10 best reusable coffee cups and thermos mugs: from eCoffee to Keep Cup and Bodum

Whether it’s Greta Thunberg sailing to New York, or Extinction Rebellion protesting in London, our awareness of humans’ impact on the planet has grown hugely in the past five years and climate change is never far from our minds. 

One of the biggest issues we face is the amount of non-recyclable waste that eventually makes its way into the oceans. Eight trillion pieces of plastic are dumped into our seas each year, according to a Forbes survey, which has a huge impact on marine life.  

The disposable coffee cup is a repeat offender. Government figures show that the UK throws away 2.5billion coffee cups each year, with less than 1 per cent of these recycled. 

Why are single use cups not recycled?

Most single use coffee cups contain a thin layer of polyethylene, which releases methane gas when sent to landfill, rendering them unrecyclable. This material is difficult to separate from the cardboard that surrounds it, and the UK only has three centres in which polyethylene can be recycled.

With increasing awareness around the health of the planet, the reusable product industry has exploded and there are more sustainable options than ever to choose from.

If saving the environment is not a good enough reason to buy a reusable coffee cup, then saving money might be a better incentive. Most high street coffee chains now offer discounts if you bring in your own mug, ranging from 20p at Greggs to 50p at Paul. 

How we tested

We’ve tested a range of reusable coffee cups taking into account appearance, size, price, heat-retaining ability and how easy they are to use (for you and your local Pret barista). We used each cup at least twice, using those we liked a few times more.

We’ve divided the list into two sections, thermos mugs and reusable cups. The thermos mugs are on average more expensive, as they are well-insulated with with a focus on keeping your drink hot. The reusable cups are a thinner mug that essentially replicate a standard paper coffee cup. They won’t keep your drink as warm but are kinder towards your budget.

Where possible, we also looked into whether the cups contain BPA, which is a chemical found in many single-use plastic water bottles and can interfere with your body’s hormones. Read on to find your perfect reusable mug!

Reusable cups

eCoffee Cup

From £8.95, eCoffee
Best for: Value for money

eCoffee reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 8oz, 12oz, 14oz, 16oz; Material: Silicone; Colour options: 50+

The eCoffee cup is an exceptional cup, and without a doubt the best buy. It’s one of the cheapest out there, and yet it retained heat amazingly well. It’s comfortable to hold, comes in a range of sizes and colours, and the BPA-free silicone is a pleasant material to drink from. The design of the cup is thoughtful, right down to the stopper, which can be folded up so as not to get in the way while you’re drinking.

The cups come in a range of block colours, as well as various different patterned themes, including a series modelled on prints by textile designer William Morris. The company also stocks replacement lids, sleeves and stoppers, adding to its sustainable credentials: it’s a lot more environmentally friendly to replace one part than to buy a brand new cup. 

KeepCup

£15, John Lewis
Best for: A luxury mug

KeepCup reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 4oz, 6oz, 8oz,12oz,16oz; Material: Glass, plastic, cork; Colour options: Unlimited (design your own)

Disclaimer: our tester has been using a KeepCup for around three years, but this is a testament to how good it is. The cups come in five sizes, from 4oz  to 16oz, and you can customize them with an enormous range of different styles and colours (we tested the 12oz glass cup with a cork band). Although the glass doesn’t keep the contents as warm as a thermos mug, it works much better than a standard-issue paper cup. It was small enough to fit in our bag without trouble, big enough to fit a proper-sized latte inside it, and the swivel top made it easy to drink from. 

Turtle Cup

£12.99, Turtle cup
Best for: Saving the ocean

Turtle Cup reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 12oz; Material: Glass, silicone; Colour options: 5

The name derives from the 50p donations from every sale that go to #2minutebeachclean, helping to clean the UK’s beaches. Turtle cup are a carbon neutral company, and they offset all the carbon used in the making of the cups with schemes and projects that aim to reduce their carbon footprint. 

The cup has a simple design, with a glass cup and thick silicone sleeve and lid (which, every now and then, was a little tricky to snap on). The depth of the sleeve made it comfortable to hold, and protected our hands from the heat. The colour options are bright, and the mug itself looks a lot more expensive than it actually is.

Cambridge

£4.99, Amazon (Price correct at time of writing)
Best for: Offbeat designs

Camridge reusable coffee cup

Key specs Sizes: 14oz, 16oz, 20oz; Material: Bamboo, silicone; Colour options: 18

For fans of Love Island, this is the reusable coffee cup that featured as a mea cuppa in more than one lovers’ tiff. More reusable cup than thermos, this won’t keep your coffee hot all day, but works perfectly for drinks bought on the way to the office..

The designs are fun (we tested the flamingo and polynesia versions) and jazzed up a boring weekday morning. The cup itself is made of bamboo and was soft to drink from, with the silicone lid easy to snap on. As it doesn’t have thick insulation, it holds a lot more than normal reusable cups (we tested the 16oz). 

Huski Rice Husk Reusable Coffee Cups

From £9.99, Huski 
Best for: Tea drinkers

Huski reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 400ml, 500ml; Material: Rice husks; Colour options: 3

Huski is a family-run company that makes eco-friendly mugs out of rice husks that would otherwise be discarded. They come in two sizes, 400ml or 500ml, and three beautiful pastel colours. 

We tested the 500ml cup, slightly bigger than your average coffee cup, which easily fitted a cup of tea inside it. The slightly course exterior made it very easy to grip, and the lid stopper also worked as a handle. Our tea was well insulated, and the outside of the cup stayed cool.

Thermos mugs

Bodum Travel Mug

£25, Bodum
Best for: Coffee aficionados 

Bodum reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 12oz, 15oz; Material: Stainless steel, plastic, rubber, silicone; Colour options: 9

Bodum is a retailer that excels in tea and coffee products, from coffee grinders to milk frothers. We tested the stainless steel travel mug, but there are a range of different designs – look out for the travel press set which is essentially a portable cafetiere. 

The Bodum mug is completely leak-proof (we turned it upside down and shook it and nothing came out), and the lid has a high lip that makes it very easy to drink from. The heat-retention function is so good that we burnt our tongues a full hour after the coffee had been brewed – you can tell that there has been a lot of focus on the design and useability of this thermos mug, and it’s worth spending the extra pounds on.

rCup

From £12, Amazon (Price correct at the time of writing)
Best for: Eco-credentials

rCup reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 8oz, 12oz; Material: recycled single-use coffee cups (40%), plastic (60%); Colour options: 4

Cornwall-based company ‘ashortwalk’, which designed this cup, stars designer Dan Dicker, who was previously worked for Dyson. The aim of ashortwalk is to build meaningful products from recycled materials, and that is exactly what they’ve done with the rCup, the world’s first reusable cup made from single-use cups. The design is simple and there are a range of colours and sizes available.

The cup itself is easy to use, and kept our coffee warm for an hour or so. The only problem we encountered is when the cup is overfilled, it can spill when you screw the lid down, but the cup arrives with very clear instructions as to how to avoid this. It’s BPA-free, dishwasher safe, and ashortwalk will replace the seal for free during the cup’s ten-year lifetime. When it finally comes to the end of its life, it is 100 per cent recyclable.

720DGREE

From £19.97, Amazon (Price correct at the time of writing)
Best for: Otherwordly style 

720 reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 450ml; Material: Stainless steel; Colour options: 7

If Neo from the Matrix carried a reusable coffee cup, he would use the 720DGREE. Produced in Germany, the design of this thermos is impossibly sleek and stylish, with a range of elegant colours available.

Our tester’s drink stayed hot, not warm, for over an hour, and there weren’t any odd tastes or smells from the container (as can so often ruin thermos drinks). The lid requires a little bit of a push to open it, but otherwise the cup was easy to use.

All 720DGREE bottles and mugs are BPA-free, and the brand supports the Neven Subotic Foundation, providing clean water to some of the poorest communities in the world. 

Bru cup

£15.99, Amazon
Best for: Heat retention 

Bru reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 12oz; Material: Stainless steel; Colour options: 9

This is an aesthetically-pleasing mug, and almost every time we used it we were complimented on it by a member of the public. We included it in the thermos section because of its heat-retaining abilities, but the sleek design keeps it from looking too industrial. This mug is big enough to hold a latte but small enough not to take up too much room in a bag. There are nine colours to choose from – we liked the “rose gold intense” which has a shiny finish (all the others are matte).

It is also very sturdy, and survived being dropped on the floor twice. It isn’t fully leak-proof, as there is a small hole in the top of the mug for hot air to escape, (and Bru are very clear about this) but as long as you don’t tip it upside-down you’ll be fine. The only issue is, due to the shape, this doesn’t fit in any car cup holders – but for your public transport commute, it’s perfect.

Frank Green

From £19.99, Frank Green
Best for: Customising

Frank Green reusable coffee cup

Key specs – Sizes: 6oz, 10oz, 16oz; Material: Stainless steel; Colour options: Choose your own

We recommend the Frank Green mug to anyone who wants something a bit different. This cup has a fun, abstract design and comes in a range of different sizes (we tested the 10oz). Each section of the cup is fully customisable, with a big range of available colours. We put it in the thermos section as it has a stainless steel layer which kept our drink warmer than most reusable cups. 

The mug is compact, easy to hold, and slots easily into a handbag or rucksack. As with a lot of mugs we tested, be careful not to overfill it, as when you screw the lid on it may spill. 

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8 best wine subscription services in the UK, from Majestic and Virgin to organic Abel and Cole

There comes a stage in one’s life when it’s simply not acceptable to have an empty wine rack. Sure, you could swing by the shops on the way home, but the wine aisle in your local supermarket can be a very confusing place and you’d also have to lug your purchases home by yourself. A better idea, in our opinion, would be to place your trust in one of these wine subscription services, ensuring you’re never caught out again.

Offering a selection of delivery frequencies and bottle quantities, from the everyday drinkers to the more impressive bottles you’ll want to save for a special occasion, the wine subscriptions we’ve included offer a wide range of options with plenty of choice to tailor the package to you. Delivered directly to your door, you won’t have to lift a finger (well ok, maybe a corkscrew) and before you know it that wine rack will be bursting with exciting new finds.

When putting these subscriptions to the test, we were looking for quality wine, from exciting producers, packaged up sensibly, with fab customer service on the other end of an email.

The subscriptions start from as little as £25.50 a month, but budget and taste depending, you can of course spend a lot more. Spending more may get you a better selection of wine, or a larger quantity, so think about what’s important to you when making your selection.

We hope these boxes will educate, inspire and hopefully get you out of a wine drinking rut.

Delivery is included in the price unless stated otherwise.

Wanderlust Wine Club

From £30-£90 a month, Wanderlust Wine
Best for: Overall

Wanderlust Wine Club Subscription

Key specs – What’s included: Either 6 or 12 bottles a quarter; Delivery options: Quarterly; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

The small team at Wanderlust believe in offering unusual, quality wines, curated by the season; with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic styles. There are three membership levels to choose from – silver (which will get you 6 bottles a quarter) gold (12 bottles) or platinum (12 even better bottles) – all of which come with individual tasting cards. Payment is flexible, and aside from the steady supply of wine, club perks include 10-15 per cent off additional wine bought from the online shop, free tickets to tasting events, and the opportunity to taste alongside the wanderlust team when they pick new producers. We tried some very exciting bottles in our box, including a rich buttery Californian chardonnay Wanderlust’s own New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and also the organic Arbison from France which has been billed the “healthiest red wine in the world”.

Nosy Wine Club

£50, Nosy Wine
Best for: Millennials

Nosy Wine Club subscription package

Key specs – What’s included: 3 bottles; Delivery options: Every 1, 2 or 3 months; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

Wine can sometimes feel like a bit of an old boy’s club, but we love this millennial-friendly company with the most gorgeous packaging. The small club is run by two women who are on a mission to make the world of wine more fun. Each month they invite a new expert to select the three wines that will be sent out to members. July’s box was hosted by Valter Kramar, co-owner and sommelier of Hisa Franko, one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, who took us on a journey of Slovenian wines. We loved reading through our booklet, which outlined the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural wines, included an interview with Valter and plenty of other down-to-earth tips.

Virgin Wine Discovery Club

From £59.88 for a taster box followed by £134.88-140.88 thereafter, Virgin Wines
Best for: A weekly ‘everyday’ bottle

Virgin Wines Subscription Club

Key specs – What’s included: 12 bottles; Delivery options: Every 3 months; Delivery cost: £7.99

The Discovery Club allows you to pick from either a mixed case or just whites or reds, depending on your preference, with 12 brand new bottles sent to your door every three months (which equates to a bottle a week). It works out cheaper than if you were to just buy the wines yourself, with a minimum 15 per cent discount. In each case you’ll find a wine tasting booklet so you can get clued up on your selection. It also provides a food pairing suggestion, description and a bit of background on the winery to ensure you get the most out of each bottle. As an added bonus, any of the Discovery Club wines you fall in love with can be re-ordered with a 15 per cent member discount. We tried a juicy Romanian pinot noir (something we might not have thought to pick up otherwise) and a mouth-watering herbaceous semillon from South Africa’s Western Cape.

Savage Vines Monthly Wine Subscription

From £29.95 a month, Savage Vines
Best for: Podcast

Savage wines subscription club

Key specs – What’s included: Either 2 or 3 bottles a month; Delivery options: Once a month; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

As much as we love seeing a box of wine turn up on our doorstep, it can be tricky to coordinate deliveries and it’s not always an option to leave it outside if you’re not in. Savage Vines have got around this annoyance by delivering its subscription in a handy carry case, so you can get your loot sent to work before carrying it home easily. Choose to receive either two, three or six bottles once a month on an ongoing basis, or for a set three-, six- or 12-month period. Delivery is offered four days of the week and you’re also able to specify whether you’d prefer your wines to be red, white or a mixture. Included with your wine is a simple booklet detailing the six wines you might have got that month, including a food pairing, brief tasting notes and a link to the monthly podcast, during which Kyle at Savage Vines talks you through the wines on the monthly tasting sheet. What’s more, monthly subscriber’s get a further 25 per cent off everything in their online wine shop.

