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What is a Ploughman's Lunch?

Updated on September 13, 2014
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Ploughmans - a Traditional British Lunch

The beauty of a Ploughman's lunch is its simplicity! A hearty Ploughmans with a warm pint at a good pub is a wonderful thing!

However, what makes up a Ploughman's seems to be open to a lot of interpretation, with Brie being served instead of Cheddar and things like slices of orange making an appearance. The horror of it!

So if you want to know exactly what is in Ploughman's lunch, or even what a Ploughman's is period - read on! This page looks at exactly what constitutes this fine English lunch, I hope you will enjoy!

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The Illustrious History of the Ploughman's Lunch

The phrase "ploughman's lunch" sounds like it comes from a bygone age, you can just imagine a red cheeked jolly farmer stopping for lunch, unwrapping a simple lunch of bread, cheese and pickle under a shady oak. Certainly most people would believe that a Ploughman's lunch is simple peasant fare from way back when.

In 2006 a TV program aired on the BBC called Balderdash & Piffle, where the origins of certain words were looked at. Looking into the origins of "Ploughman's lunch" they found that In 1837 a book called "Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott" mentions a lunch of a ploughman, but evidence is not conclusive that it means the ploughman's lunch we know today. They then discovered that the Ploughman's lunch first became known as the dish popular today in 1960, it was invented as a marketing ploy by the English Cheese and the Milk Marketing Board to promote the sale of cheese in pubs! A more in depth article on the source of the ploughman's lunch can be found here: Ploughman's Lunch: Origins And Etymology

If the ploughman's lunch was invented as an advertising ploy, it has certainly become a successful one as the majority of pubs in the UK serve a ploughman's on their menus.

A Perfect Looking Ploughmans - Complete with a Pork Pie!

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Cheddar Cheese - Essential to a Good Ploughman's

a little bit of Cheddar cheese history....

Cheddar is essential to a Ploughman's lunch, without cheddar you may as well send your plate back to the kitchen. Brie, Edam, Camembert - NO! Cheddar is quintessentially English, and nothing beats a crumbly, mature and strong tasting slice of Cheddar. Even if you don't like the mature Cheddar, even a mild or medium tasting slice is better than a slice of brie for a Ploughman's! Other cheese that can be served with a Ploughman's must be British - Cheshire cheese, Leiscester, Stilton....

Cheddar cheese originates from Cheddar village in Somerset, England. Cheddar village became the centre of dairy making since the 15th century, but there are records of cheese making in the area since 1170 AD. Cheddar Village is famous for Cheddar Gorge, a gorge cutting through the Mendip hills. There are two main caves at Cheddar Gorge that were historically used for cheese making, providing the ideal environment in which to make and mature the cheese, with a perfect constant temperature and humidity.

It is a complicated process making Cheddar and blends both artistic skill and scientific knowledge. I found this very good article about Authentic Cheddar explaining the process of making cheddar at the award winning Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, the only cheese maker left in Cheddar parish.


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The Best Bread for a Ploughman's Lunch

A Ploughman's lunch cannot be served up with thin pre-sliced packaged bread, no way! It can be white or wholewheat, but it must be crusty on the outside and soft in the middle! A traditional British bread is the Cottage loaf, seen opposite and a good recipe can be found here: Nigella Lawson's cottage loaf

A lot of pubs served a Ploughman's with baguette, which whilst not perfect is passable - it is indeed crusty and soft. But to serve supermarket sliced bread, ciabatta or any of that fancy European bread will simply not do!

With the bread you need a couple of pats of real butter.

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An Essential Ingredient for a Ploughman's - Thick Cut Ham!

By now you are probably noticing a trend - everything must be local, thick cut and traditional. The same goes for the ham on the Ploughman's plate. Lovely thick ham from contented pigs, not wafer thin slices filled with water. If you put ham on your Ploughman's, you need mustard - and again this must be British! British pigs are not fed growth hormones and antibiotics are administered only by vets, so we have very high pig welfare standards - something to be proud of!

Here is some ham trivia for you! That rainbow sheen you sometimes see on a slice of ham does not mean that the meat is bad, some hams are cured using nitrates. When exposed to air and light the nitrate pigments undergo a chemical reaction and change colour.

Sometimes cold roast beef is served with Ploughmans, which is done well (like the ham) can be a really delicious addition to this great pub lunch.

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A Ploughman's Needs a Tangy Pickle

A perfect accompaniment to cheese - Branston Pickle brings out and compliments the flavours of cheddar. Branston is a firm favourite brand of pickle in England, but if a home made chutney is even better!

Check out What to Do With Branston Pickle - 21 Ingenious Ideas to get some inspiration on when to use Branstons!



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Pickled Onions

Not everyone is a fan of the pickled onion, they can be too vinegary and the onions too sharp for people's tastes. However, a ploughman's needs to be graced by a pickled onion or two. Like the chutney, the pickled onion compliments the creamy cheese - a match made in heaven!

A recipe for home made pickled onion is here: BBC Food Recipes

A Ploughmans Lunch Can Also Include...

Slices of apple, good quality salad, celery, gherkins, hard boiled egg, pork pie, scotch egg, a side of fat chips (fries)....

Here's an Elaborate Ploughman's Lunch...for "Gentlemen"!

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And Lastly...What to Drink with Your Ploughman's Lunch? - Beer, lager or cider!

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Do You Like a Good Ploughman's Lunch?

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      Having lived in the country all my life I know what a real ploughman's lunch consisted of, they had usually half a loaf of bread with perhaps a lump of margarine in the middle, this was carved of with a penknife with cheese or cold meat, washed down with a bottle of cold tea, a far cry from today's so called ploughman's lunch.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 4 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      Sounds like what I eat from time to time. It's called "open the fridge and see what's there!"

    • kitchenalia profile image

      Nathan 4 years ago from Ontario Canada

      They are a great lunch and I make if quite often.

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      moonlitta 4 years ago

      Probably I would;)

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 4 years ago from England

      Yes, being British I'm rather partial to a Ploughman's washed down with a pint on a nice hot summerâs day; although we don't seem to get many of those these days, this year has been a wash-out with nothing but rain day after day. Ah well, perhaps next summer will be more summery.

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