Thanks to winning tickets from Simon at Dos Hermanos Pete and I headed down to Earl’s Court bright and early on Friday morning to check out hundreds of small-scale food and drink producers from all over the UK.
We walked and tasted our way around the show for a whopping 7.5 hours and, with some caveats (faaar too many cup cake stalls not to mention the holiday company, washing up liquid and those chocolate pizzas!) we discovered some wonderful products produced by some friendly, passionate and enthusiastic people.
Here’s my feedback on some of my favourite producers, products and stalls.
My joint favourite from the day was a light, refreshing, crisp and very grown up sparkling cider from Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard. Kim Coulson explained how Polgoon Aval is created using the method traditionelle and uses dessert apples (the exact variety is a closely guarded secret) instead of the cider apple varieties commonly used for cider. Her son busied himself pouring samples! For someone who drinks only dessert wine and French cidre doux, finding regular wines and ciders far too sharp, this dry bubbly was a revelation! Polgoon also offer the aval blended with raspberries to create a pretty pink version but I found that the fruit muddied the flavours.
I was also bowled over, for the second time in as many months, by Henrietta Lovell’s beautiful teas. Her Jasmine Silver Tip Tea, made by steaming fine silvery-white tips of tea with fresh jasmine flowers, blew me away at the Guardian’s Chocolate Tasting Event but would I still be so impressed after sampling the teas on offer from so many other tea producers at the festival? I left Henrietta’s stall till the end of the day and the answer to that question is a resounding yes! Drinking the Rare Tea Company’s jasmine tea is like sitting amid a glade of jasmine bushes just as the sun sets and the tiny blossoms unfurl and release their intoxicating scent. Unusually, the flavour comes through just as much as the heady perfume. All of Henrietta’s teas are made with the same careful attention to quality and flavour and I can recommend her Emperor’s Breakfast black China tea, her delicate Oolong Tea and her refreshing Green Leaf Tea.
Speaking of tea, it has to be said that there were an awful lot of tea stalls at this year’s Real Food Festival. As a lifelong “teaphile”, I was delighted. Perhaps this year will really be the year of the tea; top quality and fabulous tea! I samples teas from many stalls:-
Teapig’s Nick Kilby describes himself as a tea evangelist, keen to bring the joys of great tea to the masses. Aware that many tea drinkers eschew loose leaf tea because they perceive it as a time-consuming hassle but heedful that regular teabags don’t allow the glories of loose leaf tea to shine, Nick and partner Louise, were travelling in Japan when they discovered what they call the tea temple – a little pyramid pouch made of biodegradable silky mesh which gives loose leaves the space to properly infuse. They fill these little purses with the same top quality tea, sourced from around the world, that they also sell loose. Their English Breakfast, a blend of teas from Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka, was brewed strong and black and yet didn’t pack the usual tannin punch that furs the inside of your mouth so unpleasantly. As a chilli wuss I wasn’t brave enough to try their chilli chai and didn’t notice their chocolate flake tea until reading the leaflet I took away with me – one to try next time!
East Tea’s Alex Fraser can talk the hind legs off a donkey. But his stories are so charming and his tea facts so interesting, I didn’t mind being that donkey! I learned, for example, that East Tea’s da hong pao tea is cultivated from a 2nd-generation cutting taken from a bush so prized that an emperor of the Ming Dynasty bestowed his Imperial red robe to protect the bush, so grateful was he for it’s healing properties. When tea from the original bush was last available, it sold for about £15,000 for 20 grams! More of Fraser’s tea tales can be found in the online archives of The Epoch Times, for whom he writes a regular column. Fraser himself is an intense individual and ardent about the provenance of his teas as well as the other products he sells, including some truly beautiful Korean ceramics. He spent three years in Japan studying the Japanese Way of Tea, though it’s his business partner Tim who travels Asia to source the teas. The teas themselves are delicate. I lacked the vocabulary even to approximate their complex and delicate aromas and flavours, let alone to nail them definitively. In truth, they were perhaps too subtle for me and certainly the prices for much of the range are not for the faint-hearted (though some are more affordable). These are teas for aficionados; teas on which to focus 100% of one’s attention; teas for collectors of rarities.