The Grape Reserve

£33 a month, The Grape Reserve
Best for: Wine and food pairing

The Grape Reserve wine subscription

Key specs – What’s included: 2 bottles; Delivery options: Monthly: Delivery cost: Free Delivery (some remote postcodes will incur a 10 per cent additional delivery fee)

Straight-talking and straight-forward, The Grape Reserve will send you two bottles of wine a month for a set price of £33. You can select 2 bottles of red, 2 bottles of white, or a bottle of each – and each month they’ll include tasting notes, complementary food pairing ideas and a recipe. They aim to shine a light on different varieties, perhaps from regions you might not have tried before, working with independent wineries, so expect contrasting wines in each delivery. Our selection included a complex but refreshing Portuguese white and an unusual but full-bodied red from Romania which The Grape Reserve recommend enjoying with shepherd’s pie.

Abel & Cole Monthly Wine Club

From £25.50, Abel & Cole
Best for: Organic

Abel and Cole wine subscription service

Key specs – What’s included: 3 bottles; Delivery options: One off, Weekly, fortnightly, every 3, 4 or 8 weeks; Delivery cost: £1.25

Each month the selection changes, but like everything from Abel & Cole, all three bottles will be organic. Honey Spencer, Abel & Cole’s sommelier, will pick a new theme each month, each with its own newsletter and tasting notes. Although the selection only changes on a monthly basis, you can choose from various delivery options (more or less frequent). The August box featured new world wines (meaning those produced outside the traditional winegrowing areas of Europe) including a fairtrade chenin blanc from South Africa, a cabernet sauvignon dubbed ‘the Bordeaux of South America’ and a super smooth Argentinian malbec.

Majestic Wine Concierge

From £79.90 for an introductory box, followed by £99 a month for the standard case, Majestic
Best for: Choice

Majestic Wine Concierge

Key specs – What’s included: 12 or 24 bottles; Delivery options: Every 3 months; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

This is a crowd-pleasing wine club with a plan to suit everybody. Every three months you’ll receive a case of your choice – a standard box of 12, a double standard box of 24 or a more premium selection of 12 bottles with a choice to mix or stick to just reds or just whites. Printed tasting notes will help you make sense of your loot and you’ll receive a free bottle to boot (or two with the double case). A swanky VIP card will give you access to open any bottle up to the value of £20 in store, and you’ll always receive their ‘best price’ even if you’re not buying in bulk. If you opt to have your wines sent to your local store, you can taste all the wines in the case, swapping out any that you don’t like before you take it home.

The Wine Society Wine Without Fuss

From £85-£149 depending on plan, The Wine Society
Best for: Everyday Drinkers

Wine Without Fuss subscription service

Key specs – What’s included: 12 bottles; Delivery options: Choose your frequency – from once a month to once a year; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

There are five plans to choose from at The Wine Society, all of which include 12 bottles, available as either all reds, whites or a mix. Selections are refreshed every two months (New Year, Easter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) with you paying a maximum price for your plan (but less if the bottles equate to less, which will be a nice surprise in your bank account).

The cheapest of these plans is the ‘Wine Rack Essentials’ which you’ll pay up to £85 for. It includes everyday bottles you can happily enjoy midweek without overspending.There’s a ‘Discovery Selection’ which should offer more exciting bottles, as well as ‘Lighter Wines’ (those with a lower ABV), ‘Worldwide Wines’, and pricey ‘French Classics’. All boxes include tasting notes, recipes and food pairing suggestions and should ensure your wine rack is kept topped up.

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8 best baking sets, from Asda and Lakeland to Le Creuset

Bakeware is a staple of any cook’s kitchen, but, whether you’re an ardent baker or have caught the Great British Bake-Off bug, choosing what you need can be overwhelming. If you want beautifully risen cakes and biscuits with a snap, then knowing which material, weight and quality of bakeware you need is important. 

What do you bake – and how often?

If you have an all-round passion, then larger sets will be more versatile. If you’re topping up an existing collection, then the specialist ranges may suit.

If you are a less frequent baker, then the more expensive brands may not be worth it. The budget brands stood up well in the test and come highly recommended.

For those who bake a lot, investing in the more expensive sets can pay dividends in the long run. These are made from stronger materials and can stand up to the rigours of frequent use and washing.  

To wash or not?

The jury is still out on the washing of bakeware as many argue this can destroy any build-up of oiliness which creates a natural non-stick surface. However, modern bakeware now comes with excellent robust non-stick coatings more or less as standard, so most will only need a quick wipe. If you feel you must have dishwasher capability, then look carefully at the instructions before buying as not all are.

How it stacks up

Bakeware takes up a lot of room though some will nest. If your kitchen does not have spare cupboards or drawers, then a smaller, yet still versatile set you can easily pack away will be best.  

How we test

The baking sets tested were made up of several different pieces, and we tested a range from each; where possible, a cake or loaf tin, buns, and a baking tray. We made ginger cakes, lemon drizzles, muffins, Yorkshire puddings, pastry cases and jam tarts. Here are our favourites.

These sets are listed in price order

Wilko 4-Pack Roasting Starter Set

£5, Wilko
Best for: A bargain set that delivers well

Wilko baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 4, oven tray, Yorkshire pudding tin, baking tray, loaf and sandwich tin; Material: 0.4mm gauge steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: yes; Guarantee: 5 years; Extras: None

It is staggering that a fiver will buy you this four-piece bakeware set. It may not be the sturdiest set in the test but it is in no way flimsy, and so confident are Wilko in the durability of its product, it also comes with a five-year guarantee.

There were no problems with any of the bakes. Most were evenly coloured and the Yorkshire puddings well-risen and golden brown. The non-stick coating worked for the most part, but a few biscuits did get caught on the tray, so a little light greasing is advised.

We especially liked the wide rims which make the bakeware easy to handle, especially when hot from the oven. The pieces also nest together, so stack up neatly for small spaces.

George Non-stick Cook and Bakeware Set 9 Piece

£11, Asda
Best for: High-quality on a budget

George from Asda baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 9, 1 large roaster, 1 small roaster, 1 loaf tin, 2 sandwich tins,1pizza tray,1 4-cup Yorkshire pudding tray,1 small bun tray, 1 large oven tray; Material: Aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Guarantee: 100 days satisfaction; Extras: None

This nine-piece set from George at Asda was such a surprise in the test. For the price, it would be easy to think that this set would be low in quality but it was anything but. Made from aluminium, the trays were strong but light. In all tests, the bakes were evenly coloured with no dead spots.

This set covers all bases, including a roaster for the beef and a traditional four-hole Yorkshire pudding tin. So that’s Sunday lunch sorted.  

The set has an excellent non-stick coating, so bakes slid out smoothly. At just  10 inches, the pizza tray was the only piece that felt a little on the small side.

VonShef Oven 5-Piece Oven Bakeware

£14.99, VonShef
Best for: Durability and space on a budget

VonShef baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 5, 1 muffin tray, 1 medium oven tray, 1 round cake pan, 1 loaf pan and 1 springform cake tin; Material: Carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Guarantee: 2-year warranty; Extras: None

The VonShef set comes with warp-free heavy-duty steel and a tough non-stick coating, which delivered excellent results with the bakes. We were particularly impressed with the sturdiness of the non-twist oven tray. 

There may be only five pieces in this set, but the pans can be used for multiple different things. For example, the cake pan can also be used as a small roaster, or for deep pies; the muffin tin can be used for buns, Yorkshire puddings and mince pies. The oven tray is just deep enough also to be used for a Swiss roll.

Kids’ Real Cookware Ultimate 48-Piece Baking Gift Set

£29.99, Lakeland
Best for: Budding young bakers

Lakeland kids baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 48, everything for young bakers including cake, muffin and loaf tins. Material: mainly silicone; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: No; Guarantee: 3 years; Extras: suitable for ages 3 and upwards.

You are never too young to start baking, and this comprehensive 48-piece kit provides everything kids need to get cracking.

We put this set into the hands of a supervised not-quite-four-year-old. They created some very respectable biscuits and a moist marbled banana cake which came out easily from the non-stick loaf tin.  

The set, however, is not a plaything. It is real tools and pans, but made to be used by smaller hands. There is all the equipment needed for rolling, moulding and decorating cake pops, cookies, cupcakes and more.

Everything is sturdy and well-made, and so even the youngest child can use it safely without fear of it breaking.

ProCook Non-Stick Bakeware Set

£35, ProCook
Best for: Versatility

Procook baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 6, springform cake tin, 12 cupcake tray, small and large baking trays, small roasting tin and a loaf tin; Material: Heavy gauge carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes, Guarantee: 10 years; Extras: None

This carbon steel ProCook set comes with a generous 10-year guarantee. It was easy to see why the company is so confident, as the bakeware felt robust and well-made. The only slight disappointment was a surprisingly flimsy fastener on the springform. The sturdy steel also meant the pans heated very quickly and the colouring of cakes and pastries was even all round.

The interior of the bakeware felt super smooth, so it was of little surprise to discover it has a double layer superior ProCook Ultra SI non-stick coating. No greasing was needed, and the bakes still fell from the tins.

Silverwood Starter Set

£44.95, Silverwood
Best for: Simplicity and style
Silverwood four piece bakeware set

Key specs – Number in set: 8, 2 fixed base sandwich tins, 1 loose base round cake tin, 1 baking tray, 4 cutters; Material: Anodised aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Handwash only, Guarantee: 25 years; Extras: None

The simplicity and understated elegance of this British-made anodised aluminium bakeware bears testament. The soft silver colour, even after just a few uses, takes on a lovely patina which only enhances its good looks. No dishwasher use allowed (or needed) for these beauties.

However, it is not just the aesthetics of this set that makes it so pleasant to use. The even heat distribution it gives out also resulted in perfectly cooked and evenly coloured bakes, especially the biscuits, making this set the best performing during the tests.

This set is for a budding baker, rather than a more experienced one, who may find the smaller sizes of the cake and sandwich tins a little annoying.

Lakeland 5-Piece Mixed Bakeware Set

£47.95, Lakeland
Best for: A quality all-rounder

Lakeland five-piece baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 5, 20cm Springform Cake Tin, Baking Sheet, 2lb Loaf Tin, 12 Hole Deep Bun Tin, 20cm Round Deep Pie Tin; Material: 1mm thick carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes, Guarantee: 10 years; Extras: Safe grip handles

The Lakeland set showed exceptional attention to detail. Not only did this bakeware feel good to hold, but it also has an attractive blue colour on the outside and a double layer of Quantum 2 professional non-stick within.

The ergonomic design of wide, safe grip handles on all but the springform, and clean edges, meant no trapping of water when washing, which in other pans can cause rust. Plus, some pieces have fill and sizing measures to prevent overfilling the pan and spoiling the bake.

All of this resulted in professional-looking bakes.

There may be only five (very useful) pieces in this set, but there are many more pieces to buy to add to it, making it suitable for all levels of baking experience.

Le Creuset Family Baking Set

£89, Le Creuset
Best for: A worthy investment

Le Creuset baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 4, 12 Cup Bun Tray, 22cm Kugelhopf, Swiss Roll Tray and 24cm Springform Tin; Material: Heavy gauge carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Handwash only; Guarantee: Lifetime; Extras: Heat resistant silicone handles.

This set was the most expensive tested and had just four pieces. We did not test the Kugelhopf, but we were delighted by the performance of the tray, bun tin and springform.

The fastener on the springform was the best in the test; it snaps shut easily and stays securely closed. Nothing stuck to the edges, not even boiling jam from the tarts, and we loved the heat resistant handles; they look great and work well, especially on the cake tin as it gave added grip.

With a lifetime guarantee, there is added confidence that the investment in these pieces is worth every penny.

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13 best non-alcoholic spirits, featuring gin, vodka and whiskey alternatives

Going dry used to mean you had a choice between a good old lime and soda or a sugar-laden soft drink. But, with ever more products being launched, and increasingly sophisticated flavours, there’s never been more choice when it comes to going alcohol-free.

What is an alcohol-free spirit?

Since Seedlip launched its first alcohol-free spirit in 2015, made from a blend of distilled botanicals, countless others have followed suit. While many are gin-like botanical-based ‘spirits’ made from herbs and spices, we’re now seeing alcohol-free versions of everything from rum to whisky and bitter aperitifs.

Often sugar, sweetener and allergen-free, and exceptionally low in calories, the appeal to those looking to a healthier lifestyle is obvious.

How are they made?

Spirit makers are using a number of different methods. While some are made naturally alcohol-free, many create a full-strength product first, and then strip the alcohol out.

What makes these alcohol-spirits particularly good?

The products in our list are flavourful, complex alternatives to alcoholic drinks. And while some don’t taste exactly like the type of alcohol they’re aiming to replicate, they’re not far off.

In fact some drinks makers assert that their botanical drinks stand alone, and shouldn’t be compared to specific alcoholic drinks at all; the flavour is just different.

What we have found to be the most tricky part is achieving that thick, rounded consistency that alcohol delivers. Some alcohol-alternatives can be just a little thin. But there are a good number in our list that have cracked it.

These spirits have been listed in price order

Stryyk Not Vodka

£16, Ocado
Best for: Value

Stryyk not vodka

Key specs – Cucumber, coriander and apple; 700ml; 0%

With so many alcohol-free drinks understandably inspired by gin, it’s nice to see one that isn’t. But vodka? That’s a tricky one to replicate, because a lot of the flavour profile of vodka comes from the alcohol. The Stryyk range does also include a Not Gin and a Not Rum, but we like the light fruitiness and versatility of Not Vodka, which is fresh, grassy, and finishes with a delicate apple taste. And we think it represents great value for money too.

