Som­er­set’s Feast of Flavours

This England - - Contents - An­drea Cowan

It’s time to get your forks at the ready! Sun­day 8th Oc­to­ber sees the re­turn of the Wells Food Fes­ti­val. Set against the back­drop of Eng­land’s small­est city, this is a true Som­er­set com­mu­nity event.

The fes­ti­val is back for the fifth year run­ning and it prom­ises to be big­ger and bet­ter than ever be­fore. From just 3,000 vis­i­tors in the first year, num­bers swelled to 15,000 last year and, with ex­cit­ing plans for 2017, the or­gan­is­ers are hop­ing to en­tice even more vis­i­tors to Wells.

Fes­ti­val founder and di­rec­tor, Paddy O’ha­gan, ex­plains how the idea for the event came about: “Look­ing out over Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val and chat­ting with friends one year, we de­cided that if this was Nor­mandy we would be cel­e­brat­ing the won­der­ful va­ri­ety and qual­ity of lo­cal ar­ti­san food and drink. So, why not in Som­er­set? Why not pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for our pro­duc­ers to take cen­tre stage, and in turn sup­port the lo­cal econ­omy and the high street?”

There are two other di­rec­tors of the fes­ti­val: Jon Ab­bott and Char­lotte Steele. To­gether they or­gan­ise the stalls in­clud­ing the se­lec­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion, lay­out and man­age­ment on the day. “The event is en­tirely run by vol­un­teers so we are able to keep our stall costs down, which is ob­vi­ously good for the traders, es­pe­cially the smaller ones,” says Jon. “It is also free to en­ter so it’s a great day out for the fam­ily.”

And why Wells? “It made sense to hold the fes­ti­val here in the heart of Som­er­set,” con­tin­ues Paddy. “There is al­ready an es­tab­lished Farm­ers’ Mar­ket in Wells, voted the best in the South West, so the fes­ti­val re­ally just builds on this. Plus it gives us a chance to show off this beau­ti­ful city!”

Dare I say it, as a re­sult this could be one of the pret­ti­est food fes­ti­vals in Eng­land. It is set up in the me­dieval heart of the city in the Mar­ket Square, with the mag­nif­i­cent, iconic back­drop of Wells Cathe­dral. From the Square, mar­ket stalls weave along the Bishop’s Palace Moat into the re­cre­ation ground, ending in the 15th-cen­tury Bishop’s Barn.

But, as beau­ti­ful as the sur­round­ings might be, ul­ti­mately the fes­ti­val is all about the food. At the heart is the Ar­ti­san Mar­ket, with more than 150 pro­duc­ers and street food ven­dors.

“The event pro­vides pro­duc­ers with a stage to show­case their prod­ucts, to demon­strate prove­nance and high­light great tast­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents,” says Jon. “They are un­der­stand­ably proud of what they do and this is their op­por­tu­nity to re­ally en­gage with the vis­i­tors.”

It’s a melt­ing pot of food and drinks, with one con­di­tion: that lo­cal pro­duce is key to their busi­ness. As a re­sult, vis­i­tors can en­joy some of the best food in the world rang­ing from ar­ti­san cheese and honey through to sushi and Thai, all with Som­er­set at their heart.

“I think that peo­ple are amazed by the di­ver­sity of food and drink pro­duced in Som­er­set,” says Char­lotte. “The fes­ti­val at­tracts a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence to the weekly mar­ket. They want to chat and meet the pro­duc­ers, and our stall hold­ers are al­ways re­ally happy to oblige. The Bath Soft Cheese Com­pany now has some­one work­ing on their stand who was orig­i­nally an en­thu­si­as­tic vis­i­tor to the fes­ti­val a cou­ple of years ago!”

In ad­di­tion to the Ar­ti­san Mar­ket and street food ven­dors there are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties planned to en­sure there is some­thing of in­ter­est for ev­ery­one.

Food ed­u­ca­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity is a key fo­cus for this year, and the Char­lie Bigham Dis­cov­ery Zone will be tak­ing cen­tre stage in the re­cre­ation ground: a large mar­quee packed to the rafters with fun, in­ter­ac­tive and in­for­ma­tive things.

In­no­va­tive com­pa­nies are getting in­volved in­clud­ing Food­cy­cle Bath, an award-win­ning char­ity that com­bines vol­un­teers, sur­plus food from su­per­mar­kets and re­tail­ers, and spare kitchen spa­ces to cre­ate meals for peo­ple at risk from food poverty and so­cial iso­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the char­ity, 15,000,000 tonnes of food is wasted from plough to plate in the UK, and one tonne of sur­plus food is saved each week by Food­cy­cle. There is a long way to go, but it is a move in the right direction. The team at the fes­ti­val will show what can be done with sur­plus food that would oth­er­wise have gone to waste.

Trace­bridge, lo­cated in Welling­ton, is a com­pany based on the ben­e­fits of pick­ling veg­eta­bles. Katie Ven­ner will be demon­strat­ing the art of fer­men­ta­tion show­ing how to make sauer­kraut and kim­chi us­ing the tra­di­tional meth­ods of dry salt­ing. Th­ese an­cient tech­niques are be­ing re­vived by many peo­ple keen to pre­serve the sum­mer’s glut for the win­ter store cup­board. The lacto-fer­mented veg­eta­bles Katie pro­duces are also full of pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria and yeasts that are great for our stom­achs and won­der­fully tasty too.

Waitrose is re­ally in­volved with ed­u­ca­tional as­pects of the fes­ti­val and will be hold­ing sev­eral tast­ings for vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing a cheese fo­cus and an ex­otic fruits tast­ing ses­sion. There will also be a fish iden­ti­fi­ca­tion stand, and a butch­ery sec­tion look­ing at dif­fer­ent cuts of meat.

There’s plenty to in­ter­est younger vis­i­tors as well. The Mor­risons Chil­dren’s Zone will be housed in the beau­ti­ful Bishop’s Barn. With the theme of “Have Fun with Food”, there are lots of hands-on, food-themed ac­tiv­i­ties to ig­nite chil­dren’s imag­i­na­tion, us­ing all the senses. It ranges from the very be­gin­ning of the process with plant­ing seeds, then util­is­ing food by mak­ing fruit smooth­ies and dec­o­rat­ing cup­cakes, right through to the im­por­tance of com­post­ing and re­cy­cling.

The ef­fect of food pro­duc­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment is high on the agenda. Liz Bax­ter, Chair of Noah’s Ark Pre-school Com­mit­tee, the or­gan­is­ers of the Mor­risons Chil­dren’s Zone, says: “We broad­ened the theme to in­clude con­ser­va­tion and so will in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of our ex­cit­ing for­est school into the fes­ti­val.” This in­cludes hints and tips for help­ing the na­tive wildlife by mak­ing bird feed­ers and look­ing at ways of mak­ing gar­dens hedge­hog-friendly.

So, what is the fu­ture of the fes­ti­val? Char­lotte sum­marises: “Keep­ing the com­mu­nity at the cen­tre and mak­ing sure it is free to en­ter and ac­ces­si­ble to all; to in­form and ed­u­cate with­out preach­ing; to pro­mote good, lo­cal food pro­duced to the high­est qual­ity and, ul­ti­mately, for it to re­main fun, re­laxed and friendly.”

It sounds like a good day out. I’ll see you there!

The mag­nif­i­cent cathe­dral and Eng­land’s small­est city pro­vide the back­drop and set­ting for Wells Food Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber.

Above: Fes­ti­val-go­ers en­joy­ing de­li­cious lo­cal food in the Oc­to­ber sunshine. Right: Food stalls in the me­dieval heart of Wells.

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