The Real Food Festival is a great opportunity to meet smaller scale producers and suppliers of food and drink products than one often encounters at other events in the food and drink calendar.
The mood at this year’s even seemed more subdued than last year – perhaps because of the previous day’s election and so many people staying up late to catch the initial results?
I found it harder to engage with as many producers as I did last year, though there were, of course, still many who were keen to tell me a little about their products and their business. Shorter opening hours didn’t help – last year I spent an exhausting but satisfying 7.5 hours making my way round the event (and still missed lots). This year’s show was only open for 6 hours in total!
I was surprised not to see several of my favourites from last year but hope their respective businesses are still doing well.
Here are a few of my picks from this year’s festival – produce that I enjoyed, stall holders who engaged with me, stalls worth visiting for those of you still to attend.
I adore my cheese, as I think anyone who reads my blog and/ or has met me knows very well! There were many great cheese producers and sellers. I did my best to try most of them and enjoyed several, of which just a few are listed below.
I love really nicely aged Saint Nectaire so was very pleased to buy some from Aux Delices des Fromages, here in the UK just for the festival. I also bought some lovely Morbier, very tasty! And it was nice to practice my French too!
Aux Delices des Fromages
And I bought some Ossau-Iraty (another of my favourites) as well as some Tomme Crayeuse (new to me) from the lovely Mons.
Mons Fromager Affineur
I also enjoyed the blue cheese from Sussex-based Alsop and Walker.
Alsop and Walker
Another love of mine is chocolate. Again, there were many great producers. Of those I tried, these ones made an impression:-
Fiona Sciolti’s Botanical Chocolates were lovely. I particularly liked the green tea and cherry dark chocolates – not a combination I would have thought of but one that I really enjoyed. Her white blueberry chocolates were also excellent, made with Yorkshire fruit and packing much more of a fresh fruit flavour than many fruit chocolates I’ve had. The real mint white chocolate thins and the ginger dark chocolate thins were also great.
I didn’t try many of Ido Chocolat’s range, as there was quite a crowd at their stall, but their fennel chocolates were fantastic. Such a clean, strong fennel flavour and lovely light texture – it worked much better than I’d ever have thought – and I don’t usually much care for fennel! Whilst I was at there, founder Xinhong Liu’s colleague showed me some photos of her making her chocolates, and told me about the specialist course she had attended to learn her chocolatier skills. I had intended to get back to their stall when less busy, to taste some of the other flavours they were offering; very annoyed with myself that I forgot to do so!
Co Couture didn’t have much of their range with them – I think they mentioned delivery problems. But the chocolate caramel hazelnuts were really moreish and Pete enjoyed the fudge he tasted.
During the day I attended a talk at the Chocolate Unwrapped stand by Thornton’s head chocolatier, Keith Hurdman. It was really interesting to taste the various chocolates whilst being talked through their origins and characteristics. I panicked a bit when we tasted a white chocolate and coconut bar – the lime I’d so loved in it during my visit to the factory was gone – but Keith assured me this there would definitely be lime in the production version, which we can expect in June. Also great to taste again was Keith’s take on an original chocolate recipe, with the wonderful grainy texture of sugar crystals and a fascinating taste – intended to be launched next year to celebrate Thornton’s centenary.
Keith Hurdman’s Tasting Talk
Having spent a lot of my time last year tasting teas, I didn’t dwell on tea much this year. I was pleased to see both Lahloo and The Rare Tea Company at the show and Teapigs were there too, though their stall was mobbed so I didn’t stop to say hello.
It was nice to meet Bellevue Tea, having recently friended them on twitter. A particularly friendly stall, even before we realised we “knew” each other!
On the alcoholic front, I rather liked the St-Germain elderflower liqueur from France. Offered in a white wine cocktail, I far preferred it neat over ice, though I do have a sweet tooth. I resisted buying a bottle only because I’m rather well served on the alcohol front at the moment, but as a lover of sweet liqueurs, either neat or for mixing, a bottle shall be mine before too long!
I’ve read a lot about Sipsmith in the food and drink blogging and twitter community. Not only are they a popular drink, they also excel at arranging great events that generate much excitement and admiration. So it was nice to finally meet them in person. I shall definitely be taking them up on their invite to visit them at their distillery/ office! Especially as I didn’t make it back for their earl grey martinis!
I must confess that I’ve heard of verjuice as an ingredient, I even know that the name comes from the French for green juice. But I didn’t really know what was like. So it was good to try it at this South African producer’s stand.
The Verjuice Co
Last year I did much better at tasting the produce from various meat suppliers. I failed miserably on that this year, perhaps partly because I’ve found some great suppliers in the intervening 12 months, so am not looking so hard for alternatives. But I did appreciate the chance to try British chorizo from The Bath Pig (very nice indeed) and some absolutely great biltong from both Laverstoke Park Farm and another supplier, whose name I failed completely to note down.
The Bath Pig
I did quite well on the magazine front.
I extended my subscription to Food & Travel magazine, which has gone from strength to strength under the guidance of editor, Charlotte Swift, who took the helm a couple of years ago. As a very keen traveller, I really love the content and it’s very rare indeed that a single issue doesn’t have me longing to plan several trips immediately! As a plus, the subscription currently comes with a Riverford Organics veg box plus a copy of their cookery book.
I also purchased 6 issues of Fork magazine. I’d bought their first couple of issues online and had also come home with some more after attending the Bristol Organic Food Festival last autumn. And very pleased I am too – I read the first issue of my subscription on the tube home and absolutely loved a fabulous interview with Racine‘s Henry Harris by friend and food and drink writer, Douglas Blyde.
Talking of friends, it was fun to meet my fine friend Meemalee‘s cousin Lily, and her Yum Yum Tree Fudges! And nice to hear my name called out by Sugargrain’s Caroline, a friend I met at last year’s Covent Garden Real Food Market.
Yum Yum Tree Fudge and Sugargrain
And I finally met Kate from Gower Gottage Brownies, which was lovely, felt like meeting a long lost friend. Thanks for the brownies, Kate!
I also loved witnessing some very fine rants by those who’d signed up to take part in Rude Health’s rant session. FoodUrchin Dan’s poetic rant about inanimate kitchen tools made me giggle and I did well to avoid the pappy white slices thrown at the audience by Richard Bertinet, shouting out for Real Bread.
Some of the fine Rude Health ranters
Oh and I rather enjoyed trying Rude Health’s granola too, as it happens!
To round off, here’s a photo of me borrowing Sam Bompas’s fine Mad Hatter’s tophat, and enjoying a fine Bompas and Parr gin and tea jelly castle (made with one of Henrietta’s fine teas).
Kavey, jelly and tophat
PS If last year was the year of the cupcakes (not sorry to see a whole lot less of those, quite frankly) this year seems to be the year of rapeseed oil – who knew there were quite so many producers of this golden yellow liquid? Real Food Festival must have found every single one! And how lax am I – I didn’t try any of them! For shame!
Would love to hear about your favourite finds at the Real Food Festival this year!