The idea of a Chatsworth Farm Shop first came to Duchess Deborah in 1972; it occurred to her that the people who visited the estate to enjoy walks and fresh air may also be interested in buying beef and lamb straight from our farms.
However, the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement and their advisors were reluctant when Duchess Deborah came to them with her idea. Despite this, the Duchess persevered in the knowledge that the same ‘feel’ which attracted visitors to the house would also entice people to a farm shop, and in 1976 it was agreed that we could start selling produce from the Chatsworth Farm and our tenant farmers.
The shop did well initially; to start with it occupied only a small part of the 9th Duke’s Shire horse stallion building while other parts of this building were let to a number of other retailers. The Chatsworth shop was selling beef, lamb and pork from estate farms, as well as game from the park.
Over time the private kitchen at Chatsworth House also began to supply freshly prepared foods to be sold in the shop, significantly increasing the offer. Production on a typical day included hams, pâté, potted beef, cakes, bread and scones, as well as Chatsworth yoghurt made using estate milk. The best-loved product sold in the farm shop was eggs from Duchess Deborah’s chickens that roamed all areas around Chatsworth, especially the car park and the garden.
In January 1984, it was decided that we should start making a Chatsworth marmalade. Jean-Pierre Béraud and André Birkett, chefs who were working in the private kitchen at the time, handmade over 4,000 jars of small batch marmalade using ingredients bought at the Sheffield fruit and veg market. These proved hugely popular, with the whole production being sold within months.
The success of the Chatsworth marmalade was the catalyst for further investment in the farm shop; a kitchen and bakery were installed on the south side of the building and all food production was moved there from the private kitchen. The range of jams and marmalades on offer grew and it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand. As we began working with external producers, Duchess Deborah insisted that every recipe be our own and that the products must be made in the way of the Women’s Institute – small batches produced by hand. The Duchess was involved in every step, meeting each supplier personally and sometimes inviting them for lunch in the private dining room.
The same was true in our own kitchens. Duchess Deborah insisted that many of her own family recipes were used, including South African brown bread, Polish pudding, salad dressing (known as André’s dressing) and the Duke’s chocolate cake. She was always in the kitchen, tasting what was being made, and you could be sure she was going to give her honest opinion on whether a product was good enough to go on sale in the shop. André Birkett recalls one of these moments – ‘I can vividly remember her putting her finger in a large bowl of black liquid and tasting it, pulling a face of disgust, and asking what it was. “Uncooked black pudding Your Grace”, I said. “Disgusting”, she replied’.
Only top-quality produce was, and still is, sold in the shop, and eventually the farm shop café was introduced as a place where we could showcase the very best of what is on offer. The idea was that customers would be able to enjoy some freshly-cooked dishes using locally-sourced ingredients from the farm shop, before going into the shop to purchase their favourites – a ‘try before you buy’, of sorts. In early 2020 we refurbished the café with the aim of creating more space and developing a better kitchen layout, while refreshing the interior using designs by the current Duchess. As a result, when we open we will be able to serve even more delicious dishes, created using as much local produce from the estate farm shop as possible.
While today’s offering has grown substantially from when the estate farm shop first opened, the desire to provide local produce of fantastic quality remains paramount and we still produce as much as possible on-site – for around 50% of our produce, the first time it sees a road is when you take it home.
From supplying family recipes to interior design, Duchess Deborah was instrumental in establishing the estate farm shop as the place we know and love today. As we strive to move forwards, improve and offer our customers something new, our heritage remains at the heart of everything we do.