If you were one of the 43,000 who visited this year’s Cornwall Food & Drink Festival in the last three days you’ll know that Cornwall’s food and drink, and all the industries associated with it, are pretty special.
The food and drink pavilion wasn’t filled with homely-but-a-little-amateurish WI type sponge cakes, and jars of jam and marmalade; or in the other extreme, with expansive corporate sales pitches from big food businesses. The catering offerings weren’t greasy chips and burgers or limp ham rolls and the top chefs weren’t brought in from other regions.
The reality, in fact, is so good: the quality, integrity, and passion; sometimes you have to pinch yourself, that what you are actually seeing is just the top rim of a proverbial horn of plenty.
Limited only by the space available on Lemon Quay, you can bet there are dozens and dozens of other food retailers, producers and chefs putting their names down now to be at next year’s festival. Tired and exhausted, they may be, but the twitter buzz is already showing evidence of festival withdrawal symptoms.
One of the best aspects is the sheer friendliness. You don’t pop into the festival for a few minutes to see what’s going on, you lose yourself in it for hours. Bumping into old and new friends, the pleasure as much in the dialogue as the sampling of great foodstuffs.
There’s one event (I’m now going to strongly advise you book and pay for now for they’ll be many others trying to elbow their way to a place at a table) is the Magnificent Seven Dinner (or #Mag7 if you are a ‘tweeter’). This is the ultimate in pop up restaurants, held in the festival marquee the night before opening, in which all the dishes cooked from Cornish ingredients by the seven best chefs in Cornwall. Where else can that kind of thing happen?
I didn’t go and listing to the exuberant twitter talk felt more determined to catch the other fringe event – Champions’ night.
“I won’t be late,” I told the kids, “be good for Grandpa” who’d been good enough to be the responsible adult at home. It sounded like some early evening drink and nibbles, the prequel to a proper dinner or a lazy settling back home again in front of the telly. How wrong could I be?
The Champions were:
Camel Valley Vineyard who have accrued an impressive trophy cabinet of wine awards including ‘Best Sparkling Rose in the World (including Champagne)’. We started with a glass or two of that with some Cornish Oysters to balance nicely.
Cornish Blue, made by Philip Stansfield who, in nine years went from making cheese for the first time as a need to get a better return on his milk, won Supreme Champion at the World Cheese Awards in 2010. “It gets up the noses of other cheese makers from across the world, who have been making the stuff for generations, that we have done so well,” he said, “…and more so when they discover that we only make the one type of cheese”
St. Austell Brewery, as one of Cornwall’s oldest family businesses, is well established. 150 years and now run by the fifth generation won the World’s Best Amber Ale at the World Beer Awards 2010 with their Admiral’s Ale.
The soiree, held at the Lemon Street Market Cafe’, started with sparking champagne and cheese straws (I like to think these might have been the Nathan Outlaw/ Davidstow ones). The evening unfolded as the ultimate tasty cheesy nibbles / cheesy tasting supper with talks. Kind of what you’s expect. We learned a little of the winning secrets from Bob Lindo (who first planted the vines at Camel Valley with his wife Annie) and Philip Stansfield of the Cornish Cheese Company. We were given the rudiments of wine tasting and appreciation from Tom Hancock of Bustophers in Truro while we sampled three types of wine.
We then went one to sample beers; from the award-winning Admiral’s, Proper Job a deliciously refreshing IPA, the extraordinary Smugglers Grand Cru at 11.5% that has been aged in whiskey casks and finished in the bottle using a Méthode Champenoise at the Camel Valley Vineyard. Finally we were given a 30-year-old bottle beer that had been brewed to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Di. It was still good and I hope this was to demonstrate how well it would keep rather than to poison us…..
The only thing missing, might have been a quiz, since I was the only one who volunteered that I knew that Tribute, brewed original for the Solar Eclipse in 1999, had started life with the name Daylight Robbery.
Tasting champion products was fantastic fun. It started with a warm glow of pride that Cornwall has proved to be World Class, it got more giggly and cheesy with jokes and full of bonhomie as the night progressed. It ended not much before midnight. Afterwards, I drove home cautiously as I could in the Grand Cru -ser and slept that night dreaming of Admirals and Smugglers drawing cheese straws with other Champions to down the last bottle of the Royal Wedding Brew. I won’t forget the evening although the detail (too much cheese I suspect) is now a little surreal.
- Preview of the Cornwall Food and Drink Festival 23 – 25 September (beyondthepasty.wordpress.com)
- Seriously? Cornish Whiskey? (beyondthepasty.wordpress.com)
- First batch of Whiskey made in Cornwall in 300 years (telegraph.co.uk)