One thing we try and do every year is get over to the Cheltenham Food Festival. We’ll take a Friday off work and head over to the Montpellier Gardens for about 1pm. We’ve really enjoyed it in previous years and always look forward to the atmosphere, free samples, free wine tasting and great selection of food stalls.
As always we enjoyed this year too, as you may have seen from the Instagram pictures on the day. We arrived at the normal time and grabbed some lunch. Helen had her annual softshell crab with chilli sauce in a wrap and I grabbed a beef fajita with all the trimmings. Both were fantastic!
We had a quick look around before heading to the first talk about sustainable farming with Coombe Farm. We also saw some amazingly colourful cheese that was orange, red and green. Unfortunately (for me) the seller was busy serving (great for him) so I couldn’t ask what it was.
Coombe Farm were great. The Farm Manager (I believe) was presenting about how they like to be organic and fully sustainable. They recycle pretty much everything and also power their farm from solar panels (as much as they can). They really are doing an amazing job at keeping their farm, and associated farms, in a position to continue forward for a long time to come.
They were at the festival to show off their frozen meat boxes. Everything they offer is top quality and frozen extremely quickly to make sure it stays at it’s best. They have worked hard to make sure their boxes are sustainable too, thick cardboard boxes with sheep’s wool lining and re-usable freezer packs. They can keep their meat frozen for up to 36 hours in these boxes. Their biggest driver for this was that their customers hated the large white polystyrene boxes as they were so hard to get rid of and were not environmentally friendly.
After the Coombe Farm talk we got to the next tent across as soon as we could to get into the wine tasting for natural wines. Natural wines are organic but go further as nothing is added to the vines or wine at bottling. They don’t even water the vines as this isn’t the natural way. I’m not sure my palate is good enough to know the difference between natural and not, however I like the idea and none of the wines seemed overly expensive considering they’re probably better for the environment.
After the tasting we walked around some more. The selection of stalls is OK, there are some really nice local producers of honey, cheese, meats and other food that I love trying and buying. The problem is that there seems to be a number of non-local or non-producers mixed in.
What I mean is that I love that the Wiltshire Beekeeper is there with a host of other small producers, they’re are what the festival is all about. I’m not sure that two stalls selling what looks like the same packs of olives and baklava is really in keeping. Everything comes out of large plastic pots that have probably been bought wholesale, where is the dedication, what’s the story, the history?
In 2014 Helen and I went to see the Wiltshire Beekeeper talk about how he looks after his bees, his history and everything about the profession. He was great! I loved chatting with him and learning about the processes. He had a great story and I could go and buy that honey from his stall knowing that bees flying around about 30 miles away. I’m not saying I don’t want olives or baklava at the festival, but I want to know where it’s come from, how it was harvested or produced and why it’s special.
We then went to another wine tasting with The Wine Tipster, Neil Phillips about Beronia wines. It was a great talk with some great interaction, I would always recommend going to see Neil Phillips he’s funny and really knows his stuff. After this we went to our first whiskey talk.
When we walked into the tent it was a shock to see that we were basically given 6 servings of whiskey from The Glenlivet distillery. Shock in a good way of course, I wasn’t expecting to get what might cost a total of £35-£50 in any bar or restaurant (probably more depending on where you like to drink). Phil Huckle, the UK Brand Ambassador for The Glenlivet distillery was a great host.
Phil was friendly, funny and had some great facts about the history of the distillery. He was charismatic and seemed to love what he does. He talked us through the whiskeys which we tasted both with and without water, it was interesting to taste the difference water can make, it really brings out the flavour and reduces the burn.
Three of the whiskeys were what’s called cask whiskeys which were over 60% and extremely nice – if you like a strong whiskey of course. I loved this tasting and would do it again, unfortunately as I’d had a beer and two lots of wine I thought it best not to finish them all as I may not have made it home quite as easily as I got there.
So comes the end of this years visit. Helen and I enjoyed ourselves immensely as we always do and we will keep going as long as we can. I think it is worth the money to get in if you’re going for the wine tasting or talks, however I would not pay to get in just to grab some food and look around. I believe it’s £7 a ticket on a Saturday and Sunday which for what could be 5-6 wine tastings and a couple of food talks is good value.
I do believe however, that you shouldn’t be charged for just wanting to look around. They would attract a lot more visitors and passers by if it was free to look around, like a normal food market. They could then charge a flat fee for a wrist-band that allowed them access to the talks and tastings.
I say this as when walking around I heard some stall holders talking about not selling enough to make it worth the cost of the pitch. I imagine this is because people spending £7 to get in won’t be as ready to part with more money for food as a person who is looking around for free.
So, the £7 is amazing value for the talks, so why not just charge for them? That’s what I go for, the food stalls are a bonus. Bring on 2017!