South Reading based Hartland Fudge have won prestigious awards for some remarkable vegan varieties of their joyful, sweet products.
This small, local industry has not been an overnight success; owners Marcus Hunt and Martin Sheppard have been experimenting for years to get to their current high standard. Their eponymous HQ and scene of production is in the heart of Whitley, in one of the 30 or so roads named after west country towns in RG2.
They are getting noticed because their fudge is delicious and their flavours are constantly evolving. Fudge is a niche product that evokes genuine nostalgia for childhood, along with sunshine and showers, windy seaside holidays, arguing with siblings, visitor attraction gift shops and the sheer delightful pleasure of flavoured sweetness.
After meeting the enthusiastic owners, I was moved to buy some reasonably priced examples. As I am a recovering teetotaller, I chose gin with lemon, whiskey and rum-n-raisin, but there a load of other, more sober, flavours available that are full of tang and taste, along with a classy, smooth, comforting, confectionary charm.
They insist that there are always samples for you to try-before-you buy, so you should bring a false beard and glasses for multiple visits. I went to Reading Farmers Market to interview co-owner Marcus for an insight into the manifold intricacies of the fudge trade. The market is held twice a month at that most likely of Reading buildings in which to see a Thomas Hardy character, the cattle market in Great Knolly’s Street.
[Matthew] What was your former job before you started making fudge?
[Marcus] Stay at home dad.
What is the award you have just won?
The Great Taste award is judged by a national panel and is a sign of quality food.
What is in vegan fudge?
We make a condensed coconut base that takes the place of the normal dairy ingredients of condensed milk, cream or butter. It took a good long time to perfect it.
Would you describe yourself as a cottage industry?
Yes an ‘artisan cottage industry’ would be a good way to describe ourselves.
At what time do you make it?
We have to work around school time, so sometimes late at night especially before a fair or market, after the boy has gone to bed. We make it so that it’s fresh within 24 hours of going on sale.
Do you like lardy cake? And would you consider making lardy cake flavour fudge?
Don’t think I’ve ever tried it. You could use the lard instead of butter so it may be possible.
Can you make any low sugar fudge?
No; it’s the sugar that holds it all together.
What are your more exotic flavours?
Our latest flavours are Daim, Biscoff, Oreos and chocolate orange. We have Caramac, banoffee and butterscotch flavour, plus numerous others including the alcoholic ones, and we are constantly evolving our flavours and trying new things.
What is your pricing?
£2.50 for 100g and £3.00 for the alcohol or vegan ones. The price of butter has just shot up, so some of the range may have to go up in price soon.
Do you make any other products?
We make fudge spread, peanut brittle, cinder toffee and other fudge related things.
We were on a holiday in the Peak District and saw a lot of fudge everywhere we went, and came back down south and couldn’t find any. So we thought “let’s give it a go.”
Where exactly is it made?
It’s all home-made in Hartland Road, in a den in the back garden which complies with all the rules and regulations. We hope to sell direct from the house at some point but we do weddings and internet sales along with markets and fairs.
Who are what inspired you to start the business?
We were inspired by the Caversham Jam Lady to get started and make something of it.
Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.