The last time I visited the County Ground was in 2008 when I had the pleasure of watching Kiwi Ross Taylor hit 150 runs off 154 balls for the New Zealand tourists on the final day of their tour game against Northants. This time I was back for the inaugural Northampton Winter Food Festival and with Christmas just six weeks away I was looking forward to picking up a few presents and tasting some of the best food and drink from across from the county and further afield.
The wide variety of exhibitors, chef demonstrations, food talks, workshops and street food was what initially grabbed my attention and the fact that much of the festival was under cover from the unpredictable British weather. A large Marquee had been constructed across the outfield of the cricket pitch and the superb Lynn Wilson Centre completed the exhibition space. Free car parking was also available on nearby Abington Park just a couple of minutes walk from the County ground. Dogs were not allowed into the festival on health and safety grounds.
I was planning to eat soon after I arrived but there was so much food and drink to be tasted whilst strolling the seventy plus food and drink stalls, that I decided to eat a proper meal later. The festival is a celebration of food and drink with many of the exhibitors coming from within the county itself. Gourmet sausages from Wollaston, Sweet and Savoury cakes from Thrapston, Wines from Brixworth, Ales from Woodford Halse and Artisan cheese makers from Northampton. I was surprised at the range and quality of the food and drink produced within the county boundaries, many of them award winners at county and national level.
I visited the Foodie Lounge on two occasions to listen to local food experts give informative but fun talks on the area of their particular field of expertise. Phil Saxby of Saxby`s Cider gave a revealing talk about the secrets of making award winning cider revealing the varieties of apples he uses and he also provided tastings of the cider to bring his talk to life!
The other talk was given by George Steriopulos of The Lost Farm just over the border at Grandborough in Warwickshire. George is a champion of rare breeds and is widely credited with securing protected status for the Manx Loaghtan sheep. George rears livestock, with third generation farmer Jeff Clarke, the traditional way as he explained, ‘Slowly and with care’. George also suggested that, “There is nothing to beat the flavour and eating quality of a properly reared and pure bred piece of meat.” I later bought some lamb from his family stall and ate it later that day at home. I can tell you that George was right: It was the best lamb I have ever tasted.
I missed the wine tastings given by Dennis Kingshott from Catchpole Cellars but I did get to stop off at their very popular exhibition stand and got to sample a couple of beautiful Italian Red wines. I only wish I had saved some of those cheeses I had sampled earlier to go with them!
For me Christmas Day means Turkey so I was very happy to meet Susan Gorst of Moorgate Farm talking Turkey on her stall! Susan told me she rears free-range KellyBronze turkeys on her seventeen – acre small holding near Potterspury. She also said that she gets the birds when they are just one day old and sometimes plays music to the poults to keep them happy. A poult is a baby turkey – that’s one from me for the next Quiz Night!
I was keen to see one of the chef demonstrations and I was lucky enough to catch Masterchef semi-finalist 2016 Jen Charlton explain the secrets of baking Gingerbread Cup – cakes for Christmas. It was also interesting to hear about her experiences on Masterchef and her interest in watching as many of the worldwide Masterchef programmes as possible! Jen from Milton Keynes is a keen cook and baker with a passion for pastry, desserts and British & Asian food. Jen told us that during Masterchef she surprised the judges including chef Marcus Wareing by giving them a fish they’d never had before – Nepalese Momos with a Thai coconut soup. Jen told her attentive audience she had been made aware of the fish by her brother who had travelled extensively across Thailand. She also revealed that her love of food comes from her father but she didn’t start to seriously learn to cook until she met her husband and now she writes recipes for Milton Keynes News as a Food Columnist.
The demonstration was free and there was no need to book a seat. Miss Charlton wore a microphone and her demonstration was shown live on two large screens either side of the stage so the audience could see and hear the demonstration from anywhere in the marquee. Over the weekend all seven chefs, which included Phil Fanning of Paris House at Woburn Abbey, were focused on using fresh, locally-sourced, seasonal produce to prepare their dishes. I particularly enjoyed the funny comments and questions posed by on stage demo-host Katie Johnson. Katie is a farmer turned broadcaster and writer, who worked as a presenter and producer for the BBC for 15 years. It showed; Johnson made a very good contribution with her relaxed but amusing manner of questioning the chef, without being intrusive or getting in the way of the demonstration.
The weather was fine on the day I visited so I was- able to stroll along the wonderful Street Food Market offering an array of foods from across the world. Whether you like your food spicy, meaty or vegetarian there was something for everyone to enjoy along the outfield boundary. The Street Food market was a real feast of flavours, a mouthwatering and tempting variety of delicious flavours from around the world and at home. Caribbean, Austrian smoked hotdogs, Aberdeen Angus burgers, Artisan teas and coffee, Chicken Tika, sweet potato fries, Chilli, Vegan, Veggie, Gluten Free falafels and speciality sausages amongst many other foods. Some of the street food companies were; 63 Islands, Baja Cantina, Bare Bones Pizza, Burger Meister, Good Time Café, Mike`s Fries, Rustic Cooks, Baker`s Bangers, Mem Saab and strEAT Fresh.
My sister in law is a Coeliac so she must be very careful about what she eats, so I was intrigued to see a stall which caters for the special needs of people who have food intolerances or allergies. When its scone its gone! I am no expert on the subject but the ladies on the stall were very informative and helpful about the foods they sold and the conditions their foods would help. If you are looking for Gluten free, lactose free, Dairy free, egg free or sugar free foods, this is the site and people for you.
The festival was not all about food. There were several stalls selling all sorts of creations and gifts for Christmas. One of the craft stalls which caught my eye because of the beautiful craftsmanship of the objects on display was Winton Willow. Winton Willow produce Stone Platters from lightly tumbled travertine stone in five different sizes. The beautiful farmyard and countryside platters, placemats and coasters are decorated with specially commissioned drawings of sheep, pigs, chickens, cows and ducks based on original photographs. Each stone platter, placemat and coaster design is specially printed within Northamptonshire and then sealed with a heat resistant resin and finally cork backed. An ideal Christmas present!
There was also live music whilst we sat eating our sweet potato and curly fries. Coventry musician Jordan Mackampa whose velvety vocals could be described as “soulful and emotive” folllowed by Roots & Blues stars Barney Newman and Tom Girvan rounded off the musical treats for the afternoon perfectly.
I enjoyed my day at the first Northampton Winter Food Festival. There were a wide variety of food and drink stalls to visit and a good selection of creative craft stalls to browse for those unusual and unexpected gift ideas. I thought the Foodie Lounge was a good idea; listening to some of the stall holders talking about aspects of their industry and the food demonstrations were very informative and entertaining.
Overall the organisers must be pleased with their first Winter Food festival in Northampton and should deem it a success. I am already looking forward to visiting their Towcester Food Festival on 10/11th June 2017 at Towcester Racecourse.
Northampton Winter Food Festival
Facebook: Northampton Winter Food Festival
Telephone: 07540 059985.
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