The hard work of being a small food producer

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Derelict Farm Buildings

 

I’ve been doing some updating of posts recently, and have found it quite depressing at the number of businesses no longer trading, especially those that were really good.

So I don’t suppose this week’s report from Moore Stephens was any real surprise, as it said that the rate of food producers going bust has tripled in five years. Which is a very sad state of affairs, and of course the usual culprits shoulder much of the blame.

Pricing and payment terms were the things most to blame, and it always seems wrong when big companies expect small ones to shoulder costs for such long periods of time. I don’t think this is exclusive to the food industry (I heard a similar tale from building contractors recently) but I think it’s probably exagerrated by the dominance of the supermarkets.

Of course not every business I’ve written about was in this scenario, as many of them weren’t even supplying the supermarkets. It just goes to show that even the best idea is no guarantee of success, and there are many factors, internal and external, that can affect your business. It also means even more so to me that it’s important to go out and support small businesses.

And to doff our caps in admiration to those small businesses still doing it day after day. When I look back at some of the businesses I wrote about way back at the start in 2009, it’s good to see there are some still going from strength to strength: Gower Cottage Brownies, Brays Cottage Pork Pies, The Handmade Scotch Egg Company…but not for lack of effort on any of the owners behalfs.

Sometimes it’s graft, sometimes it’s a touch of luck and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it being the wrong time for you as a business owner. To all embarking on the journey, I really do wish you well. And to the rest of us, let’s get out there and support the good ones.

 

Photo by Jan Bommes on Flickr.

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Reflections on the Good Food Show

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I’ve done quite a lot of food shows, as I’ve recorded on here over the years. Up until now though I’ve never done any of the Good Food Shows, although not entirely sure why. Possibly because I’ve spent weeks of my life at the NEC, both sides of the counter in effect, so maybe in no rush to go back.

But the fact that there was going to be one in Harrogate made me think I might do it. That and Kate from Gower Cottage Brownies was going to be there, and we haven’t seen each other for several years (as we laughed, not since the last Real Food Festival, back in the days when it was Olympia).

So, on reflection, and with feet recovered, these were the good things:

1. Catching up, briefly, with Kate and Rob.

2. Thanks to Kate, meeting John Whaite and a quick discussion on the challenges of gluten free baking

3. Watching Mary Berry

 

Mary Berry doing what she does best

 

4. A Fat Rascal and a Yorkshire Curd Tart from Betty’s.

 

Queue time at Bettys, but worth it for a Fat Rascal

 

Oh yes, I escaped from the show, which with it being in Harrogate town centre is at least an option. Thank god, because it was absolute hell. In spite of working in retail, many of you will know that I am not mad keen on shopping. And the Good Food Show was like my worst kind of retail: the supermarket on Christmas Eve. There came several points where was I really going nowhere fast.

 

Hell. Going nowhere fast at the Good Food Show

 

It probably explains why I came back with very few goodies (though I am probably the exception). When it’s that busy, I go off the whole idea of shopping. I did see some new to me things that I liked the look of, I particularly like the sauces from the Great British Sauce Co. We discussed that they would be better trialled on a bacon sarnie than on the crisps on offer, but not entirely practical.

And there was gin everywhere, from everywhere,  from the very closest with Masons Yorkshire Gin through to the furthest being from New Zealand. Not sure if it was worth the gin miles when there’s so much good stuff being made close to home.

But gin is not enough to tempt me back. Until they instigate a one way system and proper crowd control then wild horses could not drag me back. Not even for Mary Berry. Trapped with a whole load of strangers going nowhere fast is not my idea of fun, food or no food. I appreciate there will have been a whole heap of people worked very hard on this, but it seems there are a few basics that need some work. Be interested to know how successful it was for the exhibitors.

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Reflections on Real Food Festival

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Delightful jam displays at the Real Food Festival

What a day Friday was! Came back laden down, foot sore and thrilled to have met so many folk for the first time, not to mention catching up with some familiar faces. My highlights, discoveries and goodies as follows:

* The tweetup/flashmob at Gower Cottage Brownies. To the bemusement of the non Twitterers, there was a gathering of quite a lot of us at 1pm on Friday. It was fantastic to meet people that I’ve been tweeting with, mainly about food, and Kate was the hostess with the mostest as always. Finally have real faces to names for @goodshoeday, @josordoni, @mummybarrow, @DomesticJules and@sophiescouse. In the case of @theboywhobakes Edd’s face is very familiar to many of us now, but it was great to finally get to meet and chat.

* Discovering Belper Knolle at Jumi Export. This Swiss cheese is a dried cream cheese with salt, garlic and black pepper, and is perfect grated over pasta or risotto apparently. I liked the creamy texture and the heat of the pepper, and am looking forward to using it. It will last up to four months, but can imagine it disappearing before then!

