Ploughman’s Lunch: The Ultimate Traditional British Dish?

Ploughman's Lunch

If you’re looking to try some traditional British grub at home, or indeed out, there’s not many better places to start than with a Ploughman’s Lunch. It’s one of the ultimate classic British dishes.

While today we can appreciate even a posh Ploughman’s in the setting of a comfy British pub or restaurant, this was originally a rather basic everyday dish, eaten by our farmers just to keep them going.

That’s all very well, you might be thinking, so for those of you who don’t even know what one is, let’s first answer the most pressing question: “what is a Ploughman’s Lunch?

A Ploughman’s Lunch (often referred to as just a ‘Ploughman’s’) is a traditional cold English meal based around bread, cheese, and an apple. Eaten at lunchtime, naturally, it’s nowadays usually accompanied by picnic items such as pork pies, scotch eggs, pickles and chutneys. Cold meats and salad are also commonly added.

Before we consider what else might be included in a Ploughman’s (and dish out some tips on how to eat yours) let’s take just a momento to appreciate how this historic British dish originated.

Why Is It Called A Ploughman’s Lunch?

It’s called a Ploughman’s Lunch because it’s a lunch dish that was created by the ‘plough man’ of Britain, otherwise known as a farmer in the modern day.

Who Invented The Ploughman’s Lunch?

The Ploughman’s Lunch was ‘invented’ back in the day by the English farmer. 

The story goes like this: There once was a British farmer (or ‘plough man’). Let’s call him Jeremy. Jeremy had worked his little socks off all morning in the English fields. By midday, Jeremy was a tad peckish. Luckily, Jeremy had brought himself to work a bag full of goodies to eat, namely a hunk of bread, some cheese, and an apple. Little did he know it, but Jeremy was about to invent one of the most classic British dishes still eaten today.

Ok, so the Ploughman’s Lunch probably wasn’t invented by a farmer named Jeremy. But the meal itself was first eaten by the British farmer and the term ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ is understood to have then been invented by the Cheese Bureau in 1957.

Cheese was rationed during World War II, so once the war was over, it’s understood that the Ploughman’s Lunch was created as a way to give cheese a marketing push in Britain, especially within the typical British pub. For that reason, the Ploughman’s Lunch is considered to be one of the most traditional British pub foods

The Ploughman’s Lunch: What’s Included?

“I had a Ploughman’s lunch the other day … he was livid.”

Tommy Cooper – famous British comedian

The Ploughman’s Lunch has evolved over the years to now include an array of other British delicacies. So, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for… the following ingredients are what usually what a Ploughman’s Lunch consists of:


Bread is pretty much the backbone of the Ploughman’s Lunch, although let’s get one thing straight: we’re talking good quality, robust, crusty bread. No flimsy stuff. And not forgetting a good quality butter too.


A nice British Cheddar cheese is considered most acceptable for a truly classic Ploughman’s Lunch, although there’s no official rule book stopping you adding other cheese varieties. Stilton is a great choice if you’re a fan of the blue stuff, or there’s plenty of other great British cheeses to pick from. 


The humble apple is the third all-important element of a traditional Ploughman’s, whether that’s a Granny Smith, Cox’s, Pink Lady, Braeburn, etc etc.

Cold meats

Sliced ham or beef are probably most commonly eaten as part of a Ploughman’s.

Scotch eggs 

Ah, the Scotch egg. One of THE greatest British delicacies and a crucial part of a modern Ploughman’s Lunch. A simple hard boiled egg could be used as an alternative.

Pork pie

The pork pie is a unique meat and jelly filled pastry delicacy from a place called Melton Mowbray in the north of England, and a perfect addition to the Ploughman’s.


With the Ploughman’s Lunch being an otherwise heavy meal, a nice bit of salad lighten things up a touch. Traditionally this would usually involve some simple lettuce and tomatoes, although clearly these days there are endless salad options.


Whether it’s the famous Branston pickle or a homemade variety, pickle is another key ingredient to the Ploughman’s. Items such as pickled onions and gherkins also add a nice bit of acidity and sharpness.


You can’t beat a nice tomato chutney with a Ploughman’s, but life’s there to be lived on the edge, and there’s tons of other chutney options to experiment with when it comes to the Ploughman’s. 

What Is A Ploughman’s Lunch Eaten With?

Depending on your surroundings, it can be entirely acceptable to eat your Ploughman’s either with your fingers, or a knife and fork. In terms of which ingredients it should and shouldn’t be eaten with, there’s often much debate on this point.

On the face of it, when you hear about the foundational ingredients of the Ploughman’s, you might think it’s a pretty unsophisticated dish. But there’s almost endless options as to what can be included (if you’re not all that fussed about British food traditions).

At the risk of receiving hate mail from British traditionalists, here’s a few Ploughman’s Lunch suggestions:

  • Spring onions 
  • Beetroot 
  • Piccalilli 
  • Sausage rolls 
  • Terrines
  • Pate
  • Coleslaw
  • Watercress 
  • Savoury scones 
  • Celery
  • Quails eggs 
  • Game pie
  • Sun dried tomatoes 
  • Olives
  • Horseradish sauce
  • Mustard

You could say the real beauty of a Ploughman’s is when the various ingredients come together. Some say that each individual element of a Ploughman’s should be enjoyed separately, whereas others might argue it’s perfect for creating the ultimate British sandwich. We’ll let you decide.

Different places across England and the UK may also have their own versions of the Ploughman’s, as it’s largely based on the tradition of using local produce. 

How Is A Ploughman’s Served? 

In case we haven’t made it clear until now, the Ploughman’s is a pretty casual dish. So generally speaking, the way in which you eat your Ploughman’s should be pretty relaxed. By this, we mean a Ploughman’s Lunch is often simply served on a wooden board, or a plate, along with a knife for cutting and spreading. 

With there being no cooking necessarily needed (assuming you’re not making the bread, pork pies etc yourself), it doesn’t get much easier than to serve a classic Ploughman’s. It can be as humble or as extravagant as you want. 

What Is A Posh Ploughman’s?

A “posh Ploughman’s” is a Ploughman’s Lunch where the ultimate level of effort is exerted in making it a top-notch, quality Ploughman’s. For example, buying your scotch eggs from Fortnum & Mason as opposed to Sainsbury’s.

What Drink is a Ploughman’s Lunch Good With? 

A Ploughman’s Lunch is particularly good with ale or beer, if you want to follow tradition. In fact, British traditionalists will have you believe that it’s unacceptable to enjoy your Ploughman’s Lunch with anything other than an ale or beer, especially cider.

How Much Does A Ploughman’s Lunch Cost?

A Ploughman’s Lunch can cost as little as £5 if you’re making a very basic one yourself, but if you want a good Ploughman’s when eating out, expect to pay at least £10, or even more as the quality of the ingredients and experience increases.

So there you go, you can consider the question “what is a Ploughman’s Lunch?’ fully answered. 

Not necessarily the healthiest dish when you start adding pork pies, scotch eggs and the like, but the Ploughman’s is, for sure, one of the best and most traditional British dishes

That’s that then. All that’s left to do, is find a great British pub to eat your Ploughman’s at. 

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