That’s tasty! Showcase for fine South Norfolk flavours
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
We all know that there's no such thing as a free lunch – but writing about South Norfolk's fantastic produce seems a small price to pay for having eaten like royalty at a new event designed to bring the cream of the crop from the region's producers to the marketplace.
At Bressingham Steam and Gardens on Friday, South Norfolk Flavours 2014 showcased the wealth of local food-producing talent the area boasts and gave buyers from the hospitality, catering, retail and tourism industries the chance to meet suppliers in one place and find exciting new tastes to tantalise their own customers.
Martin Wilby, deputy leader of South Norfolk Council which supported the event, said: 'The idea behind the project is all about making it easy for food and drink buyers keen to meet local producers and sample their goods. Being able to get together in one place will make it much easier for buyers who are looking to source locally in such a diverse market.
'This event supports the work that we are already undertaking with our partners to ensure that our market towns are in the best shape possible to attract shoppers, tourists and businesses, now and in the future.'
At an event aimed to recognise the vital role that the local food industry plays in Norfolk's economy and celebrate the bountiful produce that is made in one of the county's largest regions it would have seemed churlish not to join in with an open mind (and mouth).
Photographer Simon 'Hollow Legs' Finlay and I took a culinary tour of the exhibition hall at Bressingham, starting with a business based in Bressingham itself, Hodmedod, which sources British beans and peas and is the only company in the country which produces British baked beans in addition to dried pulises, dhal and a range of canned bean and pea products.
Founded in 2012 by Nick Saltmarsh, Josiah Meldrum and William Hudson, the company sells British-grown beans – split and whole fava beans – and peas – Kabuki marrowfat, black badger, yellow, large blue, split green and split yellow.
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'For years, the British have grown beans and exported them – we thought that was a waste, so we use our British beans and peas and make wonderful products from them,' said Mr Hudson, offering Simon and I some roasted fava beans (like healthier peanuts – ridiculously moreish).
Find out more about Hodmedod at www.hodmedods.co.uk.
Orchid Apairies has been producing honey for 20 years and has a range of beautifully-flavoured honeys including lime, starflower, ivy and blossom. Artisan producer Mike Thurlow explained that the honey was made from a blend of nectars gathered by bees through the season and that honey bees could produce fine flavoured honey unique to plants such as blackthorn, hawthorn, clover and honeydew.
'Other than the flavour, which is often quite pronounced, especially in a specialist honey like Ivy Honey, you can also tell which honey is which by looking at the pollen under a microscope,' he explained as we tried ivy (strong), lime (floral) and wherryman's (no relation to the Woodforde's beer) honey.
'As it comes up to the hayfever season, lots of people swear their symptoms are nowhere near as bad if they eat local honey…' (Orchid Apairies: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Next door, Jim Marshall from Norfolk Finest Foods, based in Diss, began his chutney-making operation after being made redundant nine years ago. Working from a small lock-up, he produces a dizzying array of preserves, from pickled onion pickle to piccalilli, runner bean chutney (his favourite) to mango chutney (which with a three-hour cooking time, is the most labour intensive of them all) apple chutney (my favourite) to ploughman's.
'I went to catering college in the 1960s and went into catering for about 15 years before leaving. I've now come back!' he said.
'The secret of making a really good chutney involves great ingredients – good quality vinegar and sugar and lots of patience. I find a lot of my customers are men – they love a bit of chutney in their sandwiches. You'll find a lot of half jars of chutney in my fridge…' (Norfolk Finest Foods, email@example.com).
Yare Valley Oils – which uses Mr Thurlow's honey in one of the company's salad dressings – produces cold-pressed rapeseed oil grown and crushed on the company's farm in the Yare Valley to produce a versatile, healthy oil which can be used for frying, baking and salad dressings.
Glenn Sealey from Yare Valley Oils practically dragged us across to the stall occupied by the Tudor Bakehouse, which has five branches in South Norfolk in Harleston, Long Stratton, Diss and Eye and bakes on a daily basis, to try the bakery's bread with his oil – in the interest of research, we had to eat quite a lot of both (Tudor Bakehouse's bread of the month, cheese and onion, with Yare Valley's salad dressings was the top choice).
'We bake our bread every day and so when you buy it, it's always fresh,' said Tudor Bakehouse director Jayne Bettridge.
We also saw Tom Hanna from Grain Brewery, South Norfolk's award-winning brewer (driving prevented tasting), and ate grain salad and salted peanut chilli brittle from Mark Ford and Zoe Denham's Big Skies Food Company.
'The Local Flavours expo is a fabulous opportunity for small and medium-sized food and drink businesses to showcase their produce to retailers and outlets who understand their customers want locally-sourced products. Supporting the local food chain makes good economic and environmental sense,' said Mr Ford.
'The key to our success is using lots of fantastic ingredients sourced from under Norfolk's big skies.' (www.bigskiesfoodcompany.co.uk).
Other South Norfolk producers showcasing their wares included Alburgh Ice Cream, Banyards Hall Norfolk Black Turkeys, Buffy's Brewery, Fudgulous, Mad About Coffee, the Norfolk Truffle Company, Parravanis, Philli Chillies, Winbirri Wine, Season's Bounty, Team Barista, The Norfolk Popcorn Company, Thistledown Cottage Coffee and Traditional Norfolk Poultry, winner of the 2013 EDP's business award for farming excellence.
As we left the expo, stuffed with ice-cream and popcorn, cake and chutney, fudge and treats from Plan to Cook's Julie Philpot who teaches cookery through adult education and cookery demonstrations (delicious lentil bake, vegetarian sausages and soup, find out more at www.plantocook.co.uk), we thought we'd reached the point of no return, appetite-wise. Until we spotted the wood-fired oven of the Proper Pizza Co.
James Hammond not only offered us pizza, he offered me the chance to make my very own pizza: albeit not in the 90 seconds that it takes the talented pizza chefs at the Proper Pizza Co to whip up a taste of authentic Italy ('you are SO SLOW,' Simon taunted me).
After spreading the tomato sauce with a ladle, I chose fire-roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to top my pizza which I then transferred from preparation board to gigantic metal shovel – I'm sure there's a more technical term for this – and then into the wood-fired oven that was made in Italy.
My pizza (www.pizza-party.co.uk) was demolished by South Norfolk Flavours' visitors in about 90 seconds, if not made in 90 seconds. We rolled back to our respective cars, replete in the knowledge that South Norfolk is representing the county's food offer in delicious style. And for dinner…Ms Philpot's sausages, the Tudor Bakehouse's cheese and onion bread, some Yare Valley oil and an amuse bouche of roasted fava beans. My exercise bike will be watching from the sidelines, reproachfully.