Lucky Suffolk. Now in its sixth year, the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival is a two-week celebration of Suffolk’s finest food and drink and it just gets bigger and better every year. It is consistently rated as one of the UK’s top food festivals so what is it that makes it such a growing attraction? I went along to analyse its recipe for success, and here is what I found:
The right recipe
This year’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival started on Friday 23rdSeptember with a food conference, Suffolk and the Sea, exploring the threats to, and from, the sea. The festival weekend, held on 24thand 25thSeptember, attracted top chefs, food and drink producers, and over 12,000 enthusiastic customers. Added to that, the Festival Fringe offered an array of foodie events across the whole of East Suffolk.
It is the sum and combination of all the different attractions that add up to create a centre of excellence and no matter who you are, you will find something there for you.
The unique setting
The festival weekend takes place just outside Aldeburgh, at Snape Maltings. Despite a record number of visitors, the atmosphere was relaxaed, informal and very jolly.
The good weather certainly helped – festival-goers reached for their hats and suncream as they basked in glorious sunshine. But the location is also very special. Snape Maltings has a stunning setting by the River Alde where reed-covered marshlands stretch into the distance. So when the food carnival gets too hectic, you can always find a little space to sit back and relax.
Excellent produce and producers
Suffolk has wonderful produce and producers and the festival drew together many of the best in the region. There was a genuine community feel to the event and with more than 85 local food and drink companies exhibiting it was a food-lovers heaven. Here are just some of the exhibitors showcasing their work:
Beer, wine and spirits from Adnams www.adnams.co.uk
Fiery ‘preservaments’ from Jules & Sharpie www.julesandsharpie.co.uk
Slow-roasted coffee from Paddy & Scott’s www.paddyandscotts.co.uk
Smoked produce from Suffolk Smokehouse & Deli www.suffolksmokehouse.net and the Artisan Smokehouse www.artisansmokehouse.co.uk
Home-grown fruit and vegetables from Newbourne Farm Shop www.newbournefarmshop.co.uk
Chillies galore from The Chilli Company www.chillicompany.com
Ice cream from Parravani’s www.parravanis.co.uk
For Adrian Nuttall, of the Chilli Company, in Mendelsham, it’s the mix of popularity and localness that makes Aldeburgh special. He told me:
“From our point of view it’s just so popular – it’s like the V Festival of Food! It’s as big as some of the London festivals or NEC shows, yet local. And I think the local feel is what makes it special: the food’s from Suffolk and surrounding areas; many of the stallholders know each other and many of the buyers are repeat customers.”
The fringe events also offers a huge range of food activities scattered across East Suffolk so the public have ample opportunity to go wandering, meet producers and chefs, and explore what the region has to offer. This year you could meet a baker, spend an afternoon foraging in hedgerows or enjoy a night of retro food.
Chef demonstrations and cookery workshops
The festival attracts an impressive line-up of experts. This year the marquees hosted cooking demonstrations by renowned TV chefs such as Angela Hartnett, Valentine Warner and Thomasina Miers, as well as top local chefs, including Tyler Torrance, the head chef of Southwold brewers Adnams, and Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of acclaimed Suffolk gastropub, The British Larder.
Visitors of all ages were able to take part in hands-on activities such as bread and pasta making or wine and beer tasting (the beer tasting looked easier than the pasta making, for sure).
And not to be outdone by the celebrity chefs, local scouts from Deben were demonstrating the arts of outdoor cooking for those who don’t have ready access to a kitchen, rustling up tasty pizzas in just a few minutes in their improvised ovens.
A Big Bake Off
Every festival should have a bake off. Not to be outdone by the Great British Bake Off, the festival held a cake competition of its own, run by East Anglian millers, Marriage’s. www.marriagesmillers.co.uk.
There were five categories – cupcakes, Victoria sandwiches, fruitcakes, scones and best junior baker. The display of 35 entries from amateur bakers was impressive, as was the sheer professionalism of the judges – George Marriage, MD of Marriage’s Millers, Matthew Fort, the former food and drink editor of The Guardian newspaper, and Tony Bower, Operations Director of Tastes of Anglia. The judges deliberated, cogitated and digested as judges do. One observer commented ‘what a funny lot we are’. There was something a little eccentric and wonderful about it all.
A perfect mix
So what makes Aldeburgh a success? Polly Robinson, founder of Food Safari at www.foodsafari.co.uk, a company that offers field to fork experiences in Suffolk, says Aldeburgh festival’s success is all in the mix:
“It’s a fantastic combination of Suffolk food and drink producers, local and celebrity chefs on the demonstration stages and the beautiful setting beside the river Alde at Snape Maltings that create such a special unique atmosphere.”
To that add a sprinkling of workshops and activities, a conference and a public who care about their food, lightly toast under the Suffolk sun and enjoy.
Until next year
Of course, a festival this big doesn’t just happen by accident and preparations take place over many months. Indeed, festival director, William Kendall and his colleagues are already planning the 2012 Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival which will take place on 29thand 30thSeptember 2012. Make a date in your diary.
The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival: www.aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk
Follow the festival on Twitter: @AldeburghFood
Snape Maltings: www.snapemaltings.co.uk/
Helen Jermyn’s website: www.jermynphotography.com
Follow Helen on Twitter: @helenjermyn