This time last year as I was breaking on to the food blogging scene (perhaps a bit dramatic…) I went to my first food festival by Oakleigh Fairs. You can find the write-up of last year here: East of England Food Festival.
This year, with a notebook and camera in hand, I knew I couldn’t miss it come rain or shine! So on Sunday the 22nd of April, I drove up the long drive to Knebworth House to be confronted by a sea of cars the marquees poking above the trees just over the hill. Unlike the day before, the sun was shining, so I was hopeful for the food filled day ahead!
There were three main marquees, 1 for crafts which was a little larger than last year and 2 filled with various food stalls including everything from breads and oils to cider and sweets!
Within minutes of entering the first food marquee my partner had bought a delicious red onion and stilton loaf! So much for being sensible and checking out all of the stalls before buying! But, to be honest it was worth it. The loaf is has a lovely crust, slightly crisp but soft enough to tear, and topped with beautiful stilton cheese the red onion running through the rest of the loaf. (We are hoping to enjoy the rest of it with a delicious terrine we brought made from nettles, wild garlic and clever (the long plant that sticks to clothes, you may know it better as sticky willy) as well as other vegetables.
Who ate all the pies!?
The next stall we stumbled across was the Lime Tree PantryFarm. They were selling a variety of meat and fruit pies. I had the chance to taste the chicken and leak pie and was pleasantly surprised. I find chicken, ham and leak are often swimming in sauce or too dry! This was perfectly balanced. The chicken was well combined with the sauce which was a lovely texture in the mouth. I could’ve eaten a whole pie to myself! In the end we chose to go for the Game and Red Wine pie! We will be having that for dinner tonight with mash potato and veg from our garden.
Seasonings and Salts…
After wandering around tasting the many freebies on offer I was next drawn to the Flavour Magic stall. They had a number of seasonings/rubs which could be used to flavour meat, fish or salads. The rubs could also be mixed with oil to make a dipping sauce. I was impressed mostly with the concept of the seasonings. They were a mix of rock salt and other herbs and spices which when ground and added to a tomato as a sample added a whole new world of flavour. I was particularly impressed with the lemon and dill seasoning which I hope to use in salads, on fish and white meat. It is such a simple concept and they were brilliantly priced at 3 for £10 including the flavour magic grinder.
If you have read my post from last year, you will notice a few familiar names this year. One of which was Lymn Bank Farm who specialise in hand made cheeses. We tried 4 cheeses; the Brewers Choice, Two Smoking Barrels, the Apricot, Chilli and Lime Cheese and a Tomato and Basil Cheese. The Brewers choice was extremely creamy and a little smoky, but when compared to the two smoking barrels didn’t quite stand up. So with the offer being 3 for £6.50 we went for the two smoking barrels, the apricot chilli and lime (a deliciously fruity cheese! No chutney needed!) and the tomato and basil. I imagine this as a delicious topping on Italian dishes, in particular home-made pizza!
A tipple or two
After eating our way through the first half of the first marquee we decided to have a little drink with Tispsy Fruit Gins Ltd. The tipsy gins are developed from an old English liqueur recipe. We tried the lime vodka, as well as the sloe and damson gin. Now I am a big, big gin drinker so this stall was right up my street! Comparing the stalls sloe gin with the Gordon’s sloe gin we have at home the taste is so much richer. The damson gin however was something else! It was so fruity it slipped down extremely easily so, of course we had to have a bottle of that!
Next it was time to head over to one of the ‘Good Taste Pavilions’ for a Wine Tasting. We went to the wine tasting last year which was specifically about matching wine to food and how you should deliberately contrast the wine with your food. This tasting however was more about techniques. Looking (for the colour, the clarity, the shine and legs), sniffing to see what aromas come from the wine and tasting. What I found most interesting about the tasting stage was that what you tasted initially as the liquid was in your mouth was not necessarily what you had smelt. The aromas you smelt often came a little later on the length of the wine, the taste left in your mouth. We tried one white and two reds – all of which I could quite happily have drunk.