Everleaf Non-Alcoholic Bittersweet Aperitif

£18.75, The Whiskey Exchange
Best for: Ethically-sourced ingredients

Everleaf

Key specs – Vanilla, gentian and iris; 500ml; 0%

This blend of 18 different botanicals is great for creating a satisfyingly bitter and tangy spritz. We prefer using tonic water to mix it for that extra bitter kick, as although it has been distilled with saffron, vetiver, orange blossom, gentian, voodoo lily, wild roots and iris, the sweetness of vanilla really does stand out. Founder Paul Mathew, a conservationist turned bartender, has also taken special care to source all ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources. Cheers to that.

Ceder’s Wild Non-Alcoholic Spirit

£19, Tesco
Best for: A booze-free G&T

Ceders Wild

Key specs – Gin alternative with juniper, clove, rooibos; Volume: 500ml; 0% ABV

Said to contain all the flavours of gin, just without the alcohol, this one is for those who love a good G&T. There are three expressions in the range, all made with wild and rare South African botanicals from the Cederberg mountains of the Western Cape. Whereas Classic is said to be most similar in flavour to a London Dry, and Crisp features citrus, cucumber and camomile, we’ve gone for Wild due to the standout zing of ginger, clove and rooibos tea. Herbal and refreshing, its great with tonic, but even better with the acidity of a grapefruit garnish.

Borrago #47 Paloma Blend

£19.95, Master of Malt
Best for: Guilt-free cocktails

Borago

Key specs – Citrus, spice, pepper; Volume 500ml; 0% ABV

Though you can use Borrago like a gin or a vodka, its makers are clear: it is not trying to mimic them. Dry with sweet floral notes, it also contains lemon and coriander. With a sweet kick, we particularly like its sherbet fruitiness and menthol-like finish. Mix it with tonic, and garnish with lime and mint, or basil leaf and an orange wedge. What’s more, as well as being alcohol-free, its sugar-free, fat-free, and calorie-free.

Æcorn Bitter

£19.99, Waitrose
Best for: A booze-free spritz

Aecorn

Key specs – Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes, with botanicals; 500ml, 0%

From the makers of Seedlip comes this three-strong range of alcohol-free aperitifs, all distilled from a blend of English-grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes and infused with botanicals. It’s available in Dry, Bitter and Aromatic varietals. However, we love Bitter the best. If you’re a fan of drinks such as Campari then this one is for you.

Celtic Soul

£22, Sainsbury’s
Best for: Whisky lovers

Celtic Soul

Key specs – Distilled dark spirits; 700ml; 0%

Described as a non-alcoholic blend of “carefully distilled dark spirits”, Celtic Soul is one for the whiskey fans. It’s spicy, but also quite fruity and softened by some mellow vanilla notes with a hint of woody flavour. It also manages to pull off that tricky consistency issue, and is satisfyingly thick and bold. It works well with cola, but we love it mixed with ginger ale.

Three Spirit

£24.95, The Whisky Exchange
Best for: Social highs and slow sipping

Three spirit

Key specs – Green tea, cocoa bean, passionflower, caraway seed; 500ml; 0%

One of the few dark ‘spirits’ in our list, this Three Spirit concoction is a combination of eleven plants that are intended not only to give the taste of a complex drink, but also to give you the experience of drinking alcohol too. The botanicals chosen – which, as well as those mentioned in the key specs, include damiana leaf, lion’s mane mushroom, and yerba mate – target specific receptors in the brain to heighten positive feelings. It has the aroma of something close to a kombucha. Add ginger ale for a multi-layered long drink.

Sea Arch Non-Alcoholic Distilled Spirit

£24.98, Dry Drinker
Best for: Summer afternoon sipping

Sea Arch

Key specs – Coastal juniper, sea kelp, samphire, blood orange; 700ml; 0%

Perhaps one of the most stylish-looking drinks in our round-up, Sea Arch certainly does have shelf appeal. This juniper-led, non-alcoholic spirit is inspired by the Devon coast where it’s made, and includes hand-harvested South Devon sugar, kelp and samphire, as well as juniper, blood orange, cardamom, coriander, grapefruit, lemon and sage. All ingredients are individually distilled, before the alcohol is ‘gently’ removed. Best served simply with tonic, garnish with lemon zest, blood orange or samphire.

Caleño Juniper and Inca Berry

£24.99, Amazon (Price at the time of writing)
Best for: That tropical vibe

Caleno

Key specs – Inca berry, coriander, juniper, cardamom, lemon; 700ml, 0% ABV

Inspired by South America, Caleño combines juniper, citrus and spice botanicals for a tropical flavour. Steam-distilled to help maintain each botanical’s natural taste, sweet and tangy Inca berry is at the heart of this drink. It smells fantastic; think pineapple, mango and those little foam banana sweets with just the smallest hint of juniper. To sip, it’s just as fruity. Most impressively, it has the lovely thick mouthfeel of a spirit, which not many on our list have pulled off. Again, this one is sugar and sweetener-free, and contains no artificial flavours. Just add tonic – it really doesn’t need much else.

Atopia Spiced Citrus

£25, Ocado
Best for: Full-bodied flavour

Atopia

Key specs – Orange, juniper, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel; 700ml; 0.5%

Unlike many others on our list, this tipple does in fact contain alcohol, but just a trace amount. According to its makers, a serve with tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a gin and tonic. Atopia is actually available in two flavours: Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom. We’re particular fans of the bright zest, fruitiness and gentle warming sensation of Spiced Citrus, which has light notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Seedlip Grove 42

£26.50, Waitrose
Best for: Versatility

Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit

Key specs – Mediterranean orange, lemon peel, ginger and lemongrass; 700ml; 0%

When Seedlip launched in 2015, it pretty much forged a path for all the alcohol-free spirits that followed. We enjoy the earthiness of the brand’s original product, Garden 108, as well as the heat of Spice 94. But it’s the citrus-led Grove 42 that we love. Serve long with tonic to bring out its orange, and ginger flavours.

Feragaia Distilled Alcohol-Free Spirit

£28, Feragaia
Best for: Sipping neat

Feragaia

Key specs – Cayenne Pepper, blackcurrant leaf, kaffir lime, apple, hibiscus; 500ml; 0%

Distilled, blended and bottled in the Scottish Lowlands, Feragaia is another drinks brand making use of local botanicals, from land and sea, including serrated wrack (seaweed), bay leaf and chamomile. Sipped neat over ice, its lightly smoky and peppery. Serve with tonic and it’s a little fruitier, with a refreshing herbal and citrus taste.

Xachoh Blend No. 7

£28.95, Master of Malt
Best for: A winter warmer

Xachoh

Key specs – Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, crystal dark malt; 700ml; 0%

Drawing inspiration from herbal remedies from Persia and the Silk Road, Xachoh is available in two varieties. No. 7 features a blend of botanicals including star anise, saffron and sumac, for a rich, spicy and beautifully fragrant drink. There’s something a little plummy, even date-like about it. With all those warming spices, it goes fantastically with ginger beer.

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10 best vegan cheeses that taste like the real deal

The rise of veganism shows no signs of slowing down and last year the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation to keep up with demand. Whether you shun animal products full-time or are just trying to cut down, one food that’s often cited as the most missed by those following a plant-based diet is cheese (closely followed by bacon, FYI). Thankfully, avoiding dairy no longer means you need to miss out, with a vegan substitute now available for all of your favourite cheeses.

There are two main types of vegan cheese to look out for – those with a coconut base and those made from nuts, with the latter most often created with almonds or cashews for a creamy, smooth, spreadable texture.

How we test

When putting our cheese to the test, we were looking for those that were as similar to the real deal as possible. If a cheese described itself as a gouda, for example, we wanted to be unable to tell the difference in a blind taste test. Some failed at this, tasting pleasant but unmistakably not dairy-based. We’ve only included the ones that passed with flying colours, although we put many more to the test.

Cheeses were tried straight out of the packet and melted or grated where suitable, with us on the lookout for a creamy, salty quality. Happily, there are also a number of pre-prepared options on the market (grated or pre-sliced “cheddar”, for example) – so no need to pass up on convenience food if that’s something you’d normally buy.

As well as trying replacement ricotta, parmesan, cheddar and feta, we also tried a variety of flavoured cheeses, which would make a great addition to a vegan cheese board. These added herbs and spices also did a great job of masking any telltale non-dairy flavours that might have lingered otherwise.

All of the below cheeses are 100 per cent suitable for a vegan diet and are listed in price order.

Sheese Vegan Smoked German Style

£2.55, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: A cheese block

sheese vegan smoked german style

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Gouda substitute

Presented in a round wheel, this gouda-style cheese was really creamy and, despite being made from a coconut base, didn’t have that telltale aftertaste. This was partly thanks to the smoky flavour imparted from hickory and oak.

Just like the real deal, this would make a delicious bar snack alongside a good Belgian beer but would also be tasty in a bagel, chopped up in a salad or grated over soup. It comes in a handy resealable packet, if you don’t scoff the lot in one sitting, and there are many other flavours in the range of “Sheese Blocks” including mature cheddar, red Leicester and edam styles.

Violife Vegan Sliced Cheese

£2.59, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: Cheddar substitute

violife slices

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Sliced cheddar substitute

Turns out Violife is the king of vegan cheese, as we couldn’t resist including two from the brand. Like its feta-style block (below), this is made from coconut oil (with added B12) but without any of the sweetness we’d found elsewhere.

There was a proper cheesy, pleasingly salty taste and these slices melted well under the grill. If you’re looking for a cheddar substitute to use in burgers or toasties, we think this is your best bet. Aside from being free from dairy, there’s also no soya, gluten, lactose, nuts or preservatives.

Violife Feta Style Non-Dairy Cheese Alternative

£2.70 for 200g, Ocado
Best for: Feta alternative

violife feta style

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Feta substitute

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Salty, creamy and crumbly, we were dubious about finding anything that mimics our beloved feta well. This one from Violife comes in a similar packet to your regular feta – with a little liquid present in the pack – but unlike the goats cheese version, this block was pure white and completely smooth.

We couldn’t crumble it in the same way as we would our regular block, but it was delicious slathered on a crispbread. Made with coconut oil, it’s free from dairy, soya and gluten and has added B12 (a vitamin that’s very important to actively incorporate into a vegan diet).

Nush Almond Milk Cream Cheese Style Spread Natural

£2.75, Ocado
Best for: Cream cheese substitute

nush almond milk cream cheese

Key specs – Weight: 150g; Made from: Almonds; Type: Spread

We were familiar with Nush for its nut-based yogurts but happily discovered it also has a range of similarly creamy cheeses. Perfectly smooth, with no grainy texture, we had a really hard time differentiating this from the dairy equivalent.

It was by far the most realistic substitute we tried – thick and creamy with the perfect cream cheese consistency, despite it being made from almonds. Each pot contains 60 in fact! A quick check of the ingredients shows that the product is made up primarily of almonds (95 per cent) and is very low in saturated fat – leaving us to slather plenty on our crackers, guilt-free.

Follow Your Heart Dairy Free Smoked Gouda Slices

£3.79 for 200g, Ocado
Best for: Smoked gouda slices

follow your heart dairy free smoked gouda

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Gouda alternative

This is the second gouda-style alternative to make it into our roundup but this time in an easy pre-sliced version. Follow Your Heart suggests sticking a few slices of its dairy-free cheese in a panini and we were pleased with how the product melted onto our toasted bread. These smoky slices would also make a great addition to your vegan burger.

Despite vegan cheese feeling like a new category, American brand Follow Your Heart has been making plant-based foods like this for over 40 years.

Kinda Co Farmhouse

£4.80, La Fauxmagerie
Best for: Luxury mature cheddar substitute

kinda co farmhouse

Key specs – Weight: 100g; Made from: Cashews and coconut oil; Type: Mature cheddar substitute

Like most of the vegan cheeses we tried, Kinda Co’s block of dairy-free mature cheddar is best served cold. Coming wrapped in paper, like you’d get from a traditional fromagerie, we were impressed by the distinctive cheesy tanginess, which undoubtedly did have a mature cheddar element.

Made from a combination of cashews and coconut oil, nutritional yeast and miso, the colour is ever so slightly greyer than we’d expect from a cheese, but the taste more than made up for that. There’s also a cranberry version (with big juicy fruit pieces) and a pot of subtly smoky nacho cheese, perfect for your next Mexican feast.

Nutcrafter Creamery Organic Aged Black Peppercorn Cashew Cheese Alternative

£6.95, Abel & Cole
Best for: Organic

nutcrafter creamery

Key specs – Weight: 170g; Made from: Cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

It makes sense that organic food brand Abel & Cole should stock the UK’s only certified organic vegan cheese producer. The team at Nutcrafter Creamery produce its handcrafted vegan cheese in much the same way as a traditional cheese, with the cashews curdled, fermented and left to age.

Perfect as part of an organic cheese board, this creamy cheese has a black peppercorn coating, which imparts a subtle flavour and complements the lemon notes of the cheese. There’s also an aged chive, chèvre-style, and roasted garlic flavour in the range, if you’re looking for a fully plant-based cheese board.

Palace Culture Almond Ricotta

£6.99, Green Bay
Best for: Ricotta substitute

palace culture almond ricotta

Key specs – Weight: 140g; Made from: Almonds; Type: Ricotta substitute

Like ricotta, this is a mild-tasting cheese with a super-smooth, soft consistency. Made in London’s Crystal Palace, this one comes in an easily recycled clear glass jar and is created with a combination of organic “activated” raw almonds (which simply means they’ve been soaked) fermented with live cultures (which will provide good gut bacteria), a little Cornish sea salt, herbs and a very generous drizzle of organic olive oil.

We enjoyed ours spooned straight out of the jar and spread on a seeded cracker, but we think it would work in any savoury recipe where you’d use ricotta – as long as you don’t mind the olive oil flavour, which was the most dominate ingredient.

Tyne Chease Za’atar Spice

£7.95, Tyne Chease
Best for: Flavoured cheeses

tyne chease zaatar spice

Key specs – Weight: 150g; Made from: Cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

With a generous coating of za’atar (a fragrant Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, and a favourite ingredient of chef Ottolenghi), this cashew-based cheese was genuinely delicious.

We found it was best enjoyed chilled, straight from the fridge, which helped to retain its shape. Otherwise, it can become more spread-like then anything resembling a block of cheese, although it did retain a good tanginess.