Another category that was rather well represented, was that of chutneys, pickles and jams. But I hope people weren’t too chutneyed out to sample my favourite – Indian chutneys and pickles from The Spice Shelf. I asked producer Meher Salman whether she was using family recipes from India. Yes, she told me, the recipes were adapted from those passed down by her grandmother in Lucknow, India. This would explain why her products remind me so much of my mum’s goodies, made to recipes also handed down through our family, who hail from the same area of India – my mum’s older sister lives in Lucknow itself! My favourite was Salman’s award-winning garlic pickle, though her plum chutney was a close second. Pete was particularly taken with her cranberry and chilli chutney.
For those with a sweet tooth, my first recommendation would be to search out Mr and Mrs Darling’s Burtree Puddings. Their sticky toffee pudding was moist, rich and extremely moreish. The ginger pudding contains crystallised ginger and the sticky lemon uses real lemon zest and juice. All made from good quality ingredients. When I learned that it can be frozen, a selection of puddings went straight onto my shopping list to be purchased just before leaving the show!
My other pudding purchase was a beautiful, round Pommes Calvados Pain d’Epices, made by sold by It’s French! The calvados, chunks of apple and warm spices all come through clearly. Also available are versions with preserved orange or prunes and Armagnac. Made with delicious french honey rather than refined sugar and using only organic flour, these cakes are light, moist and packed full of flavour.
Munchy Seeds are probably larger than many of the producers present, seeing as how they are available in both Waitrose and Tesco. I first came across them at the Feast East food show in Linton in March of this year and couldn’t resist the cute, snack size sachets. The tasty, healthy snacks were first made and marketed by Lucinda Clay and her mother in New Zealand following Lucinda’s grandmother’s recipe for roasted seed mix. High in iron, zinc and vitamin C not to mention Omega 6 and 9, the seed mixes include sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds roasted in special flavouring mixes. Free from artificial flavours, colours and preservatives, they are also cholesterol, dairy and gluten-free and suitable for coeliacs, vegans and vegetarians. Who would have thought something so tasty could be so healthy?! Crispin Clay met Lucinda whilst travelling. After she came back to the UK with him, she decided to launch Munchy Seeds into the UK market. Just over 10 years later, both Crispin and Lucinda are working in the expanding business. Their range now includes a number of flavours including cajun mix, vanilla pumpkin and original as well as my favourite, the omega mix available in tubs as well as handy sachets. Also worth looking out for is the Roasted Pumpkin Seeds & Sunflower Seed Oil. Healthy, yes, like the the rest of their range, but it’s a combination of the delicious rich and nutty taste and the bright green engine-oil appearance that sold it to me! I can’t wait to enjoy mine drizzled over a salad or some beautiful, roasted vegetables.
I first became rather enamoured with Gorvett & Stone’s lovely chocolates at the Great British Cheese Festival 2007. Their mint truffles blew me away, with their taste of the fresh herb rather than the more common mint essence or oil. Such herby chocolates are all the rage now, but back then I’d not encountered them. I was wowed! So I was delighted to see Matt Stone and his goodies at the festival! I stuck to the fresh mint truffles whilst Pete opted for white chocolate and raspberries. Jolly nice they are (soon to be were) too!
Having recently made my own chocolate for the very first time, using the Mayan Magic kit by Chocolution, I was intrigued by Nibchoc’s natural raw chocolate bars. Like my kit chocolate, Nibchoc bars contain no refined sugar or dairy nor any artificial ingredients. The result is chocolate with a gritty, granular texture that reminded me a little of crunchy chocolate tiffin. Both Pete and I thought their ginger nibs bar the tastiest, followed by coffee and then vanilla and rose petal.
Meat was another well-represented category. Hazeldene Farm’s organic bacon was as dense, meaty and delicious as I’d been lead to expect by media and blogger testimonials. A packet went into the bag with of goodies that went home with us from the show.
From Manor Farm Game we bought two whole wild rabbits. Having only cooked rabbit once, unsuccessfully, we decided to give it another chance and see what we think. Also available are free-range turkey, geese and duck, estate-reared pheasant, partridge and mallard and more wild game such as venison, grouse, wood pigeon and hare.
From Simply Sausages we brought home 3 packs of proper British sausages. Our favourites were smoked bacon & leek and italian herb.
Throwing caution to the wind we also paid a whopping £50 (less a £5 trial discount) for an organic meat box from The Well Hung Meat Company, to be delivered in the coming week. Our “Well Thrifty Box” will contain a collection along the lines of 1kg whole chicken, half a shoulder of lamb (800g), beef chuck steak (300g), 2 pork belly slices, diced pork (300g), 5 handmade sausages, 6 rashers of bacon, beef steak mince (400g), liver (300g) and beef stock bones (800g). For good quality organic meat, I think that sounds reasonable, though it’s hard to make a comparison. Maybe next time I’m in Waitrose I’ll do a quick totting up against their organic meat.
