepers are very hot on general issues like checking for infections, pesticides, climate change, urbanisation, but they’re also not greedy. Good beekeepers are very slow people, in the sense that they know the rhythm of nature, they don’t try to hurry it and they’re very strict about when the season starts.

When the bees come out in March or April there’s not a lot of food for them. They’ve been dormant, they need to build up their energy, rebuild their stocks, encourage their queen to breed. This process mustn’t be interfered with.

Some companies add sugar to the hive to help them survive, but raw sugar is pretty bad for bees and it’s usually a sign that you’re taking too much honey. We’re not interested in producers that routinely sugar hives.

So if you had to choose, what would you say is your favourite product?
That’s really hard. I’m spoiled for choice! I would have to say my favourite honey at the moment is Tasmanian leatherwood. It’s just so good and the flavour and texture is amazing. It’s more resinous and thicker than most, it’s just so unctuous. I use it for everything!

I used to be a big risotto fiend till I discovered our red ermsy rice. It’s a very hard grain, so you have to boil it for about 30 minutes. It’s chewy but nutty and slightly sweet, so it makes the best rice salad with feta, fresh tomatoes, cucumber. It’s heaven. But it works equally well in the winter, in a big hearty lamb shank casserole. It’s so good. I’m now thinking about making rice salad tonight...

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off?
We’ve got a very small garden, but we’re intensely proud of it, so sitting in the garden with a glass of wine is not a bad way to spend a day. Both of us love the sea too, so a little day trip to the Kent or Sussex coast is my idea of heaven. Just breathing the air, looking at the flowers. The smell of the sea. We’ll go for a relaxed walk—and then have a nice hearty pint.