#gastrognome: festival of south west food & drink

the #gastrognome has been in his element for the last few days what with it being as it was the 2010 Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink.

packed with workshops and demonstrations by world famous chefs like that rotund australian ming-the-merciless-alike that won masterchef last year the scatty woman who always used to be annoyingly chirpy on ready steady cook and exeter’s own one-armed wonder-chef michael caines (i for one continue to be at an utter loss as to why he hasn’t yet ‘tricked out’ his prosthetic arm with a motorised wrist-mech with interchangeable utensil attachments like a giant whisk a dough hook and a pizza-wheel style roto-slicer. opportunity missed).

no of course it’s not really about the nobody chefs that everyone’s pretending to have heard of, what it’s really about is samples. the core of the festival is the giant white tents pitched down the spine of exeter’s northernhay gardens chocked to the gunnels with the cream of the south west’s food and drink crop. some stalls refuse to put out any free tasters of their goods – these stalls are rightly shunned. at those that do it’s all about making sure you recoup your entrance fee (£10 for a weekend ticket) in samples as soon as possible.

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highlights included:

• Sharp’s ‘Orchard’ Cornish Cider: i know several of sharp’s beers very well – not least the near-matchless Doom Bar – but this delicious cider was new to me. it’s crisp well balanced and properly fruity but not over-sweet (unlike so many of the over-priced fashion-ciders) but best of all sharp’s had brought a proper refrigeration system so it was also ice-cold. ahhhh.

Quickes Cheddar: lots of the producers are peddling their latest sun-dried tomato and honey blossom ciabattas or green tea and fennel seed fudge (“you wouldn’t think it works, would you?” – no and it doesn’t). what i like about quickes is that they come every year with two products: their cheddar cheese and their smoked cheddar cheese. both are delicious.

Manna from Devon Double Chocolate Brownies: basically a big slab of yum. no room for flour just things that make them exceptionally rich sticky and good.

Pieminister: hearty pies with various tasty filling served with minted peas and gravy. A true beard moistening treat.

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it’s not all that good though – far from it. there is always far too much loitering in front of stalls whilst beard stroking and fake conversation making and thus blocking people from getting samples. also a sizeable percentage of the attendees are the sort of people to whom it never occurs that walking around in a very crowded place continually staring off into the middle distance and using their faculties solely for the purpose of seeking out their son ‘hugo’/hen-pecked husband/aga information stall of choice or walking in a direction opposed to that in which they are loudly talking is perhaps not that considerate or useful a thing to do.

sunday (denoted ‘family day’) once again proved to be a veritable assault-course of high-end pushchairs (how much bigger can these contraptions get?) and unbelievably slow-walking posh children. all around annoying parents could be heard exclaiming “oh look oliver organic water” and “no lotty you’ve already had a pomegranate and venison pasty and some fair-trade spinach hummous and remember you’ll need some pocket money left for bologna”.

all in all however the festival proved once again to be three days of tasty tr(eats).

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