* Changing my mind about rapeseed oil with Chiltern Coldpressed Rapeseed Oil. I’d tried another rapeseed oil, and really couldn’t fall in with the “it’s the new olive oil” school of thought, didn’t like the taste at all. Well, these ones changed my mind, and I could have bought several. Having just come back from Cyprus stocked up with olive oil, then I went for something a bit more unusual and have the oak smoked one to play around with.

 

Savoury macarons from Cafe On

* Discovering the fabulous savoury macarons at Cafe On, which was definitely a new take on cheese and biscuits. Looking like prettier versions of langue de chat, on their recommendation I had two different flavour shells, Sakura and Champagne, sandwiching a piece of very cream cheese. Bad foodie, forgot completely to write down what the cheese was! It was a surprising combination which most definitely worked, and I could definitely see this taking off. Their sweet macarons looked delicious too (and Edd Kimber, king of macarons in the making, said they were good, if a little big for his tastes) so worth seeking out. (UPDATE: sadly Cafe On is no longer trading)

* New cordial to add to my list of alternatives to a glass of vino or three, with the Coconut and Lime from Five Valleys Cordials. This tastes like a relative of a Pina Colada, but a lot more virtuous. I always have slight twinges of guilt when I move away from Belvoir Cordials, as they are literally just up the road, but I see it as my foodie duty!

 

Richard Bertinet in full flow

* More than ever I want to go on a course at the Bertinet Kitchen. Of course it has everything to do with Richard’s technique for hand making the dough, and nothing to do with his Gallic charm and flirtatiousness. But it might help the day along I guess.

* Finally I got to see what all the fuss is about over at Womersley Foods and left with a bottle of the Blackcurrant & Rosemary vinegar. Always lovely when you meet people like Rupert who are so enthusiastic about what they do, have products that taste great (and, it has to be said, look beautiful) and have a great story to tell as well. I can imagine going through the range of these. Listen out for Rupert on The Food Programme next Sunday on Radio 4.

I do hope it turned out to be a good show for all the exhibitors, most people we spoke to said Thursday had been dead, and were reserving judgement on Friday. There were a lot of comments about costs, particularly when the organisers had chosen not to put carpet down or anything fancy. But then maybe nothing changes in the exhibition industry, I can remember complaining about this 20 years ago at the NEC!

Overall, I had a fantastic day, really enjoyed it. Although left completely bemused as to why, with so many fabulous choices of food of every kind (except perhaps dull, bland and boring), you would see this sight at a lunchtime!

 

Britain, sometimes I despair!

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Counting down to Real Food Festival!

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Real Food Festival - a gift of a day out for any food lover

I wrote last year about how I really, really wasn’t sorry that I wasn’t going to Real Food Festival. So really not sorry that I’ve booked to go this year. Just to see what I really wasn’t sorry about.

BFF and I are making the trip together, on the basis that four carrying arms may be more useful than two. I’ve got a deckchair space booked between Gower Cottage Brownies and Trealy Farm Charcuterie for when it all gets a bit too much, and I’m not going to eat all day Thursday.

Now all we need is a plan of attack for the day.

And here the endless decisions start, knowing that by the end of it I will feel I’ve missed something! How many live demos can you do and still fit everything else in? Then there’s a Butchery Theatre, which sounds like useful skills at least (as opposed to sitting through theatre productions being butchered, seen a few of those). And I have to make time for a tasting at La Cave a Fromage.

We’ll have to make time to eat of course, although I think grazing will be the order of the day. Which would then set us up for the kitchen workshops, and I think as we’re both keen bakers then Clare Ptak’s session would be on our list.

And then there’s the shopping…ah yes, Mr Bank Manager, there will be shopping! Where will I begin? Or where will I stop? I think BFF and I may have to take the divide and conquer approach or else we’re not going to get round everyone. But then half the fun is discovering stuff together.

Ah well, deep breath, and into the fray we will go! Hoping to find some new ideas and inspiration, not to mention some great eating. We’re going Friday, no doubt I’ll be tweeting as I go, let me know if you are there too!

Photo courtesy of Real Food Festival.