There are a number of flavours in the range, including the original, through to garlic, dill, smoked, Ethiopian spice, sun-dried tomato, mustard, chilli flakes and pink peppercorn. We’d suggest buying the lot for a mega vegan cheeseboard feast.

The Naturally Vegan Food Company Smoked Vegan Cheeze Balls

£17.97, Yumbles
Best for: Groups

the naturally vegan food company cheeze ball

Key specs – Weight: 3 x 150g; Made from: Almonds and cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

Ok, so these certainly aren’t cheap and it’s a little annoying that you have to buy them in packs of three (they only have a 10-day shelf life) but they were too tasty to ignore. They’re also not really like any other dairy cheese we’ve tried and the large balls are the perfect size for sharing, making them a great addition to a cheeseboard – something to bear in mind with Christmas coming up.

A blend of almonds and cashews, which have been blended for a smooth but slightly chewy texture, slather them on crackers with a glass of wine or just eat them in big chunks. The added nutritional yeast delivers a subtle cheesy flavour and each ball is covered in a coating of smoky red paprika and studded with flaked almonds, so they look pretty too.

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9 best gas BBQs for cooking outside in the fresh air

The gas versus charcoal BBQ argument has been raging since Chicago-born Don McGlaughlin’s gas-powered LazyMan first hit the market in the early 1950s. Today, most professional chefs and seasoned barbecuers will extol the virtues of charcoal over gas and it’s true that, psychologically at least, charcoal is a more primally satisfying way to grill meats and vegetables in the great outdoors.

However, charcoal barbecuing does have its drawbacks, namely the length of time it takes for the charcoal to reach optimum temperature and the extra work involved in preventing the food from being scorched to a cinder.

On the flip side, gas aficionados will argue that gas grilling produces a flavour just as authentically smoky as charcoal, only without the hassle. After all, given that the flavour of grilled meat is mostly produced by the smoke generated by meat fats dripping onto a heat source below, does it really matter whether that source is a pile of coals or a sheet of hot metal with a flaming gas ring beneath?

One thing everyone agrees on is that gas barbecuing is a much more convenient and practical way to grill. Not only is the heat of a gas barbecue easier to control but it’ll reach optimum cooking temperature in about 10 minutes (a charcoal BBQ can take anything from 25 minutes to 45 minutes).

Another bonus is that every gas barbecue comes equipped with a lid. Aside from deflecting wind that could blow out the flame, a lid also allows the user to grill using the “indirect” convection method of cooking; a much easier and more reliable way to grill meats than the open-top brazier design of some charcoal-based barbecues.

It must be said, however, that there are a few caveats worth mentioning: gas barbecues are more expensive than their charcoal counterparts and they’re usually a bit more difficult to assemble. And, of course, you will also need to fork out on a gas canister. Speaking of which…

All about gas

Propane is the most common fuel for modern barbecues and Patio Gas is arguably the most popular brand. It’s available in 5kg (£22) and 13kg canisters (£34), but 5kg is the most practical size since it will fit underneath or behind the cupboards of most barbecue models.

If using gas for the first time, you’ll need to sign a Cylinder Refill Agreement and hand over an additional £40 fee for the returnable cylinder. Thereafter, whenever the gas nears empty, simply take the empty bottle back to the supplier and pick up a new pre-filled one.

Patio Gas canisters are fitted with a contents gauge so be sure to check the gas level well before your guests arrive because the last thing you need is for it to run out midway through the grilling process.

Choosing a gas barbecue – things to consider

Aside from price and build quality, the most important factor to consider is grill size and the number of burners the BBQ’s equipped with. The most popular size is equipped with two burners (individually controlled gas rings beneath a metal heat reflector). However, if you have a large family or entertain a lot then consider a model with three or four burners – a four-burner barbecue will provide almost twice the meal estate of a two burner.

Some models are also equipped with a side burner, which is basically a small gas hob for cooking side dishes. We would suggest forgoing a side burner because not only are they fiddly to assemble and take up valuable shelf space, but they perform no better than a kitchen hob.

Weber Spirit II E-210 GBS

£422.10, Hayes Garden World
Best for: BBQ aficionados

weber spirit 2

Key specs – Grill size/area: 51 x 46 cm; Weight: 46.8kg; Burners: 2; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

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You really can’t go wrong with a Weber. Not only are they built to last – some Webers have been known to survive over 10 years of winter weather without collapsing into a pile of rust – but they’re almost universally praised by both users and professionals.

Designed for small patios and balconies, this sturdy entry-level two-burner model boasts a heavy-duty porcelain-coated lid with integral thermometer, a 51cm x 46cm Gourmet Barbecue System grate with a removable centre section for an optional griddle plate or pizza stone, a small warming rack, a gas bottle holder on the right to keep everything tidy, two side tables (one folding), and a new type of ignition system that almost always lights the gas ring on the first press of the button, even after months of use.

The Spirit II is equipped with three piping hot heat reflector shields (or “flavorizer bars” as Weber likes to call them) that instantly vaporise dripping fats, producing that lovely smoky flavour we all love; a disposable tin foil tray beneath catches any excess fats. If you often serve food that is either undercooked or overdone, consider installing the optional iGrill 3 app-connected system, which monitors the internal temperatures of up to four cuts of meat and, when perfectly cooked, notifies you on your iOS or Android device.

The build quality is exemplary; a fact borne out by the 10-year guarantee Weber offers on all parts. If you’re after a gas barbecue that fits nicely on a patio and doesn’t stretch the budget too much, then put this one high on your list of contenders.

Everdure by Heston Blumenthal Force

£599, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Style

everdure

Key specs – Grill size/area: 2,358cm²; Weight: 33kg; Burners: 2; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

For size, style and efficiency, this minimalist two-burner model from chef Heston Blumenthal is a tough one to beat. Indeed, it’s one of the most thoughtfully designed BBQs available. Constructed almost entirely out of rust-resistant die-cast aluminium, the Force features two enamel-coated cast iron grates large enough to feed a gaggle of six hungry mouths, a beautifully designed lid that fits perfectly flush with the body ensuring that the heat is retained throughout the cooking process, four rock-solid legs (two with castors), a sturdy fold-out shelf for added convenience, and an integrated temperature dial. It also comes with arguably the most accurate control dials in barbecue-land.

In order to prevent flare-ups caused by too much fat dripping onto the heat source below, this barbecue’s cooking grate is equipped with solid sections positioned directly above the burners, thereby negating the need for a heat reflector. This system, combined with the aluminium lid’s cutaway vents, ensures food is cooked perfectly evenly. Indeed, we found no cool spots anywhere on the grill – a common anomaly with gas barbecues.

Available in five tantalising colours, the Force is anything but cheap, but that’s to be expected given the quality and fit of the materials used. It’s also easy to use and cooks food to succulent perfection without ever breaking into a sweat. A top choice for well-heeled grillers.

Char-Broil All-Star 120B

£341, Garden Lines
Best for: Patios and small gardens

char broil all star

Key specs – Grill size/area: 45cm; Weight: 30kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: Yes

This newly-launched model from Char-Broil can be used with or without the supplied leg assembly if, say, you wanted to put the main unit on a table or lug it to the beach. Its cast iron grate provides a moderately sized cooking area of 1,600 cm² (45cm in diameter), plus there’s a small warming rack above. The attractively shaped cast aluminium lid, meanwhile, ensures optimum convection when cooking indirectly, while the handy thermometer keeps tabs on operating temperatures.

Char-Broil is one of the most popular BBQ manufacturers stateside, partly because of its unique “TRU-Infrared” grilling technology. In this instance, the use of the term infrared has nothing to do with infrared bulbs but rather it’s simply a perforated corrugated metal sheet that sits directly below the cooking grate.

Having grilled on a few Char-Broil models to date, we can vouch that it definitely helps distribute heat evenly across the entire grilling grate, producing uniform results in the process. However, it is advisable to clean the infrared sheet after each session by running the barbecue on its highest heat setting for about 10 minutes and then brushing off the carbonised material.

The All-Star comes with two foldable side shelves with integral tool holders, a second mid-cart side shelf with a handy paper towel dispenser, a concealed area for the gas bottle and reliable push-button ignition.

A very well thought out and exceedingly versatile package that’s ideal for smaller patios and balconies.

Primus Kuchoma

£143.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Portability

primus kuchoma

Key specs – Grill size/area: 40 x 24 cm; Weight: 5.3kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: Yes

If you’re in the market for a portable one- or two-person gas grill that’s ideal for camping, orienteering, boating, picnics or balcony use, consider this fabulous new model from outdoor pursuit specialist Primus.

The Kuchoma weighs just 4.5 kilograms and comes with a hinged aluminium lid for both direct and indirect grilling, an integrated wooden carry handle, a non-stick 40cm x 24cm grate with raised edges to keep sausages from rolling off, and battery-less Piezo ignition.

To use, simply pull out the admittedly wiry legs, attach the hose to a mini screw-on gas canister – available in 100g, 230g and 450g sizes and widely available from all camping stores and most campsites – fire it up, lift the lid and load on some grub.

To test it out, we threw on a dozen chicken legs (its maximum capacity) and, while there wasn’t much space left to move them around, it grilled them remarkably well with plenty of gas left in the 230g tank for another round. We were also impressed by the height of the lid, which is easily tall enough to accommodate a small chicken or leg of lamb.

In the realm of camping cookers, this little griller ticks many boxes – it’s light and small enough to carry a fair distance (it measures just 44cm wide and 30.5cm deep), is quick to set up and a doddle to clean.

Campingaz Master 3 Series Classic LS

£317.46, Keen Gardener
Best for: Large families

campingaz master 3 series

Key specs – Grill size/area: 2,800cm²; Weight: 57kg; Burners: 3; Side burner: Yes; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

Campingaz is synonymous with camping cookers and gas-powered lamps but it’s branching out into bigger things – much bigger things – with a recently launched range of large two-, three- and four-burner garden barbecues that are stylish and efficient enough to take on the big guns. This ginormous three-burner model is a case in point. The Master 3 Series arrived in a massive box on a palette and took over two hours to build, but the effort was worth it.

A lift of its double-walled enamelled lid exposes a steel grill on the left and a flat griddle plate on the right, with a combined surface area of 2,800cm². This is a great combination since it allows you to cook standard fare, like burgers, sausages and chicken legs, on one side and fish, halloumi, bacon, eggs and other obstreperous ingredients that normally break up and fall through the gaps on the other. It’s a boon for vegetarians and vegans too, who’ll appreciate having their food kept completely separate from the meats.

The Master 3 Series also comes with a large cupboard to store a 5kg Patio Gas bottle, a foldable shelf strong enough to sit on, and a 2,300 watt Piezo ignition side burner that also converts into an extra shelf. We loaded it with a variety of ingredients – including the classic bacon wrapped banana – and it grilled everything to succulent perfection. A great budget choice for larger families and party animals.

Weber Q1200

£323.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Balconies and boats

weber q1200

Key specs – Grill size/area: 43 x 32 cm; Weight: 12kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: Yes

Like the Primus Kuchoma, this portable from Weber uses the same type of readily available mini disposable 450g gas canisters, making it ideal for camp sites that don’t allow the use of charcoal, plus boating and balcony use. However, unlike the Kuchoma, this one is too big and cumbersome to lug by hand (it weighs 12kg and doesn’t come with a carry handle).

The single-burner Q1200 is equipped with a hinged cast aluminium lid for maximum convection and a heavy duty cast iron grate with a cooking area of 43cm x 32cm – more than enough space for a family of three, or four at a push. It also comes with a lid-mounted thermometer, a pair of flip-out shelves and a disposable slide-out drip tray. To use, simply screw on a canister, place it in the supplied cradle, press the ignition button and throw on some meat.

The ultimate test for any barbecue is how well it cooks a steak. Well this one passed with flying colours. Firstly, its integrated thermometer gave a reading of nearly 600˚C after just 15 minutes of heat-up time and that’s frankly amazing for such a titchy model. At this high temperature, it took just five minutes for it to produce a sirloin steak with a perfectly caramelised outer (replete with obligatory grill markings) and a pink, juicy centre. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone to share it with.

If you’re in the market for an exceedingly well-built and highly efficient mini gas barbecue that you can take camping and use on the smallest of balconies, then put this at the top of your shopping list.

Char-Broil Big Easy Smoker

£268.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Slow-cooked and smoked foods

char broil big easy smoker

Key specs – Grill size/area: 38cm diameter; Weight: 28kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: No

Most barbecue smokers are of the charcoal variety, so it’s great to see a model that performs the same task using gas. The cylindrical two-in-one Big Easy was essentially designed for the American market as a healthier – and safer – way to “fry” a Thanksgiving turkey without setting oneself and the garden shed on fire (a common occurrence, believe it or not).

The Big Easy is comprised of a large drum with a single 5.3kW wrap-around burner, a spacious internal basket with two removable racks for a pair of chickens or a large leg of lamb (up to 11kgs in total), a smoker box for the wood chips, and a removable 38cm porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grate for normal barbecuing. Despite its tall stature it has a remarkably small footprint, so consider this model if you have a small garden or patio.

For our test, we loaded the smoker box with a handful of hickory chips, fired up the burner to about a third of the way, attached a rack of baby back ribs to the provided hooks and hung them on the edge of the basket. Then we closed the lid and retreated for a couple of hours.

For a gas system, the result was remarkable – the ribs came out nicely tanned and they tasted authentically smoky. If you like smoked or slow-cooked foods but never seem to get it right using charcoal, then this is the one for you.

Outback Trekker

£109, Outback Direct
Best for: Portable grilling on a budget

outback trekker 1

Key specs – Grill size/area: 47cm diameter; Weight: 17kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: Yes

If you’re on a tight budget and just want a simple single-burner BBQ for the patio, campsite or beach, consider this attractive low-priced model from Outback. The Trekker’s 47cm pressed steel grate isn’t the last word in quality but it does the job well enough, even though you may need to move the food around to ensure it cooks evenly. We advise sticking to the adage “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking” and leave the hinged porcelain enamelled hood on as much as possible to ensure that the convection process isn’t interrupted and the food cooks more evenly.

