If you’ve never been to a food festival before, you may wonder what it’s all about. Just as music enthusiasts gather at Glanstonbury and Reading, donning their Wellington boots and taking their waterproof clothes and tents, the foodie’s idea of a perfect day out is a summer food festival.
Although the larger food festivals tend to run over a few days or a long weekend, in tents and stalls in a field, the Real Food Festival in London is held indoors. The idea is to wander in a leisurely fashion around the stalls meeting producers, growers and farmers, eating as you go and buying the things that take your fancy. You may also get the chance to watch food and cookery demonstrations, meet authors and chefs and generally mingle with like-minded food enthusiasts.
Last weekend I attended the Real Food Festival in London (www.realfoodfestival.co.uk) for the first time, though the event is now in its fourth year (held every May at Earl’s Court) and the concept is now expanding to include weekly Real Food Markets on the South Bank.
Producers are given an opportunity to market their businesses and explain their philosophies directly to their customers, whilst those who are keen to know a bit more about where their food comes from, or how it is grown and produced, have the opportunity to enquire. The aim is to encourage us to reconnect with the food chain, promoting the idea of buying food directly from those who produce it, as well as suggesting an alternative to the current industrialised systems of agriculture, food manufacture and distribution primarily focused on profit. Food festivals also encourage us to get to know more about seasonal or nutritionally beneficial food, produced using traditional and artisanal methods.
The highlights of this year’s Real Food Festival included the Real Food Theatre and Pride of Place kitchen workshops, with demonstrations of recipes using fresh, seasonal produce for both adults and children to watch, butchery demonstration sessions, cheese tasting from some of the UK’s best artisan cheese makers (Britain now officially has more artisan cheese makers than France) dancing sheep, baby lambs and buffalo and a ‘Kids Taste Experience Tipi’, hosted by the Youth Food Movement.
I enjoyed chatting to British organic wine producers and visiting Garden Organic (www.gardenorganic.org.uk) who gave me plenty of great tips on how to grow my own veg, as well as stumbling across ‘The Pudding Stop’ (www.thepuddingstop.com) who offer handmade puddings made in the bakery of an 18th Century watermill just a mile from my home. I also discovered a rapeseed oil producer, PE Mead & Sons,who is also local to me, selling infused oils (www.pemeadandsons.co.uk).
The School of Artisan Food were on hand to give information about some of the wonderful courses they offer (www.schoolofartisanfood.org). It was very interesting to be able to talk to farmers about the production of ethically produced meat, amongst them Denhay Farms (www.denhay.co.uk) who sell award-winning dry cured bacon, The Well Hung Meat Company (www.wellhungmeat.co.uk) and The Bath Pig selling British chorizo (www.thebathpig.com).
I sampled savoury macarons for the first time (an alternative to the traditional cheese and biscuits) and came home with some botanically infused vinegar from Rupert Parsons, producer of Womersley Foods, high quality fruit and herb infused vinegars and jellies from Yorkshire (www.womersleyfoods.co.uk). I also stopped to buy some delicious brownies and whoopie pies from Outsider Tart, based in Chiswick (www.outsidertart.com).
An amazing smell of street food filled the air which made it very difficult to decide what to eat. I opted for food from my childhood, choosing ‘piergoi’ or filled dumplings from The Polish Deli, but there was so much on offer including tasty British sausages, Indian street food and Adnams beer from the coastal town of Southwold (www.adnams.co.uk).
Having recently had a gastronomically rich holiday in Wales, enabling me to see for myself how proud the Welsh are of their local produce, it was great to find a whole section dedicated to Welsh produce at The Real Food Festival, along with a demonstration area, ‘Wales The True Taste’. I would have liked to see more regional focus in the layout of the festival, only because it is useful to be able to discover produce on your own doorstep. Despite many companies offering online purchase, this doesn’t work so well if you find a bread you particularly like or sweet treats such as cupcakes.
Of course for the best local produce, county shows and local farmers’ markets are held all over the country so there is plenty to discover alongside attending a large festival, such as The Real Food Festival.
Other foodie dates for the diary
As mentioned, The Real Food Markets are now being held weekly, beginning 15 – 18 May 2011 at London’s Southbank Centre.
On 29 – 31 July 2011 the Real Food Market will be going ‘retro’ at the Vintage Festival, also at the Southbank Centre.
Later on in the year, don’t miss the Real Food Harvest Festival on 23 – 25 September 2011, also offering the chance to meet producers and chefs, as well as live entertainment and livestock showing – entrance to this festival is free.
Other foodie events to catch around the UK:
Foodies Festival Tatton Park, Cheshire 20 – 21 May 2011
Foodies Festival Hampton Court Palace 29 – 30 May 2011
Foodies Festival Bristol Harbourside 24 – 26 June 2011
Food Festival Hampshire 1 – 31 July 2011
Food & Drink Festival Bath 3 – 4 July 2011
The Author’s Contact Details
To visit Ren Behan’s website: www.renbehan.com
To follow Ren Behan on Twitter: @RenBehan