As a cheese-fiend I surprised myself by tasting only a few of the cheeses on offer. But I was impressed by the quality of the cheeses on sale from Mons Fromager-Affineur. Hervé Mons sources most of his cheeses from France and matures them in his own caves in the Rhone-Alpes region. We tasted two wonderful goat’s cheeses, a strong, unctuous sheep’s blue called Persillé de Malzieu, an absolutely fantastic soft raw milk cheese called Saint Felicien, so oozy it almost walked away from the stall on it’s own and a similarly creamy Saint Marcellin which is the one we bought to enjoy at home. I believe Mons can be found at Borough Market. Can anyone confirm?
The Cafe Spice Namasté stall was manned by Cyrus Todiwala’s cousin Tushna and the McAdams, who provide marketing services to the Cafe Spice empire. Pickles containing meat were new to me, though they were, so I have learned, more popular in times past. The range includes a wild boar vindaloo pickle and a venison pickle. I much preferred the beetroot chutney which was sweet and hot, and one of the Guardian’s top picks for the festival. But it was when I spotted the parsee wedding pickle that I began to chat more openly. One of my parents’ closest friends passed away just last year, an “uncle” I liked very much. His lovely wife has contributed a number of Parsee recipes to my mum’s site, Mamta’s Kitchen. When I told Tushna and Gina about our family friends, Tushna immediately told me she knew just who I was talking about and she did – the parsee community within the region is a small one! It really is a small world! About to leave the stall, we were called back to taste the new range of ice-creams and sorbets. Now these really were a wonderful discovery. The rose and cardamom ice-cream combined the delicious flavours of a perfumed kulfi with the soft and creamy textures of good-quality ice-cream. The guava sorbet was even better, capturing the very essence of one of my favourite fruits. Get your hands on some if you can!
Other stalls deserving a mention:
Andy Shepherd of Divine Deli is the UK partner to Toronto-based Wildly Delicious and sells a wide range of their food products as well as specialist ceramics in which to serve them. The new Petite Maison range includes a delicious fig tapenade – not a combination I’d ever have thought of but it works!
Orchid Apiaries is another producer I came across at Feast East in March. Produced from resident apiaries in Norfolk the individual honeys have intense and very distinct flavours. I bought two at the Linton show and can thoroughly recommend them.
The Roundwood Orchard Pig Company really look after their pigs and are keen to point out that they neither castrate their animals nor dock their tails nor clip their teeth. The pigs are reared outdoors and, as they are reared on a neighbouring fruit farmer’s lands, they feed on fallen soft fruit, no doubt contributing to their flavour. The owners invite interested foodies to visit the farm for yourselves. As well as seeing the happy pigs in their environment you can purchase some pork not to mention pick your own fruit.
La Paimpolaise Conserverie, based in Northern Brittany, make a range of seafood products, including a razor clam rillette which was full of the flavours of the sea combined with a lovely parsley butter.
The Real Boar Company’s wild boar salami is a winner, as is their new mixed game and port salami (coming out in November). Their chorizo didn’t do it for me. As well as charcuterie they also sell lean boar meat loins and haunches.
Cherizena really know their coffee beans! Their Jumbo Maragogype is the largest bean I’ve seen so it’s no surprise that it’s the world’s largest and is also known as the elephant bean. The roasted beans seem to have very little smell but they release an incredible, delicious aroma on grinding. The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe comes from the Ethiopian Highlands where, it is believed, mankind first ingested coffee – both the fruit and the bean.
Fans of good bread will probably already have heard of DeGustibus, artisan breadmakers offering a wide range of baked goodies. Delicious!
I encountered Chegworth Valley juices at Oliver Rowe’s Konstam restaurant recently. Beautiful Kent fruit turned into refreshing fruit juice.
There were many other stalls with perfectly nice products.
There were also a few that I tried and didn’t much like. Some stalls I ignored completely as I’m not a fan of granola or chilli sauces or oysters nor am I enticed by the trend for cupcakes. And there were definitely those that didn’t appeal at all (such as the chocolate pizzas that I looked at in disbelief as we quickly walked past). Rather than dwell on those that didn’t impress, I’ve chosen to share those that did. Hope you enjoy!