The Trekker can be easily disassembled for transport in a car or carried to the beach using the optional shoulder bag (£24.99). In the pantheon of cheapo gas BBQs, this one’s a better looker than most. Granted, it isn’t quite as efficient as the other models here but it produces very decent results for a good price. In that respect, it’s a very worthy budget buy.

Napoleon Prestige Pro 825

£5,799.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Wealthy party animals

napoleon prestige

Key specs – Grill size/area: 8,935 cm²; Weight: 205kg; Burners: 6; Side burner: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Portable: No

This humongous six-burner model measures 2.39m in width and comes equipped with two lidded grilling zones (one with 1,270 cm² of cooking surface, the other with the Canadian company’s unique steak-searing dual-ceramic infrared Sizzle Zone), an extra rear infrared burner for rotisseries, two heavy-duty wave-shaped stainless-steel grates, an integrated wood-chip smoking tray, a separate side burner for wok cooking, and a handy tub for storing ice or beers. It also comes with tool hooks galore, acres of storage space behind the soft-closing doors and backlit control knobs for luna banquets.

The Prestige Pro 825’s two separate grilling zones amount to a whopping combined cooking surface of 8,935 cm² – more than enough meal estate for the entire neighbourhood – and are an especially handy addition if cooking for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

This serious piece of outdoor kit is more like an outdoor kitchen on wheels, so best make sure you have the space to accommodate it – mind, at this price you surely will. If ordered online, expect to receive it in boxes big enough to live in and allow an assembly time in excess of three hours.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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14 of the best food storage containers for on the move and at home

What do you do with leftovers? How do you store dry food? Do you prepare your meals for the week ahead?

Great food storage containers can change not only the way your kitchen looks, but can save you time and money by helping to preserve the life of your food and keep it fresh for longer.

How we test

We went on the hunt for the very best food storage containers, making sure to include a range of products, from leak-proof plastic storage containers to innovative silicone bags you can cook with.

We rated each one on how fresh it kept different items of food, how it looked, how airtight it was and also considered value for money.

There are options for a range of budgets here, so whether you need some well-priced, hardwearing containers to keep your leftovers fresh, or you want to go all out on a beautiful set of storage jars to jazz up your worktop, you’ll find what you need.

Emma Bridgewater Vegetable Garden Set of 3 Storage Boxes

£29.99 (price correct at time of publishing) , Amazon
Best for: A storage set that’s as pretty as it is efficient

Emma Bridgewater Vegetable Garden Set of 3 Storage Boxes

Key specs – Included: 3 containers; Made from: Melamine; Dishwasher safe: No, wash in warm soapy water; Colour options: 1

We’ve long been fans of British homeware brand Emma Bridgewater’s pretty yet practical designs, and this eye-catching set of food storage boxes is no different.

With a bright vegetable garden print, the set of three is made up of a small, medium and large melamine box, each with a tight-fitting lid. They also fit neatly into each other when not in use for fuss-free storage.

As well as the unusual print, we love the hardwearing nature of the boxes, which felt thick and durable, and kept our Christmas leftovers perfectly fresh.

Stasher Reusable Silicone Sandwich Bag

£12.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Innovative, sustainable and multi-purpose food storage

Stasher Reusable Silicone Sandwich Bag

Key specs – Included: 1 bag; Made from: Platinum silicone; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 5 (plus 3 size options)

We were seriously impressed by food storage brand Stasher’s innovative silicone bags, which are plastic free, self-sealing and multifunctional.

The airtight bags, which come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours, can be used for cooking in a multitude of ways: in the microwave, in the oven, or in a pot of boiling water. They can also be used for storing leftovers in the fridge or freezer, or simply to carry your sandwich to work in.

They’re dishwasher safe too, so you can use and reuse them over and over again. You can even use the transparent bags to transport liquids and cosmetics through the airport when you’re not using them for cooking purposes.

Robert Welch 6-Piece Signature Storage Jar Set

£90, Robert Welch
Best for: A stylish set for your kitchen worktop

Robert Welch 6-Piece Signature Storage Jar Set

Key specs – Included: 6 containers; Made from: Eastman Tritan copolyster; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Look no further than chic British brand Robert Welch for kitchen items that don’t just look great but are also super functional. This signature storage jar set is made up of one large jar, two medium jars and three small jars, each made with shatterproof material and a smart black lid with stainless steel detailing.

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It’s the priciest item on our list, but we love the sleek design, airtight seal that kept a range of items (including cereal, crisps and pretzels) fresh, and the modular design, which means you can safely stack the jars on top of each other to save space.

Plus, if you buy the set, it’s 20 per cent cheaper than buying the jars individually.

Sistema Food Storage Container

From £5.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Efficient, leak-proof storage

Sistema Food Storage Container

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

For a no-nonsense, super-effective option, look to food container company Sistema, which has a wide range of storage solutions to suit all kinds of kitchens.

We love its Brilliance range of food containers, which are available in a variety of sizes, and all made from durable, clear plastic for storage that’s easily visible and hardwearing.

The modular design makes it easy to stack them away for space-saving storage when not in use and it’s also microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe.

It’s completely leak-proof too, so you can use it for everything from carrying soup to work to microwaving curries without worrying about causing a mess.

Lakeland Potato Bag with Button Tie Closure

£5.99, Lakeland
Best for: Potato storage

Lakeland Potato Bag with Button Tie Closure

Key specs – Included: 1 bag; Made from: Polyester, cotton, viscose, polyamide, polypropylene; Machine washable: Yes; Colour options: 1

Forget however you’re currently storing your potatoes and switch it all up with this simple but smart potato bag from Lakeland. The rustic storage sack allows you to keep all your spuds neatly together in one place, with the oldest potatoes being dispensed first from the handy trap door.

We like the traditional look of the linen bag too, with a potato illustration on the front and, most importantly, its light-blocking liner and sturdy but breathable material kept our maris piper spuds fresher for longer.

Igluu Meal Prep Food Containers

£14.85 (for 10 two-compartment tubs), Igluu Meal Prep
Best for: Easy, affordable food storage

Igluu Meal Prep Food Containers

Key specs – Included: 10 containers; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Meal prep is all the rage right now, and it’s easy to see why – preparing your meals for the upcoming week is a great way to make sure you eat healthily, keep an eye on portion size and save money.

Igluu Meal Prep has food storage boxes with one, two or three compartments to help you plan your dishes for the upcoming week. We tested all three boxes and found them spacious, easy to use and hardwearing, whether we used them in the freezer or as a lunch box. They’re also stackable for easy storage.

Considering that they’re freezer-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe, and come in packs of 10, this is a great-value choice for the more organised cook.

Prepara Herb Pod

£17.35 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Keeping herbs as good as new

Prepara Herb Pod

Key specs – Included: 1 pod; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Triple the life of your herbs with the genius herb pod from kitchenware brand Prepara. This futuristic-looking gadget says that it prolongs fresh herbs for up to three weeks, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rosemary we left in there was beautifully intact after a 10-day holiday.

There’s a hinged door for easy access, a tethered stopper so you can add water easily, it’s dishwasher safe, and it sits comfortably within the fridge door. A great-looking and useful tool that isn’t just a kitchen conversation starter but lives up to its promises too.

BergHoff Leo Natural Bamboo Fibre Food Storage Canister with Wooden Lid

From £12.09 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Eco-friendly, chic kitchen storage

BergHoff Leo Natural Bamboo Fibre Food Storage Canister with Wooden Lid

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Biodegradable bamboo; Dishwasher safe: Hand wash recommended; Colour options: 1 for each size

For an environmentally friendly storage solution for dry foods such as rice and pasta, look to kitchen and cookware brand BergHoff and its bamboo fibre storage canister.

A more eco-friendly alternative to plastic, it’s made from biodegradable bamboo. The look of the canister is stylish too, with a simple, uncluttered design and a sealed bamboo lid to keep contents fresh.

Available in three sizes, each with their own attractive matte tones and wooden lids, we’d recommend buying all three and setting them next to each other on the worktop for a beautiful, natural-looking addition to your kitchen.

OXO Pop Rectangle Medium

£14, John Lewis
Best for: A modular storage solution you can keep adding to

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Another fantastic modular system that will look as good on your kitchen counter as in a cupboard, OXO’s Pop containers were one of our favourite products to test.

Coming in a wide range of sizes, from 0.2l to 5.7l, that you can collect and keep adding to, the containers fit everything from flour to spaghetti in, are airtight, stack up on top of each other safely, and are opened with a fun-to-press pop-up button that becomes a handle.

We were impressed by how fresh the Rectangle Medium, one of the larger containers, kept our cereal, and also liked the extra touches, such as the useful line to show you when to stop filling.

A Place for Everything Biscuit Storage Box

£8, A Place for Everything
Best for: An eye-catching biscuit tin

A Place for Everything Biscuit Storage Box

Key specs – Included: One container; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Store your biscuits in style with this fun biscuit box from storage brand A Place for Everything. Shaped like a giant bourbon biscuit, we love the eye-catching design and found we could fit three packets of biscuits into it with ease.

The box’s airtight lid kept all our digestives fresh and because it’s clear, you can keep an eye on how many biscuits are left. A fun, affordable container that both kids and adults will love.

 

Orla Kiely Linear Stem Enamel Storage Jar

£22.36, Hurn & Hurn
Best for: Worktop elegance

Orla Kiely Linear Stem Enamel Storage Jar

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Enamel and wood; Dishwasher safe: No; Colour options: 3

We’ve long been fans of fashion and homeware brand Orla Kiely’s bold prints. This storage jar has the brand’s signature graphic on the front, in two-tone grey and white with a wooden lid, and is ideal for storing everything from dry food like rice and pasta to necessities such as tea and coffee.

We also love the enamel material, which feels luxurious, while the wooden lid brought a more rustic feel to our kitchen worktop. Match with other linear stem pieces for an eye-catching storage solution.

Kilner 1 Litre Round Clip Top Jar

£3.50, Dunelm
Best for: Versatile, attractive and multifunctional storage

Kilner 1 Litre Round Clip Top Jar

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Glass; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Undoubtedly one of the most iconic products in the food container world, the classic Kilner clip-top storage jars are ideal for preserving all kinds of foods, from fruit, spices and jam to rice, herbs and coffee, and are also great for storing non-food items such as cotton wool or buttons.

We were impressed by the glass jar’s airtight seal, which kept a range of food perfectly fresh, and loved the history of the brand, which dates back 175 years.

It’s also super-affordable, so you can stock up and use a whole collection for your kitchen storage needs – they look great on both the worktop or kitchen shelf.

Tefal Master Seal Fresh Rectangle Food Storage

£6 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: A budget-friendly option

Tefal Master Seal Fresh Rectangle Food Storage

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Plastic; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Kitchenware brand Tefal is well-known for its affordable yet high quality products, and its Masterseal Fresh range offers effective food storage at great prices.

We tested out the 1.2-litre storage box, and found that, thanks to its tight lid seal, it was entirely leak-proof, airtight and kept our leftovers ultra-fresh. There’s a wide range of sizes, from 0.15l to 8.2l, too.

The range is also dishwasher-, microwave- and freezer-safe, so is a versatile, easy-to-use option whatever you want to use it for.

The containers are stackable too, so make for easy storage if you buy multiple containers.

Judge Storage Jar

From £6.54 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Grip

Judge Storage Jar

Key specs – Included: 1 container; Made from: Glass and silicone; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Colour options: 1

Storage jars can be surprisingly slippery, but these clear glass jars from British cookware brand Judge come with a super-grippy silicone middle to reduce the risk of dropping them.

The containers also come in three sizes, and are completely airtight – we were impressed by how fresh they kept a series of different biscuits. Buy all three for stylish storage on your worktop, and with the most expensive jar coming in at under £7, they’re also a super-affordable option.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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9 best soup makers – how to pick between Nutribullet, Vitamix and more

Nothing offers succour in deepest darkest January quite like a warming bowl of homemade soup. Now that the festive season is done and dusted, there’s every reason to seek comfort in the austere month ahead, especially when it comes to nurturing both health and bank balance.

Making your own soup might sound elaborate, but armed with a soup maker or blender it becomes a simple process – throwing ingredients into a single pot and pressing a button is about as straightforward as it gets, even for the most time-strapped kitchen dodgers.

Saving on time is just the start of it, as creating your own concoctions also affords opportunity to boost both your budget and wellbeing with nourishing meals. Plan ahead and it’s a great way to batch cook healthy lunches, or if life isn’t quite as organised then it’s a great way to use up leftovers and random fridge finds instead of letting them go to waste.

Much like the many incarnations of soup, the models on the market range from basic through to more complex affairs. As well as different programmes, some include additional options that enable them to be used for functions such as crushing ice, dependent on their power output and dimensions.

How we test

The best soup maker to opt for is the one that best suits your lifestyle – this might sound obvious, but if you have a small kitchen then buying a big powerful model over a compact piece of kit isn’t going to fit the bill. Likewise, if you want to invest in multifunctional kitchenware, then a single-function item is unlikely to be the one for you.

We tested all our models based on criteria we thought would be likely to influence consumers’ needs. As well as functionality (how well the unit operated to create soup), we took into consideration size, noise (often but not always related to power), and how easy the machine was to clean. We also assessed looks, design, and whether it had extra functions beyond soup making.

Lakeland Touchscreen Soup Maker

£129.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Effortless soup making

Lakeland Touchscreen Soup Maker

Key specs – Capacity: 1.4 litre working capacity for hot liquids, 1.75 litre for cold; Dimensions: 44cm x 24cm x 19cm; Power: 500W; Features: 4 automatic settings (with option to input own settings), blender function, ice crusher function, touchscreen LED control panel; Colour options: 1

As one of the most expensive of all the self-described soup maker machines, this product set our hopes high – it’s a high-tech piece of kit, featuring a base unit with an LED touchscreen control panel, four pre-set timed programmes, and blender and ice crusher functions.

