Move over Glastonbury, Y Not and Download, the hottest festivals in the UK this year are more likely to feature ciabatta than The Cure. While some hardy folk still enjoy wading through slippery mud and vegan jugglers at music festivals – everyone, and their Labrador, loves a food festival.
They are everywhere and so the headline acts have to be increasingly more-ish to stand-out (chicken wings and whisky weekender anyone?). On the day I decided to swan off to Ashbourne Food Fest’ – lured by a tasty line-up of the Cheddleton cheeses, giant sausage rolls and sweet chilli jam – I had to turn down my VIP pass to a man v doughnuts challenge at the Big Food Festival on Shipley Park.
“Food festivals are such a great way to spend a weekend,” enthuses Lisa Wallace, owner of Ashbourne Bakehouse and organiser of the food fest’ held in Victoria Square as part of the Ashbourne Festival. “One of the reasons I wanted Ashbourne to have one is that I’m a food festival groupie myself – much to my husband’s dismay.”
Lisa originally tried an on-line market selling food to a select group of local producers but, while the idea attracted hundreds of followers on social media, it only converted into a handful of customers.
“I think people want to meet the people and hear the story behind the food,” Lisa said to explain why the real-life food festival was such an instant success when it launched last year. “Like me, I think food festival-goers are excited by new things but they also want to try before they buy. The festival is a lot of fun and I’m pleased to say all of the producers asked to come back next year. It’s good for the town because people come up and say ‘Oh wow – Ashbourne is so lovely’.”
While many of the UK’s food festivals are big productions featuring live cooking demonstrations, celebrity chefs and even pop-up cookery bookshops, Lisa was keen to keep Ashbourne’s ‘little and local’.
“It was never about creating a profit stream, it’s a way of promoting great producers who don’t always have a shop window,” she says. “The stall-holders are chosen carefully so they complement each other. If someone buys my sour-dough bread I’ll recommend some Staffordshire cheese and a jar of Sarah Ball’s chutney from the neighbouring stalls. In fact, it’s a perfect blend of stalls if someone can get a complete meal – with drinks – from the festival complete with after-dinner chocolates and great coffee.”
For details of the forthcoming Christmas foodie events, contact Lisa Wallace, Ashbourne Bakehouse, 29 Market Place, Ashbourne 01335 347206.
‘Taste Derbyshire’ writer Amanda Volley was despatched with wicker basket in hand to the Ashbourne Food Fest’ to grill some of the stall-holders and ask the burning question ‘Have you got any free samples?’
Kniveton Cider Company
It was seeing so many apples left to rot on the ground in and around Kniveton which sparked an idea in the mind of locals Kev Woolley, wife Hannah Barton and a group of their friends.
“It was such a waste of drinkable apples,” Kev smiles in a way which lets you know he wasn’t thinking of pressing them into non-alcoholic juice. We all chipped in to buy the equipment to make 800 litres of cider. Trouble was, we gathered so many apples we couldn’t drink the lot and approached local pubs to see if they wanted the surplus.”
That was the start of the commercial operation which saw the soon-to-be cider company double the production of their award-winning ciders (Never Mind the Hillocks, Four in a Corner, Wynnsum and OB1) every year.
It was so successful Kev had to look for larger premises and – as the original friends dropped out – give up his job to work on cider production full-time.
“I worked in pubs before I got a proper job. Ironically, I then had to give it up to work with booze again,” he laughs. Festivals and markets are how we like to retail it,” says Hannah who is the only woman on the board of SICA (Small Independent Cidermaker’s Association). “We now stock seven pubs but we still rely on friends and family for apples from their trees. In fact, we collect from trees just 500 metres from this very market stall…you can’t get more local than that.”
Find out more about Kniveton Cider Company by visiting
Cup and Saucer
A passion for good tea and food festivals saw Gail Hannan having a light-bulb moment when she was made redundant after spending 15 years working in the social care sector.
“I went to lots of food festivals and markets and, as a tea enthusiast, I didn’t see anyone doing any exciting loose-leaf tea blends,” says Gail, of North Wingfield. “I’d always wanted to be my own boss but it was my daughter Jess (28), who provided the push. She’s one of those annoying optimists who told me redundancy wasn’t an ending but an opportunity to pursue my dream – and she was right.”
