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.
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.
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!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.