It’s Cornish food, but who cares?
Walk down any street in any town in Cornwall around lunchtime, it can seem as if every other person has held of a paper bag from which a delicious aroma of potatoes, onions and steak in pasty sally forth. The unmistakable Cornish Pasty, our original ‘street food’. If is wasn’t for the pasty in Cornwall there wouldn’t be the half-dozen bakeries along the high street in every Cornish town. It is not much mentioned, but its certainty taken for granted here, how recession proof and plentiful the shops to buy fresh bread, currant buns, saffron cake, fancy cakes and sweet pastries are in Cornwall.
Of course there’s clotted cream with protected (PDO) status that puts it up there alongside Champagne and Parma Ham. Quality that can’t be imitated. Cornish Food is truly special, added to which our location, with the sea on three sides, and our special climate bathed in the Gulf Stream keeping it wet and mild that makes the quality of our raw ingredients. Artisan producers will wax lyrical about the magic of briney airs, lush all year-round grazing and early springs which breath a subtlety of flavours, sweeter, finer, stronger and better than anything that can be produced in the UK.
Not all that many years ago, things were very different. Your average tourist expected nothing more luxurious than a cream tea, ate fish and chips on the sea-front and would have sampled a pasty or two. I remember when there were only two restaurants in the entire county worthy of special reputation.
In the last decade or so, there has been a huge upswell of skilled food and drink producers, top quality produce and a wealth of talented chefs. Suddenly, and for many incredulously, Cornwall has become, among foodies who know, second to none. The trouble is how do you get the message across to everyone else, who believe it is just more brand Cornwall hype, that it might just be true?
According to Tony Marsland of Cornish Meadow Preserves the ‘buy local message has become too successful. Every county is competing for loyalty from their own, but at the same time trying to stand out as unique. The answer, says David Harford, whose wife is Vicky’s Bread, is to be truly the best. Cornwall has always been at a disadvantage by being a long way from the larger markets. We don’t have a big enough population to eat all of what we produce, so if Cornwall is to reach consumers further afield, and allow our food and drink industry to thrive and grow, Cornwall’s produce must first be better than anywhere else, and secondly it needs ways to land it right into the laps of the capital’s chefs and the mouths of foodie writers and journalists.
Love British Food launched British Food Fortnight (17th September – 2nd October 2011) with a ‘fun’ on-line poll during the summer month to find Britain’s best Food Spot. It gave different countries an excuse to raise a bit more local food support and at the beginning of the summer Hampshire, Lincolnshire and the Isle of Wight seemed to be only areas really trying. Of course, if a poll is going to mean anything you have to let people know of its existence. The 8th Cornwall Food & Drink Festival fell in the middle of British Food Fortnight, and if you are trying to get the media to take notice you need a bit of a story and Cornwall began to spread the word with its ‘Love Cornish Food’ campaign the result was that Cornwall quickly reached the top spot of the poll and the surge of genuine pride in Cornish food began.
That should have been Ok, since this is just a bit of fun, isn’t it? But no, what it whipped up was a storm of stereotypically ‘sausages vs pasties’ food rivalry. Lincolnshire is a region for potatoes and pork and a massive producer of the UK’s food. A population of over 1 million (Cornwall just over 500,00) and as Britain’s 2nd largest county began their own onslaught on the poll, crying ‘Lincolnshire Feeds the Nation!’ in a bullish determination to claim the prize. In the last 5 hours of voting on a Sunday evening, the Lincolnshire votes surged ahead with over 1,000 votes cast in that short space of time. So that’s how Lincolnshire became the best food spot in Britain. Not something that ought to be declared with integrity via a voting system that can’t prevent revotes and manipulation.
I’ve no doubt that Lincolnshire has its own food heritage and passionate and hard working food producers but I’ll always argue for Cornwall. What other region can match the staggering variety and quality on offer here? Blessed by the sea, abundant farmland and a wealth of artisan producers and top chefs and added to which we have salty airs to develop good appetites and the best views to dine for.