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Monday, 29 September 2008

Festival report: Aldeburgh Food and Drink 2008

There was a real sense of excitement and anticipation at Snape Maltings when we arrived – gorgeous late September weather certainly helped as around 3,000 visitors were expected to take part in what has been described as Britain’s most influential food festival.

A good number of food celebrities could be seen at the festival adding to the buzz: Matthew Fort of the Guardian, chefs including Mark Hix, Tom Aitken and Fergus Henderson as well as Tom Parker-Bowles and Sheila Dillon of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme.

Tim Rowan-Robinson (no relation but a charming guy who manages to find time to run a string of very successful local business interests as well as the festival), co-director of the festival described the festival as definitely ‘bigger than last year’.

Most of the better known local producers from Adnams and Aspalls through Maple Farm flour and veg, Jules and Sharpies’s hot relishes and Jimmy’s Farm pork were well represented. Tim’s personal highlights included “some outstanding and very reasonably priced beef from Somerton (Aberdeen Angus/Simmental cross hung for 29 days), River House smoked Salmon from Dominic Kilburn and a superb chorizo from Emmett’s of Peasenhall who are already well placed on the UK food map”.

However, the festival doesn’t and perhaps cannot showcase every local producer and there’s certainly more to Suffolk food and drink than could be found within the marquee – a disappointing range of local beers to try and buy although the delicious new East Green from Adnams (Britain’s first zero carbon beer) was on draft in the stylish Adnams outdoor bar. With real ale reported to be the only beer segment growing the UK it would be nice to see a beer marquee or zone at next year’s festival to show that natural beer isn’t all beards, bumbags and Camra worthiness.

Festival reports from producers were good although perhaps the hot weather had put off some visitor from buying as much perishable food as anticipated (tip: if any enterprising cool-bag vendors wants a neat sales opportunity in 2009 check out this festival – you could probably sell a shed load!).

The Food Safari team (in other words the Robinson family) were out in force handing out postcards for Sunday’s walk.

A very sad note at the festival was the tragic death this week of Max Dougal, head chef at Ruth Watson’s Crown and Castle Hotel in Orford. Watson herself understandably pulled out of a planned workshop. The Suffolk food scene lost a key figure this week.

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