This was the first model that we tested, with a vegetable chickpea soup on the chunky setting. Starting by placing all the chopped raw ingredients in the jug, all that was required was to simply select the programme, then let the machine quietly hum away. Some 30 minutes later and alerted by the countdown timer (if you don’t hear this, the “keep warm” option kicks in for 20 minutes, with the machine then going into standby mode for a further 10, before switching itself off if no buttons are pressed), the end result was piping hot soup, near-perfect apart from a minor quibble that some chunks were smaller than others.

Not quite believing that a first-time soup maker experience could be so good, we tried again with the tomato soup recipe from the instruction booklet, this time on the smooth setting, and were equally impressed. If you did want to vary temperature and cooking time though, there’s also the option to input your own settings to suit personal taste.

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It’s worth nothing that while the machine is large, it also boasts a non-stick base plate, which allows for a top temperature setting of 100ºC (tip – don’t do what we did and merrily clasp the heavy glass jug with both hands, use the handle instead!), and a simple-to-use five-minute auto-clean function.

Cuisinart SSB3U Soup Maker Plus

£139.99, John Lewis
Best for: Those who like following recipes

cuisinart soup maker plus

Key specs – Capacity: 1.4 litre working capacity for hot liquids, 1.75 litre for cold; Dimensions: 46cm x 23cm x 20cm; Power: 500W; Features: 3 heat settings, 4 speed options, blender function, ice crusher function; Colour options: 1

Standing at roughly the same size as the Lakeland soup maker and on a similarly proportioned base unit, this came in as our close second, thanks to a comparable set-up with high standard performance.

The concept is much the same – place pre-chopped raw ingredients in the jug, while the heated plate gets to work – though with this machine, there are no pre-set programmes where you can just press a button and come back to freshly made soup. Instead, what you do have is the choice of three heat settings (sauté, high or simmer) to run for a time of your choosing.

Better cooks than us would argue this gives greater control over the end result, but we found – using the sweet potato and red pepper soup recipe provided – that being summoned to the otherwise quiet machine by the beep after each step to then input the next, was somewhat arduous and took around an hour in total.

That said, the soup was as delicious as you’d expect from a multi-step process – the “slow stir” gentle mixing setting in particular comes into its own if you prefer a more rustic consistency (there are also recipes for risotto, chutney and jam using this function), and there’s also options for blending and ice crushing.

The only minor downsides worth noting are the wash-by-hand caveat (though the jug is easy to clean), and the fact that after some puzzlement, we finally figured out that the blend speed of hot fluids is limited to the first two settings only.

Morphy Richards 501021 Compact Soup Maker

£37.99, John Lewis
Best for: Compact kitchens

Morphy Richards 501021 Compact Soup Maker

Key specs – Capacity: 1 litre; Dimensions: 22cm x 15cm x 22cm; Power: 900W; Features: 4 settings, blender function; Colour options: 1

Billed as the solution for small families or solo dwellers, this soup maker has the smallest capacity of all the machines we tested, with a one-litre jug serving up roughly two large portions.

There’s no base unit with this machine, but rather what you do get is something akin to a kettle, with the removable lid featuring an integrated blade at the end of a metal prong. After placing chopped raw ingredients in the main body of the machine, you then fix the lid in place and select either “chunky” or “smooth” for a programme that delivers soup in around 20 minutes.

We tested leek and potato soup on the chunky setting, and chunky it was – if cooking root veg, make sure that you cube them small enough, as ours were a little underdone through our own lack of veg prep skills. You can choose to blend further with the “blend” function should you wish, and there’s also a “juice” function if you’re aiming to up your fruit intake as well as your vegetable consumption.

It’s basic, but it works well and is quiet to boot – as it’s not dishwasher proof, after a few attempts we found the best way to clean it was to leave the inside to soak and put the lid back on to allow the blade to soak also, before then washing as normal.

Salter 1.6L Electric Soup Maker Jug

£47.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Large families

Salter 1.6L Electric Soup Maker Jug

Key specs – Capacity: 1.6 litre; Dimensions: 37cm x 22cm x 22cm; Power: 1050W; Features: 3 settings, auto-clean function; Colour options: 1

At the other end of the spectrum sits the largest capacity soup maker we tested – though its 1.6 litres compared to the standard 1.4 litres might not seem like a huge leap, when it comes to preparing a week’s worth of lunches it can make all the difference.

This machine also functions much like a kettle, with the stainless steel jug taking the chopped raw ingredients, before the bladed lid then being added. There are three settings to choose from: “smooth” (25 – 30 minutes), “chunky” (30 minutes), with a third option to blend further for consistency.

Though this soup maker’s size and stainless steel finish make it feel a little like a piece of industrial catering equipment, it’s none the worse for it. It did exactly what it said on the tin when we put it to the test and was quiet and simple to use.

It also boasts an auto memory function, which allows more ingredients to be added to the soup maker mid-cycle while remembering where the setting was up to. Amazingly for such a reasonably priced product, it also has an auto-clean function, albeit one that somewhat confusingly doesn’t allow for detergent to be used (it works to rinse out the inside, with further washing up-based cleaning to be carried out over the kitchen sink if necessary afterwards).

VonShef Multifunctional Digital Soup Maker

£39.99, VonShef
Best for: Elegance on a budget

VonShef Multifunctional Digital Soup Maker

Key specs – Capacity: 1.4 litre working capacity for hot liquids, 1.75 litre for cold; Dimensions: 25cm x 16cm x 35cm; Power: 900W; Features: 4 settings, blender function; Colour options: 1

This classy product was the final kettle-type soup maker we tested – and though it was also the cheapest, if we hadn’t known we would have assumed its weighty glass jug would have placed it far beyond its price tag.

Determined not to be swayed by looks over substance, we set to work with one of the recipes in the booklet provided with the machine. Though noticeably different in that it outlined the need to fry onions and garlic first, before then adding them to the soup maker, we chose to ignore these instructions in favour of speed – then wished we hadn’t, with an end result of soup featuring “caramelised” onions.

If you don’t want to get out the frying pan, then pour a glug of oil in the bottom of the jug first, followed by chopped veg – as we did, for round two – to avoid similar mishaps. Opt for the “chunky” (30 minutes) or the “smooth” setting (25 – 30 minutes), and you can then select “blend” or “pulse” to achieve the texture you want.

The glass jug makes this soup maker feel expensive, but on a practical note it also means you can see how the soup is progressing, which on the other kettle-type soup makers we tested, simply isn’t possible. It’s a bit more of a faff to use – as well as the onion-frying obstacle to get round, there’s also the non-dishwasher safe status to take into account – but for the price point and a pleasingly weighty in-hand feel, it’s a small price to pay for a soup maker with style.

Nutribullet RX Blender Soup Maker

£119, John Lewis
Best for: Maximum nutrition

Nutribullet RX Blender Soup Maker

Key specs – Capacity: 0.352 litre short cup, 1.278 litre oversized cup, 1 litre SouperBlast pitcher with lid; Dimensions: 44cm x 16cm x 44cm; Power: 1700W; Features: “Souperblast” mode, dishwasher safe; Colour options: 1

Beloved by health buffs for its ability to blitz fruit and veggies into their most absorptive state, the Nutribullet blender also comes as an RX model, which boasts a “Souperblast” soup-making mode in addition to its function as a blender. This seven-minute programme runs the high-speed blender through three cycles, heating the resultant liquid inside by way of the friction of the rotating blades.

We tested with a simple vegetable soup, adding roughly chopped raw carrot, coriander, cold water and a crumbled stock cube (all ingredients must be room temperature to start) into the vented jug attachment. The “Souperblast” mode, which can also be used to make hot drinks, kicks in after the machine is switched on and the “G” button held down so that the light turns from green to red.

Because the model is all pre-programmed, you can press the button and walk away as it’s ridiculously fast, and easy to use – though this also means there’s no allowing for personal preference when it comes to texture.

As expected from a machine designed to break down food to the nth degree, the resultant soup was silky smooth. It also didn’t come out as hot as the other soups we made, instead being dispensed at the optimum temperature (i.e. warm as though it had been left to cool a while) for nutrition absorption.

Plus points include its sleek design, entirely dishwasher-safe components and additional ice crushing function – protein lovers will also be delighted to hear you can use the blender to create nut butters, too.

Vitamix E310 Explorian Blender

£349, John Lewis
Best for: Serious chefs

Vitamix E310 Explorian Blender

Key specs – Capacity: 1.4 litre; Dimensions: 46cm x 20cm x 28cm; Power: 1000-1200W; Features: 10 speeds, auto-clean function; Colour options: 1

Widely acknowledged as the daddy of all blenders, the Vitamix comes with a soup-making function that works on the same heating-through-friction principle as the Nutribullet. All ingredients are placed in the jug, before the user manually increases the speed slowly up to the highest setting before leaving it running for a further six minutes.

We tested the carrot and coriander soup once more (blanching is suggested but we didn’t find it necessary). Again, the soup came out silky smooth with no option to create texture, but this time hotter than the Nutribullet – though we had to leave the kitchen at the end to let it cool in any case, as our eardrums were ringing from the sheer noise of the machine. It is LOUD! Technically you could walk away for those six minutes after manually increasing the speed, but we were hesitant as there’s no timer function indicating the end of the cycle (we set our phone instead).

Be aware that the Vitamix is also a beast when it comes to size and weight, due to its large base unit – this is a kitchen heavyweight in more ways than one. As well as blending, it can also function as a great food prep item to help chop, shred and grate, in addition to also crushing ice and creating nut butters.

Impressively, the Vitamix is both dishwasher-proof and also comes with an auto-clean function (handy, but only if your neighbours aren’t within earshot).

Magimix Power Blender

£199.99, John Lewis
Best for: Quiet style

Magimix Power Blender

Key specs – Capacity: 1.8 litre; Dimensions: 41cm x 17cm x 17cm; Power: 1300W; Features: 5 programmes, Thermoproof glass, auto-clean function; Colour options: 4

If the Vitamix is the daddy of kitchen blenders, then the Magimix is surely the maman – this French-designed machine is a stylish classic and a great all-rounder, with the added bonus of being Quiet Mark approved.

Unsure what to expect after the roar of the Vitamix, when we came to test the machine we found that although it wasn’t silent, it was impressively quiet relative to its 1300W power. The Magimix offers a manual function, or you can opt for one of the five pre-set timed programmes (clean, ice, smoothie, soups, and desserts), each of which have varying cycles of speed and time to suit the end product.

The soup cycle doesn’t make soup per se, but rather it’s a pre-set blender cycle of a certain length of time and intensity, programmed for use with pre-cooked ingredients that are blended to produce soup. It’s also worth noting that the measuring cap has to be left loose on the lid to allow steam to escape and avoid a soup volcano eruption.

After testing, we can easily forgive this though, especially seeing as it’s such a delight to have in the kitchen – the heat-resistant glass makes for a pleasingly weighty jug attachment that looks lovely and feels solid to hold, while the neat base unit takes up no more space than is necessary.

If you want a chunky texture, you can use the pulse function, along with the built-in spatula to reach every last drop. In keeping with its stylish appearance, it’s dishwasher-safe, has an auto-clean function, and comes in four different colour options.

Swan Fearne By Swan 3 in 1 Stick Blender

£51.99, Currys
Best for: Those on a budget

Swan Fearne By Swan 3 in 1 Stick Blender

Key specs – Capacity: N/A; Dimensions: 42cm x 7cm x 7cm; Power: 800W; Features: Dual speed controls with variable speed options, detachable parts; Colour options: 4

And finally, if you’re short on space, then a stick blender makes creating soup a cinch while taking up minimum room in the cupboard.

First things first for the cynics – yes, this offering is from a celebrity collaboration range (with television and radio presenter, and now cookbook author Fearne Cotton), but much like its attached celebrity, it’s hardworking and multifaceted.

The blender is one of three attachments – the others being a surprisingly capacious 500ml chopper, and a balloon whisk – that comes with the kit, as well as a beaker for blending in if needed.

Arguably the ability to blend soup in a pan doesn’t really quantify it as a soup maker per se, but then if you already have said pan and want to increase your kitchen function threefold with a quality inexpensive item, you can’t go far wrong parting with your cash for this product.

Using a stick blender gives control over texture and consistency (this one is low noise to boot), and is a reliably efficient way to achieve the exact result you want. We were particularly impressed with the weighty feel and the power of the motor, as well as the dual speed control option. It’s easy to clean, looks great, comes in four colours and is dishwasher-safe – for those watching the pennies in the new year as well as their veggie intake, it’s a great quality option.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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7 best smoothie makers – how to pick between Nutribullet, Salter and more

Convenient, healthy, cost saving – it’s no wonder smoothie makers (otherwise known as bullet blenders) have transcended from what easily could have been a flash-in-the-pan gadget to a kitchen staple. For those looking to improve their diet, bullet blenders offer a fast but effective way of consuming plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. And though some of the leading brands available represent quite a high initial outlay, if you consume juices and smoothies regularly, they’re a great way to save money on store-bought drinks.

The NutriBullet may have led the way, effectively creating the genre of compact but powerful blenders, but booming demand means there are now plenty of other options out there, from high-end to budget-friendly. In our review, we considered all price points, and looked at not only how effective each blender was, but how loud, how much counter room each unit took up, and how intuitive they were to use.

For us, the best blenders manage to find a balance between being small enough to be kept out on the kitchen counter, but powerful enough to shred their way through ice, nuts, leaves, and other tough-to-blend produce you may commonly want to add to your smoothies. Notable too, are the extras. While some brands offer nothing but the blending cup, others come with extensive recipe books, on-the-go cups, and accompanying apps to monitor your calorie, vitamin and nutrient intake.

Price-wise, we found expensive or value models often reflected the best value, with mid-range offering neither top performance or the best deal. And we’re of course looking for effective blending. Machines that struggled with ice, nuts or frozen fruits, naturally, didn’t score well. Ease-of-use is key, too. Machines that were easy to set up, transport to and from the cupboard, or felt intuitive to use were marked up.

