My Dartmouth Food Festival

Dartmouth Food Festival

Last week, the town of Dartmouth was host to the 14th annual Dartmouth Food Festival. A festival where the whole town embraces this free event and plays host to approximately 20,000 visitors over the three days. Stalls and food tents line the picturesque harbour and riverside while the Royal Avenue Gardens house the demonstration tents. Famous chefs, cooks and foodies share their knowledge to eager audiences with tastings, demonstrations and “how to’s” throughout the festival with most of the events being free of charge. Some of the tasting events have a nominal fee to cover costs. Visitors like myself were left to browse the event with about 120 producers to choose from and around 75% of those producers coming from Devon itself. Perfect for a local foodie like myself. I always try and champion local producers and artisans whenever I can so it was an absolute joy for me to chat to old friends (Louise’s Larder, Quicke’s Cheese, Clare’s Preserves and the Blueberry Brothers) as well as make new ones (Let Them Eat and Uglibun).

Mitch Tonks, one of Dartmouths most influential chefs, made a welcome return to show off his culinary skills in the demonstration tent. Alongside him Romy Gill MBE showed the crowds how to create wonderful Indian inspired dishes whilst Matt Tebbutt, Tom Parker-Bowles and Mark Hicks to name but a few dazzled the onlookers by creating some magic of their own.

Susy Atkins, author and broadcaster, was on hand at Browns Hotel to impart her knowledge on wonderful wines along with a series of guests.

I was lucky enough to attend a sherry tasting called “Think you Know Sherry? Think again!” at Browns Hotel. Suzy and Fiona Beckett, a food journalist and blogger who often writes for The Guardian newspaper were hosting. The two of them eased us through an informal yet incredibly informative tasting. We sampled 6 sherries from the dry (Fino and Manzanilla) to the dark and sweet Pedro Ximenez. Their combined knowledge alongside their ability to pair each sherry to some wonderful sounding dishes really got me thinking. With national sherry week commencing the 7th November I need to get creative in the kitchen. Perhaps I should crack open a few bottles of my personal favourites from the tasting (the Lastau, Puerto Fino Solera Familiar) to get the creative juices flowing. Fish taco anyone? And for dessert a tiramisu perhaps made with the unctuous Gonzales Byass, Pedro Ximanez Nectar?

Who would have thought there would be so many variances between sherries? I learnt that the region plays a huge part in flavour. For example the Manzanilla sherries from San Luca, which is near the sea, imparts a salty edge to the flavour. Great served with fish and chips believe it or not plus the aforementioned fish taco. You will have to see what recipes I create either using sherry as an ingredient or to serve alongside. There really is a sherry for every foodie occasion. Watch this space!

The sherry tasting with Susy and Fiona was one of the many highlights from my day at the festival. Another was an olive oil tasting with Rosemary Barron. Rosemary has written extensively on food, wine and travel. She has been published in magazines such as the acclaimed Food & Travel, Bon Appetite and Decanter. Rosemary has a wealth of knowledge and I was lucky enough to be in her olive oil tasting group on the Friday. We tasted 5 olive oils from different olive oil growing countries in the Mediterranean. Two from Greece, two from Italy and one from Spain.

Each oil being a different colour and holding its own characteristics. Both Greek oils smelt grassy, one of the Italian oils had an aroma of fresh almonds while the Spanish was more floral. Rosie explained you should never judge your oil by colour which I have to admit I have done before. She hinted that dyes can be added to inferior oils so you really shouldn’t judge by the density of the colour. She explained that it’s really important to read the labels. Try and go for an estate olive oil that is made in smaller batches for the best flavour. Also look for a date of production so you know how old the oil is. Olive oil does go off. It doesn’t like air, light, heat or cold. The best place for storage is in a cupboard away from your oven with the lid tightly fitted. This goes against everything I had previously thought so I have made sure that my oil is stored properly now!

Out of the 5 oils we tried I had my favourites and those were the Greek oils. We tried an absolutely awful oil from Lidl of all places that was so bitter that it almost took my breath away. Thank goodness there was bread to cleanse my pallet in between tastings! I learnt a lot from Rosie and have very clear ideas now of what oils I am drawn to and how to taste if they are good or bad. As a keen home cook this new found knowledge should make all the difference in my cooking. Fingers crossed!

Once my tasting experiences were over it was time to mooch around the stalls and pick up a few goodies. Some to nibble on as we walked plus a few to take home. I purchased some delicious Cornish Gouda, some yummy breads as well as the famous uglibun. A Chelsea bun/hot cross bun hybrid that was divine. To drink I was sticking to local wines with Sharpham Vineyard Bacchus being a firm favourite of mine and will purchasing more of that to grace my table at Christmas.

I can’t fault my experience of the Dartmouth Food Festival. The fact that a majority of it is free should appeal to families. Being keen on promoting local producers I really couldn’t have asked for a better selection of stalls. I was spoilt for choice. The weather was an added bonus and the sun was out in full force on the Friday that I was there but have since heard that it shone all weekend which certainly does add to the ambiance and party atmosphere. I will definitely be returning next year and hope to organise my schedule so I can spend more time there. There were so many other demonstrations that I missed and I can’t let that happen next year. Roll on 2017!

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