The annual show – held this year at Westland nurseries in Offenham, just outside Evesham – showcased some outstanding artisan food producers. We were also treated to some fascinating demonstrations by some of the UK’s most exciting chefs, hosted by the inimitable Nigel Barden.
It’s a relatively small show, held this year in one of Westland’s greenhouses. But that was all part of the charm. We found the show the perfect size. It was easy to get around and see everyone exhibiting in one day, with enough time to have a chat and get to know the people behind the producers.
And what superb producers they were, too. On walking through the entrance, we were assailed by the delicious smell of beef, wafting from the Henson stand. We couldn’t resist a taste, obviously, and were treated to some amazing, melt-in the-mouth meat. I could’ve stayed there all day, were it not for all the other great tastes on offer.
Our next stop as we made our way along to the main stage was Barber’s, to sample some outstanding cheddar. I’m not a big fan of really mature cheeses – or cheddar itself, to be honest – but even I was won over by their hard-hitting vintage reserve cheddar. I also have to mention the rather interesting courgette flower I sampled courtesy of the guys at Farrington’s Oils, cooked in their Mellow Yellow rapeseed oil. That was a completely new experience for me.
We finally made it to the main stage in time for the day’s second presentation, Not Missing the Meat. Chefs Eddie Shepherd of Walled Gardens, Andrew Dargue from Vanilla Black and Chris Greenacre served up some great plant-based dishes, guaranteed to captivate even the most ardent meat-eater. I found Eddie’s set-up particularly interesting. Walled Gardens is an ‘underground’ restaurant in Whalley Range, Manchester, which offers a 10-course vegetarian tasting menu for just eight diners a night. I was blown away by the dishes the chefs were preparing – almost enough to make me consider going veggie. For a few seconds, at least.
The highlight for me, though, was Gareth Ward’s and Tom Beeston’s ‘Going native’ demonstration. Gareth, of Michelin-starred restaurant-with-rooms Ynyshir in Wales, and his colleague Nathan, appeared to have pretty much a full lamb with them, which they went on to serve up in the most outstanding ways. All through the demo, their passion for what they do really shone through.
The day got even more educational. We snagged ourself a place on one of the Westland tours – ours took us ‘Behind the seed’ to show us how Westland produce their top-quality micro-leaves. I also spent more than an hour in the company of the Spice Nerds from herb and spice supplier Santa Maria. The team there are on a mission to get more people, and especially chefs, thinking about where their herbs and spices come from. It was a fun and instructive session – I certainly know far more about pepper than I ever thought I’d need to – made even more memorable by the discovery we’d been locked the van at the end.
We escaped, though, just in time to catch a refreshing, gluten-free beer supplied by Green’s. The company does a great range in gluten-free, all brewed in Belgium. Among the beers on the stand they had a clean, crisp lager and their absolutely fabulous grand India pale all, which packs a real hoppy punch.
There was plenty more to enjoy of course – far more than I’ve time to note down. It was a great day that showcased some of the finest artisan food the UK has to offer. But, most importantly, it was a chance to meet some wonderful people. We can’t wait for next year.