Monday 8 October 2012

Rumblings in the Forest

I woke up yesterday with the rumblings of a serious migraine but necessity prevailed. It was Forest Showcase day; the fledgling food festival in the Forest of Dean and I was due to do a curing demonstration.

The problem with curing is that although the methods are very simple, they require time. Therefore any curing demo requires plenty of “here is one I made earlier” material for the all important tasting. I had already made, a ginger cured gravalax, a mountain or crostini and the potted ham hock to go on top plus a brined shoulder of wild boar. I also had a piece of pork belly in the fridge magically transforming itself into pancetta. I gathered all this up plus the ingredients and equipment necessary to make all the above from scratch; downed a boiled egg, swallowed a couple of Migraleve tablets and headed for the Forest.

It was a beautiful day, the bracken had turned copper coloured and driving through the leafy winding roads, I promised myself a walk along the Sculpture Trail before the leaves start to fall. When the children were at home and Sundays were family days, no sunny day like this would have passed without a Forest trail.

There were super lycra bikers everywhere along my route and I wondered if this was a regular Sunday occurrence inspired by our Olympic successes or was there some of kind of “bike run” in the offing? This area is an outdoor-pursuits paradise enjoyed, judging by the churned up grass verges, not only by humankind but by relatively new residents, the wild boar as well.

I arrived at Speech House; I had been sent a map of the showground but had not had time to print it off. I took out my Blackberry to check out which entrance I should use, I fumbled around; the image was far too small and no amount of zoom was helping so I gave up and found the right entrance by instinct and was able to park right behind the demonstration tent.

I don’t really know what I was expecting of a food festival in a forest, but naturally enough I found myself in a field and I immediately had cause to regret my choice of shoes; mercifully the day stayed dry and there was no mud just some slippery patches where the grass had been trampled away.

I wandered around and peered into the demo tent. I had missed Gregg Wallaces formal opening which judging by the throng had attracted a good crowd. Josh Theobold was on stage, from Lydney Park Estate, producers of top quality venison and game and was butchering a young venison carcass. The nearest I ever come to butchering is cutting up a rabbit and I was immediately drawn in. The carcass was small and Josh was cutting out two tiny loins, the like of which I would love to lay my hands on.

I made contact with Showcase stalwart Rachel Smith who dispatched me to the producers’ tent to judge the best decked stand. Not an easy job as the tent was already heaving and not easy to navigate. I inched my way around and my eyes fell immediately on a preserves stall decked out in brown and white gingham, baskets of cakes, and lots and lots of pretty jars of preserves. This is Oakey Doakey a Forest community project where all profits go to helping the young disadvantaged, help themselves. They were clear winners and won themselves tea at the Speech House Hotel. I bought a highly recommendable jar of Pumpkin Marmalade and a banana cake made by a very proud lad who was also helping on the stall. Other eye catching stalls were selling mushroom logs and apple juice and Dutchgirl Cheese making serious organic farmhouse gouda not a bit ditsy as the name might imply.

I also needed to make contact with producers supplying goods for my curing demo. The Child family have farmed at the appropriately named Cowshill since the nineteen forties. Until a decade ago they supplied supermarkets, but like a lot of other farmers they could see things were going horribly wrong and as the ardent farmer Childs puts it himself, he went back to farming the way his grandfather had farmed long before him. Today he has one of the largest herds in the world of (not so long ago almost extinct) Gloucester Cattle. Childs also keeps award winning pedigree rare breed Berkshire, Lop and curly haired Mangalitza pigs. As he proudly told me about his Slow Food accolade I could not fail to note the affection in which he holds his animals. I came away not only with the belly I needed to start the pancetta process off, but also a loin of pork and a magnificent Gloucester steak and some sausages I have pencilled in a date to visit the farm!

I used Forest of Dean Honey in the cure for gravalax. Sadly Severn Salmon is now out of season because in summer I make Severn Salmon gravalax with elderflowers. I used white wine from Compton Green made in Redmarley for the potted ham hock. I made 500 g of succulent potted ham from one ham hock costing £2.95 – the wine does cost extra.

Living here in Herefordshire, not far from the borders of Gloucestershire and Wales, the Forest Showcase is not the only food festival but it is the most local and I was delighted to discover new producers and producers I had lost track of. Crooked End farm shop for example grows and sells organic fruit, vegetables, eggs, pies, meats and salad and flower bags and now has a pop up restaurant.

Smarts in Birdwood just off the A40 near Gloucester, make traditional award winning Single and Double Gloucester cheese. Their farm is one of only five traditional Single Gloucester producers in the world. No wonder the cheese has been awarded Protected Designation of Origin and rightly so. It is a cheese that has aromatic lasting flavour and the round chalky texture of a bygone era of cheeses.

Old friends Native Breeds charcuterie and Yellow House Kitchen, Sardinian Olive oils, McCrindles Cider and Madgetts Farm, Free range poultry were all there. New to me Monkhide, had snuck in from over the border in Herefordshire with their fruit wines and liqueurs. I tasted a memorable Pear Brandy and will keep an eye out for them in future.

Yvette Farrell from Hart’s Barn Cookery School was flat out all day promoting the school, the festival and supporting all the cookery theatre dems. Thank you Yvette for providing the grater I forgot to take with me! Last seen by me, Yvette had put some bread to cook into a splendid mud oven made by a local bush craft expert and was going off in search of a venison haunch to cook in there too. Shame I missed that tasting; I bet it was good.

Lunch for me comprised of a Farm House Deli sausage, voted by Citizen readers, Gloucestershire’s best sausage. I chomped my way through it while chatting to Deborah of who in response to my apologies for my choice of lunch, gallantly replied, it is all about balance, which of course it is. Deborah presented her own demo, opening up a thoughtful vegan approach to health and vitality-giving raw-food.

So large was the prize winning sausage, I had no room to sample Parsnipship’s truly tempting looking vegan and vegetarian snacks or Bennett’s equally attractive fish fare. Neither of these food vendors are local, the former from Weymouth the latter from Newport in Wales but both very welcome visitors.

There was of course much more to see, taste and buy that was local and all accompanied by some wonderful Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli style jazz provided by Feliks Tabiƛ Gypsy Jazz Ensembles. Look out for the monthly Club Django, held at the Miners Arms

I had not been to the Forest Showcase since it first started some years ago in a tiny town hall, I believe, in Cinderford but that’s another story! The whole thing has moved on since then and it now has all the makings of a truly attractive rural food festival. Many of the stall holders sounded very positive about the day’s business which promises well for next year. I spoke to one of the show organisers who felt they had managed to take the show to another level this year not least of all because of Gregg Wallace’s generous input both at the show and at the festival dinner the night before.

If you venture into the Forest over the next few months, look out for the farm and village shops, the craft centres and farm gate producers that have mushroomed around the area. Keep an eye and an ear out for the The Forest Bakehouse, shortly to open in Longhope. They had a terrific range of bread styles on offer, only as samples, yesterday and I can’t wait to be able to buy some