Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink 2011

After last year’s rather low key trip to the Food & Drink Festival whilst I was in the midst of a self-inflicted no dairy, alcohol, sugar or wheat diet, I was ready to sample whatever the heck I liked this year. I have been partying a lot recently as my sister and brother-in-law have been over from Australia and together we have eaten our way across the UK and France over the past fortnight. No wine, cheese, cured meat or cake has been safe. Despite the fact that my skinny fit jeans are now starting to turn me blue when I wear them – yes I’m still trying - I decided to soldier on in the name of food lovers everywhere, arriving at the festival entrance at around 11am with a keen interest in discovering some new and interesting local producers.

I always have a game plan when I attend any food event like this – a quick scoot round with an eye on anything that looks worth coming back for. I rarely buy first time around. This is healthy from both a weight gain and a bank balance point of view. It is way too easy to whip your wallet out every 2 yards and end up with a cupboard full of those jams, relishes and sauces that don’t see the light of day again for another 18 months.

First to catch my eye as I walked through the first marquee (No. 6) was The Cherry Tree stand which was neatly laden with their chutneys, preserves and cheese samples. As I mentioned I have to be careful with this sort of produce as I have a tendency to get a little excited. The range of products sold by The Cherry Tree is extensive, making my decision to stick to just 2 items a little difficult. Right now though I am obsessed with lemon curd so the soft, creamy tang of their lemon curd was a definite winner. I was intrigued by the garlic pickles also – one being hot and the other mild. As a rule I would run with the hotter version, but the garlic flavour was much stronger in the milder version and it was gorgeous. Amongst other offerings that caught my eye were Kashmiri Chutney, Apricot and Stem Ginger Chutney, Pear and Ginger Jam and Tipsy Strawberry with Champagne Jam. I struggled to get to some of the products due to the popularity of the stand so I moved on.

I generally try to focus on ‘new’ producers that I have little or no knowledge of. The great thing about this year was that it wasn’t difficult to achieve this. The balance of old favourites and fresh exhibitors was spot on. Next to catch my eye was the Deli Farm Charcuterie stand, a North Cornwall business based in Delabole, specialising in traditionally air dried salami and ham. They have won Taste of the West awards for many of their products including their air dried coppa (the cut of meat behind the back of the pig’s head at the top of the shoulder) which is cured in salts and spices and is offered in either traditional or honeyed versions. I opted to try the orange & ginger salami which was subtle, but definitely flavoured. Other flavours include fennel and anise, oak smoked paprika, coriander and cumin or black olive. Their cutely named, ready to eat snacks ‘pokers’ and ‘devils pokers’ are finely ground sticks of salami flavoured with various herbs including caraway seed, chilli flakes and/or cayenne pepper, whilst the caraway flavoured ‘slippery imps’ are sold in jars of extra virgin olive oil with bay leaves. Taster packs are also available for £15.90 containing 2 large slices of each salami, 4 slices of each coppa and a small piece of poker and devils poker. This is a great idea for anybody you know who loves their cured meats.

Could it get any better than garlic pickle and cured meat I ask? Well, my next stop was the Otter Valley Dairy stand, so the answer is yes. Otter Valley Dairy Farm is situated on the A30 at Monkton, in a layby immediately off the main road. I sometimes do a trip up to Surrey using the A303 so I was most pleased to note that I could stop off for an ice cream during my next journey. As I arrived at the stand I heard another lady asking if she could try the Seabuckthorn flavoured ice cream as she had read about it – of course, not one to turn away from a flavour I hadn’t tried before, I piped up with my own request to have a taste. It was lovely – the ice cream itself was creamy and smooth as I would have hoped, but the bonus was the unusual flavour which was a mix of mild citrus (orange) and soft berry – I couldn’t pin point exactly which berry, but it worked.

Four generations of the Bond family work on the farm so it is a serious family business and their ice cream is made using milk and cream from their own cows. What was special about their offering was the range of flavours. I also tried the Banoffee Pie and Rhubarb & Ginger ice creams which were both gorgeous. The Banoffee reminded me of banana ice cream I used to eat growing up in Australia so there was an added nostalgic element thrown in. I will be making a trip out to the farm in the near future as I was further drawn in by the promise of such flavours as Rice Pudding with Raspberry Jam, Cream Tea and Chili and Melon. Sadly, I had to keep moving through the festival – these are not places to lurk unless you want to be trampled. The older gentleman beside me was drawn in by the Divine Chocolate ice cream and I had been gently elbowed out.

