THE Hairy Bikers once called the market town of Louth the “food mecca” of England.
And, as I trundle down the M11, the boot of my Ford Fiesta creaking under the weight of a mountain of local cheese, ham and pork pies, I’m inclined to agree.
My partner and I had spent two days exploring the town on the eastern edge of the picturesque Lincolnshire Wolds.
Its cobbled streets of fine Victorian and Georgian buildings feature independent shops selling locally sourced food, including Stevensons Grocer, with its unusual thatched ceiling.
Among them too is The Cheese Shop, an unassuming treasure trove for dairy connoisseurs that does what it says on the tin so well that, in 2011, it won an award as the best small shop for food in the UK.
We bought huge wedges of the oak-smoked Lincolnshire red and Truffled Baron — a raw-milk brie-style cheese with a layer of white truffle mousse for extra decadence.
The Snowdonia black bomber — a fabulous extra mature cheddar — was a personal favourite.
We also picked up two of their “small” pork pies — incorrectly labelled I hasten to add, with one large enough to feed a family of four.
As the cheesemonger tallied up our wares, he slipped two small white chocolate mice into our bag.
Legend has it, The Cheese Shop was once owned by a wizard who noticed his wares were being stolen in the middle of the night by a band of mischievous rodents.
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So, the crafty wizard cast a spell upon his shop, turning any within a wand’s length of cheese into delicious white chocolate.
The food extravaganza didn’t end at cheese.
Our hosts for the weekend, Andrea and Chris, greeted us with a basket filled with home-baked bread, fresh-from-the-farm eggs, granola, ham and jams.
We were enchanted by Millie’s Mews — one of two gorgeous rustic renovations in former goats’ sheds in the grounds of their cottage in nearby Yarburgh.
Skilled craftsmen have created lovely studio spaces with comfy beds, sofas and a small kitchenette as well as patios with views over the Lincolnshire countryside.
After saying hello to Chris and Andrea’s chickens and enjoying their picturesque garden, it was back into Louth for dinner.
A ten-minute drive along winding country lanes, we arrived at family-run Italian, Montebello Ristorante.
I had the signature Penne Montebello, a rich tomato-based pasta dish with pancetta and chorizo.
It was divine and at just £10.25, great value.
My partner chose the porchetta – slow-roasted pork belly stuffed with bacon, garlic and herbs for £15.95.
The next day took us to The Royal Oak Inn, in nearby Little Cawthorpe, for a Sunday roast.
Dating from the 17th century, the pub commemorates the occasion when King Charles II hid in an oak tree to escape his enemies after the Battle of Worcester.
The cosy inn sits on the edge of a shallow ford in this picturesque village with lovely lawned gardens for al fresco dining.
We picked the £16.95 two-course option — a duck and cognac pâté starter then our carvery main.
My turkey came with all the trimmings — mashed potato AND roasties, carrots, peas, parsnips, leeks, broccoli, stuffing and a Yorkshire pud all drowned in a rich meaty gravy.
After devouring it, we headed back into Louth for a scoop or three of homemade ice cream at Baci & Co, run by Darren and his wife Sandra.
Darren’s love for the puds began when he was given an ice cream maker for Christmas, and — if my £6.50 bowl of vanilla, espresso and Parma Violet flavours was anything to go by — he’s a born confectioner.
It was a sweet ending to our food odyssey in the Lincolnshire Wolds, an affordable alternative to tourist-trap Cotswolds.
And we worked off a few of the calories with a brisk walk in Hubbard’s Hills, an area of natural beauty to the west of Louth.
With shallow waters backed by mature trees, there are plenty of places to sit and admire the scenery.
And it’s popular with families who picnic on the banks — easy when foodie treats are as good as they are in Louth!