Although Gail is at pains to stress she doesn’t grow the tea – it’s a bit too chilly in North East Derbyshire – she perfects the blends by hand, often using fruit and flowers she has grown and dried.
“I’m forever coming up with ideas for blends,” Gail smiles when I survey shelves bursting with tea blends which helped her win Chesterfield Food Producer of the Year at last year’s food and drinks awards. The best part of what I do is taking those blends to food festivals and meeting people. Funnily enough, I thought I’d be mostly selling to older people but they’re the ones who say ‘I prefer Typhoo’ when I ask them to sample something like my ‘Roaring Rhubarb’ blend. Younger people are far more adventurous with tea.”
As for tourists who visit Derbyshire food festivals, Gail says she can predict the teas which will end up in their pots.
“Tourists loves the ones which are inspired by the Peak District like ‘Calm Castleton’,” she says. It’s made from Egyptian chamomile flowers so it’s perfect for helping people sleep and have dreams about pretty Derbyshire villages.”
For information on Gail’s teas contact her by email
Whereas most people are content to simply devour chocolate, John Cowings devotes hours of his spare-time to the labour-intensive process of turning humble cacoa beans into fine quality chocolate bars and filled truffles.
“It used to take around 30 hours to grind the beans as I only had a wooden board and a spatula,” he laughs. “Now I do it with a self-made winnowing contraption which has lots of tubes and a vacuum attached. It’s worth the effort as the first thing people say is ‘I have never tasted chocolate like it’.”
To scan John’s shelves is to take a tour of the world’s finest single source chocolate; from Bolivian Alto Beni (hints of prunes) to Peru Gran Chillique, which has notes of pineapple but, despite the name, no chilli.
John fits his chocolate-making around his full-time council job and duties as a trade union representative.
“I even use my Christmas holidays as a time to make chocolate,” he smiles. My weekends tend to be taken up with food festivals but I love them as people are always keen to hear the provenance of the chocolate. I think they’re amazed that beans grown on a tiny farm in St Vincent can end up as a bar of chocolate on sale at a festival in Ashbourne.”
For more information about Cacoa Elora, contact John Cowings on 07712 171080
It says everything about the quality of Adrianno Rose’s product when his coffee, roasted in Melbourne, is not only a favourite of racing driver Bruno Senna but also of his own dad Graham; a man who doesn’t like coffee.
“Graham likes it because, as our saying goes, the coffee is ‘smoother than a tiger in a tuxedo’,” laughs proud mum Diana Rose. “He’s been going for 12 years now and it’s been so successful, it’s now his full-time business.”
According to Diana, her son had the idea to develop the brand while working in sport’s marketing and hospitality; a job which often took him to motor racing events.
“Adrianno often found he couldn’t get quality coffee and so he decided to make his own blend of espresso using Brazilian arabica beans,” she explains. “He started selling the coffee in select high-street retailers like Harvey Nichols but found it was more rewarding to sell direct to the public. He can often be booked for several events on a weekend and, since retiring, I’m happy to help out. I love chatting to people about the brand and, if I have any questions, Adrianno is at the end of the phone. He usually responds with ‘don’t stress, just enjoy it’.”
To order on-line visit the website www.azorieblue.co.uk
“People do strange things with our liqueurs like pouring them on ice cream but I prefer it neat,” laughs Adrian Hogg who, with partner Mike Norton, turned their passion for making fruity booze into a business four years ago.
“We’d been making sloe gin but wanted to try to make a liqueur using traditional fruits. We’d take them to BBQs and people would try to buy it. We went from 25 litre demi-johns to a commercial operation making over 200 litres in steel vats.”
Hogg Norton liqueurs take the form of ‘core’ flavours of spiced plum, strawberry, raspberry, mixed berry and blackberry and star anise, but the men are always looking to try something new.
“Mike’s currently growing gooseberries so we can start making a new blend after the harvest in November,” says Adrian whose business is based at Igmanthorpe Farm in North Chesterfield. “We’re always being invited to attend food fairs – like the posh one at Blenheim Palace – and customers always make a bee-line for us. Before they taste it, people assume it’s flavoured vodka or gin but say it’s something completely different and intoxicatingly good.”
To find out more, email Adrian Hogg at firstname.lastname@example.org