Nutribullet Balance Smart Food Blender

£149.99, John Lewis
Best for: Nutritional monitoring and recipes galore

NUTRIBULLET BALANCE SMART FOOD BLENDER

Key specs – Dimensions: 40(H) x 37(W) x 19(D) cm; Capacity: 930ml; Power: 1200W; Settings: 1; Accessories: 2 x cups, 2 x lids, 2 x comfortable lip rings, user guide; Dishwasher safe: Some parts

Simply put, the latest iteration of the NutriBullet is a game changer. If you’re simply after something to blend your long-established roster of smoothies, move on. Your money may be better spent on a simpler machine. But if you’re looking for something to assist you to achieve or maintain a healthy lifestyle, then this might be the machine for you.

The NutriBullet Balance uses Bluetooth to send data from the blender to your smart phone or tablet to help you monitor the nutritional value of your blends, while keeping track of any personal dietary goals. Download the app, connect to the blender, and the app will guide you through hundreds of existing recipes or help you build your own blends, displaying the calorie, sugar, fat, fibre, protein, carbs, cholesterol, and salt content of every creation.

An inbuilt scale linked to the app, also helps you easily and accurately weigh out ingredients. That said, the NutriBullet Balance isn’t perfect. We had some initial issues getting the unit to connect to the app, and again with getting the removable scale to connect to the recipe mode of the app. But once connected, the blender was simple to operate and as with other models of the NutriBullet, cut through tough ingredients with ease.

VonShef 1000W UltraBlend Smoothie Maker

£39.99, Amazon
Best for: Value

Vonchef 1000w ultrablend smoothie maker

Key specs – Dimensions: 39.5(H) x 15(W) x 15(D) cm; Capacity: 1 litre; Power: 1000W; Settings: 1; Accessories: 2 x cups, 2 x lids, ; Dishwasher safe: Mixing cups and lids

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Don’t be fooled by the price point of the VonShef; this is one powerful little machine. First off, we loved the simple but stylish matt black finish of this blender. Understated, it’s good looking and compact enough to earn a permanent place on our counter top. And secondly, this sturdy machine blitzed its way through the toughest of ingredients, such as ice, nuts and seeds, with ease.

Clocking in at 1000w, it was slightly less powerful than some of the other blenders on our list, although that wasn’t noticeable in its performance. But this is no frills. Unlike many of the other units, there were no helpful measurements on the blending cup itself. There is also no on switch – the machine works simply when the cup is pressed or clicked into place. This is not a major issue – just don’t lock the cup in place prior to turning it on.

The pack comes with one large cup (1 litre) and a medium cup (800ml), both dishwasher safe, a spill-proof lid and a sip-and-seal lid for on-the-go consumption. As with most blenders, the cups do feel a little too big and cumbersome for carrying around. But if that’s your thing, these sturdy lid seals will keep everything secure. This machine has everything you need, and offers unbeatable value.

Salter Nutri Pro 1200

£49.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Ease of use

salter nutri pro 1200

Key specs – Dimensions: 21 (H) x 15(W) x 15(D) cm; Capacity: 1 litre; Power: 1200W; Settings: 1; Accessories: 3 x cups, 2 x sip lids, 2 x keep lids; Dishwasher safe: Mixing cups and lids

There were few things we didn’t love about this straightforward but stylish blender. At 1200w, and with a six-blade attachment, the Nutri Pro blitzed its way through hard ingredients, producing silky smooth smoothies, in around half the time of other units around the same price point and above.

There’s also plenty of storage for your creations. The family-friendly pack contains one 1-litre cup and not one but two 800m cups, alongside two storage lids or two easy-drink lids, meaning there’s plenty of scope to store your batch blitzes in the fridge. And a 50-strong recipe book is useful for providing a bit of inspiration.

An issue we found with many bullet blenders is that often the on-the-go cups just feel too chunky to really be portable. The cups provided here however are much more streamlined than many others, with their longer, narrower shape making them much easier to transport. The easy-drink lids too are stylish and secure. If we had one small criticism it would be that the blending unit itself is just slightly chunkier than others on our list, and so takes up a little more counter space, but that’s a small trade-off.

JML Nutri Blitzer: Nutrition Extractor Superfood Smoothie and Juice Blender

£32.48, Amazon
Best for: Accessories

jml nutri blitzer

Key specs – Dimensions: 33 (H) x 32(W) x 27(D) cm; Capacity: 1 litre; Power: 700W; Settings: 1; Accessories: 3 x cups, 2 x easy drink handles, 1 x extraction blade, 1 x milling blade, 2 x resealable lids, 1 x 160 page recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Cups

This blender is all about the accessories, which if you’re new to creating your own smoothies and juices, is super helpful. The 13-piece set includes two 650ml short cups, one 900ml tall cup, two easy carry handles and resealable lids for on the go, and two different blade attachments.

Making this something for the chefs as well as the smoothie lovers, alongside an extraction blade, this kit includes a milling blade for cutting through grains, herbs, and nuts. We tested it with coffee beans, which it reduced to a fine powder after a few blitzes. One of the best features however is the 160-page recipe book, which covers everything from superfood juices to savoury breakfast and dinner recipes, such as burgers and mushy peas.

But with a 700w motor, the Nutri Blitzer simply isn’t as powerful as many other bullets, and that is noticeable in its performance. We found it took much longer to get through ingredients, leaving large chunks of ice, while fruit remained pulpy and coarse. Adding extra liquid to recipes, or simply blending for longer helped. However, overall, this machine offers incredible versatility, even down to its appearance. The blending unit itself is available in three different colours (black, lime, or berry).

Morphy Richards Nutrition Express Blender

£35.75 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Reliability

morphy richards nutrition express blender

Key specs – Dimensions: 39 (H) x 15.1(W) x 14.1(D) cm; Capacity: 1 litre; Power: 1200W; Settings: 1; Accessories: 2 x cups, 2 x lids, recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Cups

Simple, straightforward, dependable. This Nutrition Express Blender is a little work horse. With a 1200w motor and six-pointed blade, this is a powerful little blender. It also comes with two BPA-free beakers in 530ml and 700ml sizes, both with drinking lids with carry handles, while a recipe book provides inspiration.

We found this blender easy to use, with useful measurements on the blending cups. And it was also very easy to clean. The cups are dishwasher safe. However, we weren’t as enamoured with the design. The lime green and white finish wasn’t as stylish as some others on our list, but for many users that may not matter. And though powerful we found it a little loud. It also took slightly longer than some to get through the toughest ingredients.

However, once it did, the results were silky smooth.

Beko Vacuum Blender

£159, AO.com
Best for: Nutrient-rich blends

beko vacuum blender

Key specs – Dimensions: 31.7 (H) x 24.2(W) x 15.8(D) cm; Capacity: 1.5 litres; Power: 1000W; Settings: 6; Accessories: 0; Dishwasher safe: Yes

The most notable feature of this blender – as the name gives away – is its vacuum blending technology. What does that mean for you? Well, removing the air from the cylinder while blending prevents fresh ingredients from oxidising, preventing separation or discolouring, and retaining the flavour nutrients found within.

For example, Beko claims that the vacuum helps retain up to 40 per cent more vitamin C than other methods. With a bigger than average 1.5-litre capacity, it’s also great if you’re looking to batch blend. Six pre-settings are also helpful, including a soup/ sauce and a smoothie option. One of the most helpful though has to be the Auto Clean function, which when water and a dash of washing up liquid are added, takes care of getting rid of tough-to-budge ingredients for you.

However, the machine is fairly noisy, especially when on the vacuum setting. And there’s no getting round that this is a pricey bit of kit. But if you’re looking for something sturdy, stylish, and to retain as much of the goodness of your ingredients as possible, then this is for you.

Vitamix Ascent a2500i and Blending Cup Starter Kit

£549 plus £100 for starter kit, Vitamix
Best for: Serious food lovers

vitamix ascent a2500i and blending cup starter pack

Key specs – Dimensions: 20 (H) x 43(W) x 28(D) cm; Capacity: 2 litres; Power: 1000W; Settings: 3; Accessory pack: 2 x cups, 2 x lids, 1 x blade base; Dishwasher safe: Containers, lids and blade base in starter pack

There’s no getting around the price that this bit of kit demands. Aimed at professional chefs and passionate foodies, the Vitamix Ascent itself is a full-size blender, albeit a compact one. Use it to grind spices, knead dough, or create and heat soups and sauces. The thing that makes the Vitamix Ascent part of our list though, is the add-on accessory pack.

The Blending Cup Starter Pack effectively converts this powerful blender into a bullet blender, containing a blending blade and two 600ml blending cups. Pop the blade and cup on the top and the container detect technology connects to the unit and recognises the container size you’re using and adjusts the blend time accordingly. The machine also comes with three pre-programmed settings (smoothies, purées and frozen desserts).

If you’re spending this much on a blender, then you’re likely to use it often. The 10-year warranty that this machine comes with, then, is key.

Buy Vitamix Ascent a25001

Buy Blending Cup Starter Kit 

This article has been updated. It was originally published in December 2018.

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14 best British cheeses for 2019 – the tastiest you’ll find this year

British cheese-making has undergone a striking revival in the past few decades and we now make many of the best cheeses in the world. 15 or 20 years ago a restaurant cheeseboard would most likely be made up of French cheeses, but today anyone can produce a selection of award-winning quality and innovation from British cheese alone.

The revival was driven as much by milk prices and the demise of the unpopular Milk Marketing Board as by a move away from the stranglehold supermarkets held most producers in. Dairy farmers began to diversify, new cheese makers with no heritage in the business decided to try their luck, and consumers became interested in artisan products.

“Each producer has their unique quality and character and each wheel, or round, or square of their cheese does too. So, you can imagine how difficult it is to highlight a general ‘best of’,” explains Jennifer Kast of Neal’s Yard Dairy, a retailer at the forefront of championing and supporting the British farmhouse cheese industry, along with Paxton & Whitfield, La Fromagerie, and celebrations such as the British Cheese Awards, which received 1000 entries in 2018, even though 55 per cent of all the cheese we eat is Cheddar!

A new cheese restaurant is also opening in London – a cheese conveyor belt restaurant, where you can help yourself to plates of cheese from small British producers, picking as many varieties as you fancy just like in a sushi bar.

The restaurant, Pick & Cheese, is being opened by Mathew Carver, a World Cheese Awards judge. “We wanted to showcase British cheese at its best, while giving our customers the opportunity to hand-pick their cheese from our house list,” says Carver.

We might assume our best classic cheeses have been made for centuries. In fact, after the 1950s, British farmhouse cheese production almost disappeared, and although the methods are historic, the fine Cheddars, Cheshires, Lancashires, Yargs, Poachers and the rest are mostly recent iterations of the traditional product.

Many of the popular soft cheeses such as Baron Bigod brie and Cerney goat’s cheese follow the French method, but there are many others developing their own textures and flavours within this flourishing field.

Here’s our pick of the best Britain has to offer.

Appleby’s Cheshire

£7 for 230g, Neal’s Yard Dairy
Best for: Feeding a family

applebys

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Shropshire

“I think our family eats a kilo a week!” says Jennifer Kast, who holds the enviable position of cheese education coordinator at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

“Over the past few months the flavours in this Cheshire have blossomed: minerally and with a bright citric tang. These are enhanced by a texture that is initially a touch dry to the tongue but upon chewing reveals a silken succulence. It’s as comfortable sitting in a large block in the middle of the table for everyone to take a chunk from, as it is on a delicate cheeseboard.”

The Appleby family has been making Cheshire since 1952 and the cheese has a mellow orange colour distinct from typical white Cheshire. This is the last raw-milk, clothbound Cheshire in England, and when the supermarkets asked the family to wax its cheese in the early 80s, they refused.

Neal’s Yard sells Appleby’s after it’s matured for around four months.

White Lake Sheep Rustler

£7.50 for 250g, The Cheese Society
Best for: Nutty flavour

sheep rustler

Key specs – Type: Semi-hard, sheep’s milk; Made in: Somerset

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Julius Longman, chairman of the British Cheese Awards, recommends the “Supreme Champion” from last year’s awards, Sheep Rustler, made by White Lake Cheese in Somerset near Glastonbury.

It’s a semi-hard cheese with a mellow and somewhat nutty flavour, and was crowned overall winner of the 2018 cheese awards after winning Best Modern Cheese in 2017.

Sheep Rustler is made from thermised ewes’ milk, which means the milk is unpasteurised but sanitised at a low temperature – it is no longer raw, but some of the bacteria has been killed and hopefully some of the good bacteria and enzymes retained.

White Lake’s Roger Longman and Peter Humphries use a local flock for sheep’s milk and a local Guernsey herd for cow’s, while Roger keeps his own goats for their goat’s cheeses. Suitable for vegetarians.

Cerney

£8 for 140g, Paxton & Whitfield
Best for: Smooth texture

cerney

Key specs – Type: Soft, goat’s milk; Made in: Gloucestershire

You’ll have heard of Cerney if you’re a fan of This Country, the BBC3 mockumentary about rural life, but this goat’s cheese, a past “Supreme Champion” of the British Cheese Awards, is a far more refined product of the area than Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe.

This stylish black pyramid take three days to make and on the third day is sprinkled with oak ash and salt. Under it you’ll find a thick mousse-y cheese with a mild, citrusy flavour, unless you keep it for longer than a few weeks and its flavour will become richer.

It was developed in the early 1980s, after the style of the Loire’s Valencay cheeses, which are also shaped in pyramids and coated in ash. Lady Isabel Angus of Cerney House fell for these cheeses while on holiday and created her own once back home. Suitable for vegetarians.

Wildes Londonshire

£6.50 for 200-220g, The Urban Cheese Maker
Best for: Vegetarians

londonshire

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: London

Londonshire, from Tottenham cheesemaker Wildes, is one of the fine results of Britain’s renewed interest in making really astounding cheeses. Former management consultant Philip Wilton, aka the “urban cheesemaker”, began producing cheese in 2012 and uses Jersey milk from one herd in Rye, East Sussex, and vegetarian rennet, so if you’re a vegetarian seeking out greats soft cheeses, this is the place to look.