Ian Webb of Aldeby Wines was an extremely engaging gentleman and I felt the talk was extremely informative. My partner was particularly happy that when he discussed what vegetarian food might go nicely with the wines!
A baker’s dozen…
Once the wine tasting had finished we headed back into the marquees. There was a particularly large stall which was extremely popular throughout the day called The Foccacia Thrill. They sold a variety of breads and pastries including some enormous chocolate éclairs! Jonny decided to grab his lunch from here and went for a vegetarian turnover – essentially a puff pastry twist filled with courgette, peppers and poppy seeds. He then had a cherry almond Danish! They were excellent value for money.
One of my favourite things about the day however was the people! Most of the sellers were extremely friendly, they were all happy for you to dig in a try one of everything they had on offer, and maybe even go back for another try if you were still unsure. They were also extremely knowledgeable about the manufacturing process, the ingredients, and anything else you might want to ask! The Cheese and Pie Man was particularly lovely! He had a beautifully presented stall and soon convinced us to buy some of his pies. These, shaped like individual pork pies were filled with all sorts of delicious meats. We went for a venison with tomato and chilli jam pie, as well as a duck and orange pie!
Too much chutney choice!
Now, I have to be honest, one down side was the sheer number of chutney stalls, all of which were selling pretty much the same flavours. But, it did give me a good chance to do some comparisons, and I can now confirm the Kitchen Goddess (in training!) award for the best Onion Marmalade goes to The Cherry Tree! Promise me you will keep an eye out for them in the future! They also did a really really good spicy red onion marmalade which I think would be good with cheese bread! Surprisingly, it’s not too sweet.
Ham, sausage, and satans twinkle…
One of the more original stalls was Forrest Foods. They sold a variety of hams and smoked sausages including their Chimney and Village varieties. Their lakeside ham was a particular favourite of mine!
I’ve already mentioned Lymn Bank Farm which both years has really impressed me with their selection and quality of cheeses, but Drummonds of Hertford Cheese Cco deserves a special mention for its spicy “Satan’s Twinkle” cheese. It was beautifully creamy but really was ‘hot as hell!’
There were two Indian stalls that also particularly impressed. Anila’s Authentic Sauces are celebrating the 20thbirthday this year which is brilliant! I first discovered them last year and took their Hot Methi sauce back to university with me. This year I had a try of their more subtly flavoured sauces. Although I do love a hot curry I wanted to branch out. In the end I settled on their Green Goan Curry. I had some very good advice and now have a recipe for Goan fish curry in mind! Meah’sRestaurant style sauces also impressed! They were giving piping hot samples which really helped get a good idea of what the sauces would taste like in a real meal. They also did exactly what they said on the tub – they really were of restaurant quality which is often rare at these type of fairs. Although the food at these fairs are delicious they are often more rustic which is part of the charm, but Meah’s went above and beyond.
I also spent the latter half of the day hunting down the Bhaji man! Gluten free, no artificial preservatives, no artificial colourings, no artificial additives and no added salt, this mix really does make the perfect onion bhaji’s every time! (Perhaps buy a pack of this and serve the onion bhaji’s with your Meah’s restaurant style curry?)
As with chutney’s, there were also a lot of sausage stalls, but I won’t complain as they were all offering piping hot sausage samples! Particular sausage highlights for me were the New Market Pork sausages from Musks Ltd. The recipe is 130years old and is one of the best quality pure pork sausages I have tried. The Giggly Pig also impressed as they had one of the largest selection of flavours. Their Welsh Dragon was much more subtle than I thought but I definitely picked up a strong pork flavour and perhaps some leek? The stilton and asparagus sausage was one of my favourites! It was so original and had a lovely earthy taste! If I could have got them back to Nottingham in time I would have bought a pack or 5. Their pork and wild mushroom was also one I would recommend.
There were many more stalls that I could have discussed here but I think I’ve probably already bored you senseless! But I would definitely recommend everyone I have mentioned so far.
Oakleigh fairs put on another wonderful East of England Food Festival, I just wished that I had been able to see a few more of the food demonstrations. I will be looking forward to attending another festival in a years time.