Review: Artisan Biscuits, Ashbourne

PUBLISHED: 14:10 30 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013

The old spencer family bakery car

The old spencer family bakery car

Artisan Biscuits, Ashbourne, makes a premium range of sweet and savoury biscuits, cookies and crackers which is one of the most beautiful and stylishly packaged on our shelves today.

Based in Ashbourne, Artisan Biscuits makes a premium range of sweet and savoury biscuits, cookies and crackers which is one of the most beautiful and stylishly packaged on our shelves today. This prestigious brand arose from a takeover of the old Ashbourne Biscuit Company and repositioned the business into the gourmet food sector with a worldwide distribution.

They make a range of premium own label products for high end retailers such as Harvey Nichols but also have their own wide range of different brands that provide the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a plate of cheese for those consumers seeking out a serious nibble.

Artisan biscuits employs approximately 75 workers on site and has a hard core of long-serving staff. The business was originally established in 1935 by the Spencer family and was acquired two years ago by The Fine Cheese Company of Bath who renamed it Artisan Biscuits. It represents over 70 years of traditional hand baking and a great deal of care is still taken in the making of these biscuits - as it was when the company first started. They are made using the highest quality ingredients without any additives or preservatives (using mainly UK sourced ingredients) and although it is more labour-intensive, the biscuits are mixed and baked in small batches, tasted and tested at every step of the way then packaged by hand, creating a completely unique product.

The constantly evolving range spans sweet, savoury and children's biscuits and with a global sales strategy Artisan Biscuits are now key players in the speciality food industry, with their products being distributed throughout Europe, and around the world to the USA, Canada, Chile, India, Russia, South Korea, New Zealand and Malaysia, to name but a few.

All new product development is done in-house and in conjunction with the patisserie chef and top photographers, designers and printers. Artisan produces an ever-expanding range of delicious and innovative biscuits and crackers, all wrapped in a selection of fabulous, tactile and shelf-stopping packaging.

The range of sweet biscuits includes several brands such as Elegant and English, True Story and Our Generation. Elegant and English represents Artisan's signature recipe which is a biscuit based on the bakery's first and original recipe. It is a refined, thin, crisp, oval-shaped butter biscuit (almost the biscuit equivalent of a cucumber sandwich!) and ideal to enjoy with a cup of tea. It comes in six different subtle flavours ncluding vanilla and cream, coconut and lime (a hint of the Caribbean), rosehip and blackcurrant (the fragrance of rose but with a blackcurrant tang) and honey and almond (the subtlety and nuttiness of almond with the warmth of honey). They can even be purchased paired with a recommended type of tea.

The True Story line is an indulgent, all organic range with a rough textured, natural, home-made look but packaged in a tactile, modern wrapper that's almost too nice to undo! These crunchy and substantial biscuits are made with the finest organic ingredients including Turkish hazelnuts, Spanish figs, Mediterranean raisins, Columbian coffee, Belgian chocolate, Indian red chilli and Australian stem ginger. They come in six different flavours: muesli, spelt and hazelnut, fig and oats, coffee and South American nut, dark chocolate and chilli, stem ginger and sultana.

Our Generation is a relatively new range developed with a foot in the past. The biscuits depict the story of the bakery from 1940 to 1990 with a different biscuit for each decade. The six archive recipes include: Gingerbread Men which were first made in 1946; Wakes Cakes, a historic celebration biscuit made with spices and currants that has a flavour reminiscent of hot cross buns and was first made in 1952; a 1960s Butter Sultana biscuit which is made with eggs, butter and juicy sultanas giving a rich taste and a surprising 'appley' flavour; and Fruit and Almond Finger which was first made in 1974 and is a crumbly biscuit with vine fruits, nuts and honey on a 'nutty' wholemeal biscuit base. Then there's Double Chocolate Chip - first made in 1983 'on roller No. 24' - and Pecan and Maple Butter Crunch representing the 1990s. All are boxed in retro-style packaging with a mixture of archive and current photographs of the bakery and staff.

To cater for children, Artisan Biscuits has two ranges: Two by Two and My Favourite Bear. Two by Two is an organic range of biscuits shaped like animal characters and with sweet Edward Lear or Aesop's Fables illustrations and a poem or a story on the boxes. The Owl and the Pussy Cat is a vanilla biscuit, the Hare and Tortoise a toffee biscuit and the new George and the Dragon a lemon curd flavour. The pretty packaging makes the product almost like a gift purchase and Artisan Biscuits has recently launched a Two by Two 'lunch box' style tin which is aimed directly at the under 5s gift market and also a twin pack of biscuits to sell in cafs. My Favourite Bear is a children's all natural biscuit and comes in five flavours made with banana pure, Belgian white and Belgian milk chocolate, blackcurrant juice and raspberry juice and is also packed in gift boxes with cute cut-out and colour-in bear costumes.

The savoury range of biscuits encompasses a variety of brands including the Miller's and Mondovino range. Miller's Stones were inspired by the shape of a milling stone and these oaty and wheaty crumbly biscuits can partner either cheese or a cup of tea. The addition of stone ground wholemeal flour gives them a wonderfully nutty taste and their rough texture even makes them look as though they've been hewn out of a lump of stone! Their sister range is Miller's Damsels, a brand acquired by the company in 1996. These are organic, ultra-thin, hexagonal crackers made with traditionally milled English flours and grains, including three seed, charcoal, oat, rye, sourdough, spelt and wheat flavours and are designed to be enjoyed with pts, savoury spreads or cheese.

Mondovino is a savoury cracker that was invented to go with wine and the striking packaging with its cut-out wine bottle shape depicts this. The Black Olive cracker is perfect to team with white wine, the Spicy Moroccan with red, the Crme Frache and Spring Onion with ros and the Porcini Mushroom with champagne. The crackers are also great for snacking or dipping. They are made with extra virgin olive oil and with whole ingredients, not flavours, so they contain chopped black olives and olive paste, roasted hazelnuts, roasted coriander seeds and roasted cumin, real porcini mushrooms, fresh spring onions and crme frache and then dusted with sea salt.

This original and quirky range of wholesome sweet and savoury biscuits is truly unique. The biscuits not only make delicious treats but are also ideal little token gifts. Artisan Biscuits is one of Derbyshire's wonderful heritage food businesses and with its global expansion and new ranges of biscuits ready to launch I'm sure it will be tempting us with its stylish, ingenious and very delicious products for many years to come.

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