Tilting at Windmills: The Cornwall Food and Drink Festival
To paraphrase Don Quixote ‘ This is the Golden Age of Truro’. The ninth Cornwall Food and Drink Festival is, I feel the most important as it now has come of age, indeed a golden age. With a record number of attendees, over 40,000 pouring into Truro this small but contained Cornish town has much to be proud of and to celebrate. A lot of that has to do with the events reluctant but necessary ‘Good Samaritan’. Ruth Huxley took on the task of organizing the festival a few years ago. In 2010 she brought it under the wing of her own company Cornish Food and Drink in doing so the visitor numbers doubled with takings increased by over 150%. This in part has been achieved by being a ‘doer’ who gets things done and the careful and ingenious match funding needed to get things going and stay going.
So, what was there to do and see that has made this festival a must attend event for foodies in the West Country as well as further afield? Well, I could start by mentioning some of the producers who had a presence such as Baker Tom who makes superb bread and has two shops and supplies many others or Davistow cheese makers who I discovered have over £1.5 million pounds worth of cheese in their caves, or Lynher Dairies who produce the wonderful Yarg cheese shouded in nettles. The old guard were not left out – Rodda’s were there in force with not only their splendid clotted cream and fudge but as Belinda Shipp their Marketing Manager pointed out “there are 101 use and excuses for our clotted cream” and that got me thinking about how not only clotted cream could be used in less traditional ways, say as part of Welsh Rarebit with herbs sprinkled on top, but also as a kind of dairy stock cube added at the end of a sauce. Risotto, yes definitely or with brandy for a steak? Yes, the possibilities of using foods out of their comfort zone are endless.
There were chilli and chocolate combinations to taste as well as other spiced chocolate offerings. Beers made with strawberries. Indeed many ways to make food exciting and more interesting.
The festival really does bring everyone in the Cornish food community together. Much of my time was spent watching the region’s finest chefs and food experts demonstrating their crafts. I have never seen a whole deer butchered before or Michelin Stared Nathan Outlaw talking us through the earlier part of his career and the piles of fish he had to fillet in day (it was stacked in piles higher than him and he couldn’t go home until he had done it all!).
Of course this was a chance to show off but in a good way and a chance to spread the word that Cornish food is rather good and rather special. With so many small producers you get a passion that is sadly missing with the bigger players. I met the wonderfully talented head chef Fiona Were of The Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth who hails from New Zealand. She has a real passion for food. She grows it, forages for it, keeps chickens, makes her own cider you name it she has tried it and then still finds enough gumption to go to work and run one of Falmouth’s best restaurants. Truly inspiring is the energy force that Cornwall has created in the food industry in the last decade. People respect and want to enjoy the food produced here.
My journey to the festival was in a small way not dissimilar to that of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. But I was out to fight culinary injustice through chivalry. On the train I was hoping to find new tastes and interesting ideas that would banish the gastric humdrum of railway catering from my mind and stomach. Yes, I was indeed ‘tilting at windmills’ on behalf of everyone who has ever been disappointed with the food on offer on a train. Of course I had no need to worry when I arrived in Truro, from the Venison Burgers to the scrumptious Grumpies pies (which I stocked up on for my return journey – a wise move) I don’t think I had a bad meal or drink the whole time. As Ruth Huxley said “exhibitors, chefs and punters were happy – there was a tangible buzz, for me it has been magical to see all the hard work come to fruition”
Now you may be reading this and think it’s all very well but it has been and gone – well good news readers, the Cornish Food and Drink Live is going on the road and will next appear in Bristol 3 – 4 November 2012. Located in the Brunel’s Old Station next to Bristol Temple Meads the two day event will have much to offer, not only could you experience some of what I have just written and more besides, but you could do most of your Christmas shopping there as many of the producers have wonderful gifts to purchase.
They say that we eat with our eyes, well that to me is exemplified in the word left to us by Cervantes himself – I hope you will find the next festival as ‘quixotic’ as I found Truro.