Somerset’s Feast of Flavours
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.