It’s been another great Spring Harvest for the diligent volunteers who organise the Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival. This year I was fortunate to attend several of the ticketed events as well the two fabulous markets during the ten day festival. These are my personal highlights.
Discover the Origin Supper
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status is widely coveted for regional products across Europe but five particular products also benefit from the support of Discover the Origin (DTO). DTO is a campaign set up to promote Parma Ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Bourgogne Wines and Port and Douro Wines. This year’s festival kicked off with a five course dinner at Hotel du Vin showcasing these products with wine pairings provided by the indomitable Henry Butler of Butlers Wine Cellars.
After Parmigiano canapés served with a glass of Cremant de Bourgogne (a champagne style wine in everything but name) we began with a simple plate of wafer thin Parma Ham with a broad bean salad and served with an Altano white Douro wine. Produce this good needs little embellishment and the intensely savoury ham almost melted on your tongue.
Parmiagiano featured again in the crust on the sweet south downs rack of lamb this time accompanied by a rich, scarlet Marsannay from Bourgogne. But the real triumph of the evening was the pairing of a chilled 10 year old Tawny port with a creamy crème brûlée. A surprising but a very effective match with complimentary toffee notes in both the dessert and port.
Of course no meal would be complete without cheese and we were treated to a trio of three parmigiano of different ages. Each of the cheeses were very similar in appearance but remarkably different in taste although all of them were suitably matched with the Meursault from Bourgogne.
A Taste of Western Australia
Australia holds the biggest share of wine sales in the UK market although if I’m honest it’s never been a part of the world I really look to for wine. I’ve developed a particular aversion to heavily oaked Aussie chardonnays but was happy for Emma Harrison from Wine Australia to attempt to change my mind.
On this particular evening we were tasting wines from Western Australia which accounts for a fairly small percentage of wine produced in the country. Emma explained that Australian wine makers are trying to make their chardonnays less oaky these days. The two chardonnays we tried were certainly less woody that others I have had before but I’m afraid they were still not for me. However, the Robert Oatley Signature Series, Sauvignon Blanc we had when we arrived was very drinkable and refreshingly crisp. The clear winner for me was the spicy Ferngrove Shiraz with blueberry, blackberry and plum aromas. Definitely one I can see me drinking in front of a roaring fire on a chilly winter’s evening.
As if the wines were not enough to tempt you to visit Western Australia images of the states beautiful beaches and scenic countryside were on display during the wine tasting. The evening was also peppered with anecdotes from Brightonion Rich Keam who won a competition to become a Western Australian Taste Master for six months (and you thought I had a good job!). I’m already trying to work out a way to blag a trip to the Gourmet Escape Food Festival later this year. If you want to find out more about travelling there yourself check out the Travel Bag website.
Gourmet Bus Tour
I’ve been trying to get on one of these tours for the past couple of years but have failed miserably to buy a ticket in time (they quite literally sell like hot cakes). And with good reason as it’s a great way to meet some of the our county’s fantastic producers.
The tour starts at a reasonable 9.30 when you board an old Route Master bus in Brighton. Fuelled with a light, buttery croissant from the Real Patisserie and a bottle of Ringden Farm apple juice we set off for Fish near Hove Lagoon to find out more about our local fishing industry. They had a interesting array of fish on offer, including spider crabs and the rather exotic looking garfish, all of which had been caught in the waters off the Sussex coast. Quite alarmingly a lot of the less commercially popular catches, such as cuttlefish, are exported to countries like Italy. This is such a shame when we clearly have a diverse range of seafood on our doorstep (40 to 50 species alone around the Sussex coast) if only we could bring ourselves to be a little more adventurous.
Next stop was Court Garden vineyard in Ditchling where we were treated to a glass of their eminently quaffable classic cuvée before having a quick tour of their winery with the very entertaining Hugo. Court Garden’s vines were only planted in 2005 but already they produce 25,000 bottles of sparkling wine each year (which is actually quite a small quantity compared to some of the larger vineyards in Sussex). But as the saying goes, small is beautiful, and all of the sparkling wines we tried on the tour have won UK Vineyard Association medals. While we tried to decide which of these delicious wines to buy David from La Cave à Fromage gave us some Sussex cheese to taste including three of my personal favourites Flower Marie, Lord of the Hundreds and Burwash Rose.
Eventually we were recalled to the bus and made our way to Townings Farm in Chailey. Here they give a new meaning to the term slow food, rearing traditional, slow growing and rare breed animals, like the black Hebridean sheep you sometimes see grazing on Chailey common. These beasts take time to grow and therefore ultimately provide a more superior flavoured meat. Hebridean sheep are not ready to eat until they are 18 months to two years old. This is no hobby farm with a few token animals on show for people to pet. Townings looks and smells like a proper working farm should (wellies were definitely in order but I had left mine at home) and yet their shop is a real treasure trove of local produce including real gems like Horsham gingerbread (which if you’ve never had it you really ought to seek it out. It really is something else).
By now the gourmet tourists tummies were rumbling so we set off for Lewes for lunch in the Kings Head. Wine and conversation flowed as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch before heading back to Brighton via Harvey’s Brewery perhaps slightly more fuzzy headed than when we started out that morning. All in all it was a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable day and a great way to finish the 2014 Spring Harvest Festival. If you fancy being a gourmet or wine tourist yourself for the day the Festival organisers will be running a programme of tours every fourth Saturday of the month until the end of September. See the Festival website for further details but don’t dally if you want to book as tickets really do sell out fast.
If you missed out on the chance to visit the Spring Festival this year, fear not as the Autumn Harvest festival will be back in September with events like these and more!