The Mr Filbert’s nut stand featured a sign which read ‘Freshly Roasted Prince William’s Nuts or Hot Nuts for Kate’, something that wasn’t terribly easy to walk past without stopping. The Hot Nuts for Kate were a little too spicy for JC who I had in mind for these, but the Prince William’s Nuts were peanuts flavoured with English tomatoes and Mediterranean herbs, with a subtle sweetness provided by Pomegranate molasses, and seemed perfect. Very moreish indeed. Mr Filbert’s has only been running 9 months so it’s great to get in on the ground floor and spread the word on a worthy snack. This range of flavoured nuts are a little different to those on the market right now with products that include Kasbah Spiced Almonds (harissa, mint, garlic and cane sugar), Sweet Chilli Peanuts (sweet chilli and mango) and Pomodoro Peanuts (tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese). They also produce salad dressings and marinades such as Summer Herb Drizzle with Dorset Wild Garlic and Smoked Chilli infused Rapeseed Oil. They are currently extending their distribution so fingers crossed they will be hitting a deli near you soon.

A producer that has recently piqued my interest is Sharpham Wines & Cheeses based in the Dart Valley near Totnes. Their wine and cheese production seems to have been cranked up in the past few years although they have been producing wine for 25 years. They have also won several top awards for their wine in 2009 and 2010, including the Gold English & Welsh Wine of the Year 2010 award for their Pinot Noir 2009. The very friendly lady on the stand let me try the 2010 New Release and the 2009 Rose, both of which were a little ‘fresh’ and young for me, but the Rose had a creamy quality that balanced the tartness well. I tried the Reserve 2009 on a recent trip to The Lazy Toad at Brampford Speke and this confirmed that I needed to make a trip to the vineyard and creamery very soon. A Gold tour at £8.95 includes a self-directed tour of the vineyard, a tasting of six wines and 3 cheeses (subject to availability), which seems like a bargain to me and there is no need to book. If our summery weather lasts beyond May I can’t think of a nicer day out.

Some of the stands I was keen to explore were difficult to get to as is often the way, and amongst these was that of Bell & Loxton. Bell & Loxton cold pressed rapeseed oil is sold in the Real Food Store in Exeter so I am familiar with their products. Being the marketing victim that I am, I was also attracted to their very attractive packaging – they use aluminium bottles as they are lighter to transport and easily recycled compared to glass. I assume they also work well to protect the oil from sunlight. The rapeseed oil is grown, pressed and bottled on the farm at South Devon and contains half the saturated fat of olive oil. Bon Gout Deli in Magdalen Rd are also amongst the current local stockists.

Pullins Bakers, based in North Somerset were established in 1925 so I can’t exactly refer to them as a new supplier, but this is the first time I have come across them, so I made my way over to their rather lovely bakery stand. Referring to themselves as artisan bakers, they bake a range of loaves such as ciabatta, french sticks, rye, overnight white (using an 18 hour fermentation method), sourdough and spelt. After greedily reading the May Italy issue of the American foodie magazine Bon Appétit I couldn’t resist the Stromboli loaves on the end of the stand – I bought 2 of the vegetarian smaller rolls full of sunblush tomato, red onion, mushrooms, local Cheddar cheese, Italian seasoning and paprika. That will go nicely with my Tuscan bean soup tonight!

Of course, it is necessary to have lunch at the food festival every year, or at the very least buy it to take home and eat. This year I decided to buy a Pieminister pie with mash and mushy, minty peas to eat in Rougemont Gardens. JC had a Chicken of Aragon (free range chicken, smoky bacon, roasted garlic, vermouth and fresh tarragon) and I had the Heidi Pie (goats cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion and roasted garlic). I also grabbed us a Chai latte and an Americano from the Devon Coffee van run by Percolapps based on Sowton Industrial Estate. They run a mobile coffee service and serve Hawkins Coffee of Budleigh Salterton and tea from Miles Tea in Somerset. You would expect to be able to get a half decent brew at a food festival and we weren’t disappointed. Our picnic turned out very nicely. Even the threatening storm clouds managed to hold back their contents long enough for us to finish.

On the way back through the festival, passing Michael Caines being interviewed in the process, I nipped to pick up my well thought out purchases - orange & ginger salami from the Deli Farm Charcuterie and the lemon curd and mild garlic pickle from The Cherry Tree – before heading home, replete, content and ready to sing the praises of another successful festival.