If you can get hold of a piece of Londonshire – batch after batch sells out – you’ll find it a gooey delight with a bloomy, velvety rind and a mild to full flavour.

Wilton says he began making cheese “because it’s pure magic, a form of alchemy; you take a ubiquitous product like milk and then with a little sprinkling of magic and months later you have cheese; mild cheese, strong cheese, blue cheese, hard cheese, or soft – it’s a wow!”

Innes Brick

£10.10 for 170g, Neal’s Yard Dairy
Best for: Delicate goatiness

innes

Key specs – Type: Soft, goat’s milk; Made in: Staffordshire

“If I’m not careful, my children will eat the whole cheese before we get home from the shop,” says Kast. “This is a cheese that is equal parts texture and flavour – the slightly runny rind coupled to a mousse-y paste makes it a favourite of anyone naturally drawn to soft cheese. But its nutty sweetness endears it to those who typically favour the harder alpine style too. It also brings out the very best in goat’s milk – delicate, ever so slightly perfumed but with absolute earthy integrity.”

These cheeses are made by Joe Bennett in Staffordshire, who delivers them fresh to Neal’s Yard Dairy every week, at which point they are more like goat’s curd, but as they mature in climate-controlled maturation rooms, the rind grows and stabilises, and the flavour intensifies.

Cropwell Bishop Stilton

£2.75 for 150g, Ocado
Best for: Blue cheese tanginess

cropwell bishop stilton

Key specs – Type: Blue, cow’s milk; Made in: Nottinghamshire

“Cropwell Bishop Stilton from Nottinghamshire is a truly exceptional example of one of England’s most famous cheeses, with a herby tang and rich creaminess,” says Ros Windsor, the managing director of Paxton & Whitfield, the UK’s oldest cheesemonger.

“This Stilton has been graded and chosen to meet the flavour and texture profiles specified by Paxton & Whitfield. Stilton in prime condition has a grey, wrinkly crust and the inside should be creamy yellow with an even spread of blue-green veins. The strength of the flavour should not be overpowering but have a pleasant, herby tang.”

Double Gloucester

£8.13 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield
Best for: Heritage product

double gloucester

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Gloucestershire

Double Gloucester is a veteran example of great British farmhouse cheese and has been around since at least the eighth century.

It’s a hard, full-fat cheese, made from the milk of Gloucester cattle, which were developed for dairy and cheese making because of the milk’s high protein content and small fat globules. Gloucester cattle is one of the rarest breeds in the UK though, and it nearly died out at one point.

Jonathan Crump makes this cheese at Standish Park Farm in Stonehouse with his fifty Old Gloucesters. The cheese is a light golden colour with a smooth texture and sharp nutty flavour, and goes well with apples and cider. Suitable for vegetarians.

Rollright

£11.25 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield
Best for: Buttery richness

rollright

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: Oxfordshire

This soft, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Oxfordshire comes recommended by Tracey Colley, director of the Academy of Cheese, which offers certifications for people working in the industry.

It’s a gooey cheese with a velvety texture that’s similar to crème fraiche. It’s made by King Stone Dairy in Chipping Norton and named after local landmark the Rollright Stones, a collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age standing stones.

It’s described as a good beer cheese because malt will stand up to Rollright’s washed rind.

Cropwell Bishop Beauvale

£7.25 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield
Best for: Being both soft and blue

beauvale

Key specs – Type: Blue, cow’s milk; Made in: Nottinghamshire

“This is a relatively new cheese to the artisan British cheese fold,” explains Ros Windsor. “It was developed by Robin Skailes of Cropwell Bishop Creamery, our Stilton supplier. Part of the inspiration was to provide a handmade British substitute for all the soft blue cheeses that are imported from the continent.”

“Over four years of development went into the making of the cheese until Robin was happy for it to be released for sale. Once made, the curds are hand-ladled into moulds that differ very much in shape to those used to make Stilton, imparting the cheese with a rich, creamy texture.”

“The flavour is full and predominantly savoury, with a delicious bit of spice. It has a firm texture when young and begins to break down as it ages, developing a runny centre.”

Hafod Cheddar

£10.20 for 288g, Neal’s Yard Dairy
Best for: A complex take on cheddar

haeford

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Ceredigion, Wales

“For me the ‘best of British cheese’ is a wonderful movable feast,” says Kast. “Every day, I have the luxury of being able to taste from a tremendous selection of cheeses from Britain’s best producers.”

“The Hafod, to me, is like a comforting friend who nonetheless has the will to challenge you. It’s a smooth and softer (supple) cheddar to most. And is generally warmly flavoured with a strong herbal foundation.”

“Rather than being a straight line of flavour (or even an arch), it tends to be round and full, taking you in a many complementary directions at once. The finish is long, and very gratifying. You always want more.”

Hafod is made by Rob Howard in Ceredigion, Wales, and is available in raw or pasteurised milk versions.

Kirkham’s Lancashire

£4.49 for 200g, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: Crumbly texture

kirkhams lancashire

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Lancashire

Hard-working, crowd-pleasing cheeses like Kirkham’s Lancashire make you wonder why they aren’t as popular as cheddar. Maybe because we don’t want everyone to find out for fear this tangy and buttery cow’s milk cheese will sell out.

Graham Kirkham makes his farmhouse Lancashire north of Preston with milk from his own Friesian herd, and it’s said the remarkable taste comes from the salt borne on the wind from the Irish Sea.

Available from most good cheesemongers including Waitrose, Paxton & Whitfield and Neal’s Yard Dairy, which ages some to get a mature cheese.

Fen Farm Dairy Baron Bigod

£23 for 2 x 250g, Fen Farm Dairy
Best for: Gooey stinkiness

fen farm

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: Suffolk

Wonders like Baron Bigod are what happens when cheese gets political. It’s the UK’s only raw milk farmhouse brie and came about when fourth generation farmers Jonathan and Dulcie Crickmore, dismayed with the price of milk in this country, decided to turn to cheese. They went to the French Alps and brought their own herd of Montbeliarde cows back to Fen Farm in Suffolk.

Baron Bigod is the result, and it has all the characteristics you’d expect of a living, stinking French brie de meaux: it’s creamy, earthy and oozy, with a bloomy rind and a satisfying whiff of barnyard.

Late last year, they won the British Farming Award for Dairy Innovation. They are building a new cheese factory to meet demand and have ambitions to create a new cheese, too. Watch this space.

Cornish Kern

£8.21 for 215g, The Cheese Shed
Best for: Showing off your cheese expertise

cornish kern

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Cornwall

You’ll have heard of Cornish Yarg. This Cornish Kern is its hip younger sibling.

“This cheese won Supreme Champion at the World Cheese Awards in 2017, making it the best cheese in the world beating over 3000 cheeses,” explains Carver of Pick & Cheese. “After it won it was so popular that we couldn’t get hold of any for over a year! Definitely one to try if you come across it.”

Kern is a medium-hard Alpine-style cheese. It’s rich and buttery, and matures for at least 16 months. Kern means round in Cornish, and is also a play on Kernow, the Cornish word for Cornwall.

Cashel Blue

£5.23 for 250g, Mousetrap Cheese
Best for: Anyone new to blue

cashel blue

Key specs – Type: Soft blue, cow’s milk; Made in: Ireland

“This is a pasteurised soft blue from Tipperary in Ireland,” says Carver, sneaking an Irish cheese onto the list. “I’m a big fan of it as I think it’s a great gateway blue. It’s got a rich creamy sweetness to it that helps to convert people who may not normally be inclined to try blue cheeses.”

As well as its creamy texture, it’s also less salty than most blue cheeses. It’s known as the first blue cheese produced in Ireland, and has been made since 1984.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in March 2019.

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12 best Romanian wines for 2019, starting from just £5

Eastern European wine has been building up a steady reputation in recent years. One country which – often aided by expert help from British and French winemakers – is making progress in leaps and bounds is Romania.

The sixth largest producer of wine in Europe, it’s now exporting a huge range of impressive wines at very competitive prices. Many are well-known grape varieties, while others feature local indigenous grapes. We look at the best wines that the country has to offer.

Wines listed in price order.

Martisor Pinot Grigio 2017

£5.49, Waitrose Cellar
Best with: Salads and summer meals

martisor

Key specs – Type: Still white; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 12%

There’s no denying the popularity of pinot grigio. Most famously produced in Italy, it has garnered worldwide attention as an easy-to-drink and attractively fruity white wine.

This single estate example from Romania, bottled exclusively for Waitrose, has those all-important crisp and mouth-tingling lime and lemon flavours along with an invigorating minerality. Enjoy it by itself or with light grilled chicken or fish dishes.

La Umbra Merlot 2018

£5.59, Ocado
Best with: Cheese and biscuits

la umbra

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 13.5%

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The makers of this lively red – grown at vineyards near the Black Sea in eastern Romania – have shunned the use of oak, giving this full-bodied Merlot a less textured and fresher taste than most.

But there are still rich plummy flavours to enjoy here and a fruity intensity that makes it a perfect accompaniment to roast meat dishes or a good strong cheese.

Încânta Pinot Noir 2018

£5.99, Majestic
Best: Enjoying lightly chilled

incanta

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 12.5%

From Cramele Recas winemaker Hartley Smithers comes an easy-drinking pinot noir named after the Romanian verb to enchant. And it certainly does that. Juicy redcurrant and raspberry flavours mingle with floral and cherry notes on the tongue and it has a long and smooth finish.

This versatile red wine can by enjoyed slightly chilled during hot summer days and, at less than £6, it’s a bargain.

Waitrose Blueprint Romanian Pinot Noir 2018

£5.99, Waitrose
Best with: A roast chicken lunch

waitrose pinot noir

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 13%

Waitrose’s Blueprint range includes some of the best-value wines you’ll find on the market, and this excellent pinot noir is no exception. Nothing too complex here, just a classic grape variety producing a wine with characteristic red berry and raspberry flavours.

Put in the fridge for a short time and enjoy it lightly chilled with an al fresco lunch. And, at under £6, it’s remarkable value too.

Rhea Dealu Mare Viognier 2016

£7.49, Ocado
Best with: Fish or pasta

rhea

Key specs – Type: Still white; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 14%

This is a limited-edition white wine made from the viognier grape, with its characteristic notes of peaches, apricots, mango and apple blossom. The UK-owned Cramele Halewood winery was the first company to plant this Rhone Valley grape in Romania.

Once harvested, it’s enriched by the addition of a small amount of the wine that has been aged in French oak barrels, giving it a depth and richness that makes it the ideal accompaniment to fish or chicken dishes.

Călușari Pinot Grigio Rosé

£8.99, Winebuyers.com
Best for: Countryside picnics

calusari

Key specs – Type: Still rosé; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 11%

Here’s a wine named after a Romanian secret society whose members practised a ritual acrobatic dance that created the impression of flying through the air.

With an ABV of only 11 per cent, there’s little danger of that happening after a few sips of this dry blush rosé, with its strawberry and raspberry flavours, clean finish and pleasurable acidity. Although, be warned: you may be tempted to tap your foot occasionally after a couple of glasses.

Primavara Sauvignon Blanc 2017

£8.99, Virgin Wines
Best with: A spicy curry

primavara

Key specs – Type: Still white; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 12%

This is a zesty and bright sauvignon blanc from southern Romania and crafted by Australian winemaker Hartley Smithers. There’s elderflower and kiwi fruit on the nose and citrus flavours on the tongue with a satisfying acidity that will cut through any Asian-spiced dish, such as a seafood curry.

R2 Dealurile Munteniei Riesling 2017

£8.99, Laithwaite’s
Best with: A picnic lunch

riesling

Key specs – Type: Still white; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 12%

This is another popular and aromatic grape variety that has adapted well to the Romanian terroir. Almost pale green in appearance, this is crisp, bright and refreshing with citrus and apple notes.

The grapes are hand-picked early in the morning and fermented at a low temperature to preserve its freshness and fruity aromas. An enjoyable summer tipple.

Burebista Feteasca Neagra Shiraz 2017

£9.99, Laithwaite’s
Best with: A meaty menu

burebista

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 13%

This is a wine that blends what’s claimed to be Romania’s oldest grape variety, feteasca neagra, with the more familiar shiraz to produce a robust red that’s warming and full-flavoured.

There’s lots of blackberry and dried plum here but also touches of pepper and spice, making it a great wine to partner with a meaty casserole or even some grilled Cumberland sausages.

Solevari Reserve Syrah 2017

£11.99, Virgin Wines
Best with: A Sunday roast

solevari

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 13.5%

This is another great wine from Romania’s Cramele Recas winery, established by Bristol-born Philip Cox in 1991. This rich and luxurious syrah has bucketloads of blackcurrant and dark fruit flavours along with hints of liquorice.

The grapes are picked at night to ensure the wine is perfectly fresh and it’s a syrah that can be compared with any produced in France or Australia.

Budureasca Premium Noble 5 Cuvée 2015

£16.99, Novel Wines
Best with: A rack of lamb dinner

noble five

Key specs – Type: Red wine; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 14.6%

British winemaker Stephen Donnelly started making wines in Romania in 1995 and has been Budureasca’s winemaker in the Dealu Mare wine region since 2007.

This full-bodied red blends what they term a royal family of grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, shiraz and the local feteasca neagra – to produce an intense, dark, ruby-coloured wine with layered flavours of blackberry, plum and cherry, and a long finish.

Budureasca Origini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

£19.95, Transylvania Wine
Best with: Beef or game

origini

Key specs – Type: Red; Volume: 75cl; ABV: 14.5%

This is a serious red wine made from grapes picked at the end of the harvest, fermented traditionally over 15 days, aged in oak barrels for 12 months and then aged in the bottle. The end result is a sumptuous and rich red wine with plum and black and red berry flavours, and a silky finish.

Enjoy it now with beef or game or keep it for a couple more years for an even more textured taste.

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