A family day out at the Forest Showcase Food & Drink Festival leads me to ask: What makes a great food festival?
By Joshua Williams
“I think we should split up,” I said.
“It can’t be helped,” I comforted her, “It’s the smell…”
Oh, I should explain. We had just arrived in the main courtyard of the Forest Showcase Food & Drink Festival. “We,” being my mum and I.
“At least wait for Tim. He’s just getting the dog.”
“Nope, that food just smells too good. I’ve got to get something now.”
The only thing better than fresh air, is fresh air scented with fresh bread, chutneys, cider and hog roast drifting on the breeze. When you’re hungry after a long drive it’s enough to make you neglect your own mother. Tim, my step-dad, arrived and agreed that we should follow our stomachs and meet back in the same spot after we’d had a decent meal to set us up for the day. There was only one thing to do: Get me some food … Sorry, two things: And a beer.
I wanted to save my food-stall taster nibbling for later, though the pastries and steamed puddings and cakes and chutneys and fresh fruits very nearly broke me. I finally came back with a venison frankfurter from Native Breeds and an easy-drinking session pale ale from Hillside Brewery; the perfect way to get the ball rolling, while leaving just enough space for some serious taster nibbling going forward. Tim soon joined me, holding a huge hog-roast burger in one hand, a dark bitter in the other, and sauce all over his chin. He held up the burger, nodded, and, with a mouthful of food, uttered something along the lines of: “ummbaweeboble.”
We could see mum doing her usual: claiming she was on a diet, while simultaneously trying every single taster from every singe stall, and covertly eating enough to fill the Wye Valley twice. As the owner of Bloomfields Delicatessen in Wiltshire, she was combining a family day out with a hunt for new contacts and suppliers, so she had good reason to hit the tasters. But still, you should have seen her eat. She seemed busy, so rather than disturb, me and Tim decided to lighten her work load. You see, she sells local ales and cider in her deli, and being the helpful son I am, and Tim the conscientious husband he is — we went to get us another pint.
Mum found us by the music tent watching a fiddle-led folk band and desperately fighting the urge to break into a jig. As well as a bag bursting with pies and cheeses and veg, and sprinkled with dozens of business cards, she also had my aunty Jan and ten and twelve-year-old niece and nephew. They politely said “hi”, then span around to ask their mum if they could feed the goats now. This turned out to be a common occurrence. They would run up, ask with huge grins if they could go and feed the goats, or make vegetable creatures, or watch the brass band, and then run away again before the “yes” was fully voiced. They had everything they could want. Then again, I thought as I washed down a mini pork-pie with a swig of Loiterpin Champagne Perry and tapped my foot to the fiddle, so did I.
There was something for all of us. By the end of the day I had tasted an unbelievably wide array of food and drink, made more unbelievable by the fact it was almost exclusively produced in and around the Forest of Dean. I had tasted my first ever glass of Champagne Perry, from McCrindle’s Cider, and bought two bottles to take home. I had picked up some much-needed tips watching cookery demos. I had listened to some great local music. I had drunk some great local alcohol. I had probably drunk a little too much great local alcohol. Jan and the kids had taken part in a parent and child cookery workshop, and the kids had learnt how to juggle, and Jan had learnt that the kids could cook for themselves. Mum had had the foresight to buy christmas gifts from the amazing Arts & Crafts tent, including for her six-month grandson. Mum had tasted every item under the sun — or under the marquee at least — and built new contacts (three of whom would become regular suppliers). Mum had bumped into friends and family and danced to the fiddle. And Tim … well Tim had eaten an ungodly amount of food.
So, what makes a great food festival?
Go to the Forest Showcase and find out for yourself.