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My food people of 2010

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Some shining stars of 2010

This has been my first full year of writing the blog, and one of the things I’ve loved about it most is the great people I’ve got to meet through it. Passionate about food and drink, they are the people that make the renaissance in British food real. Not to mention provided some great eating and a few laughs along the way. These are just some of the people I’ve come to admire over the year:

* Kate Jenkins of Gower Cottage Brownies – I first came across Kate last year when she sent me a box of brownies to try. Which I did, quite happily! All through this year I’ve been amazed at the sheer energy that Kate puts into promoting her business, and it’s down to sheer graft, not mammoth budgets. I think we came across each other on Twitter and she’s still very active there, not just about the brownies but pretty much every subject under the sun. Particularly if there’s a Welsh slant. And it’s felt like she’s been at every major food show too, and made the most of every opportunity. Felt inordinately chuffed for her when opened the Evening Standard to find Charles Campion writing about the brownies. Do check the brownies out, great gift, and there are dairy and gluten free versions to go at. Oh, and she’s quite partial to Pimms too!

* Jules of the Butcher Baker blog – I can’t honestly remember which came first, reading the blog or chatting on Twitter, but Jules has always had great recipes, great stories and great chat. And this year she not only had a dream but made it happen and is now working as a freelance kid’s cookery teacher. And loving it! I really hope 2011 brings lots of success and happy kids faces!

* Edd Kimber – a bit like with Jules, not sure which came first but I’ve been reading Edd’s blog for a long time, and knew it was always a good place to stop by for cake inspiration or a bit of drooling. I blame him entirely for me having bought a copy of Sky High. I remember having a Twitter conversation about the first round of “auditions” for Great British Bake Off, where I wasn’t able to go to mine, and Edd hadn’t been invited for one. Well, that soon all changed! And having seen just how brilliantly he and the others baked, I’m pretty pleased I didn’t go for mine. Success couldn’t have come to a nicer person, and I hope that 2011 brings some fantastic opportunities to fruition for him. It’s also good to see television doing something good for a good person. Especially one who makes such good cake!

* Matthew Wright – Matt is the founder and editor of Great Food Leicester and Rutland, a great new local food magazine. In spite of my early misgivings, it really is turning into a great magazine, and issue 4 is just going to the printers. It would be worth buying just for the beautiful artwork alone, but then the food and drink producers of these two counties produce great stuff worth writing about. Matt and Philippa work really hard doing just about everything to get the mag out and on sale, and Rocco the dog seems to enjoy the benefits of being taken around great pubs of the county. Here’s hoping the magazine goes from strength to strength. Whether deciding to offer me a regular column turns out to be a good decision we’ll have to wait and see.

* Janet Mohapi-Banks – I’ve never tried one of Janet’s beautiful looking cakes, which are truly works of art. I wanted to feature Janet more for organising Cakes for Haiti, something us home bakers could get involved in to support a really worthwhile cause. Haiti has disappeared from the news but I’m sure the problems continue. If more people were like Janet and mobilised action then perhaps more things would get done. It’s also worth giving a big mention here to English Mum and the other Bloggers for Haiti, who also raised a huge amount of cash for ShelterBox to provide really needed supplies. In a year where things are no doubt going to feel tough here, we’ll all need moments, and reminders, that there are still those with a lot less than us.

* Wendy Staples of Quirky Cookies– I definitely only knew Wendy through Twitter, and those who dismiss Twitter as a fad miss its ability to connect people who may never meet, or those who might not have met. It was fantastic to meet Wendy and her husband at the Derbyshire Food Festival at Keddleston Hall, and get to taste her beautiful cookies. She also went on to make stunning individual cookies for each of the guests at BFF’s wedding last summer, which I know they were all charmed and surprised by. And then made short work of. Great to see Wendy getting recognition throughout the year, and getting some great TV coverage too. Another case of good things happening to good people.

So half a dozen people all joined together by amazing passion for great food, and I would also say for following through on a dream or vision, and very decent people to boot. They all made me laugh, and some of them cry, during 2010, and to them, and everyone else, I wish more good things for 2011.

Star photo by ff137 on Flickr.

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Why I’m not sorry that I’m not going to the Real Food Festival

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Would I lie to you? Where else would a food lover be going?

 

Can you imagine how hellish I would find the Real Food Festival? Running from this Friday (7 May) through to Sunday for us mere mortals, it is billed as the UK’s most exciting food festival. Why on earth would I want to go?

And really, I didn’t want to.

I’m not at all bitter and twisted that I shall spend most of the first day high in the sky, most of the second day wiped out and the third day trying to remember where I am.

And I am also not at all sorry to be missing out on:

* Playing voilà bingo whilst watching Raymond Blanc do a demonstration. Or seeing Thomasina Miers cook anything. Or Richard Bertinet making bread. Dull.

* A whole section devoted to chocolate. Proper chocolate from people like Artisan du Chocolat, William Curley and Paul Wayne Gregory. I’ll be home with a bar of Dairy Milk for sure.

* The chance to eat from the Riverford Organic Field Kitchen. Why do an hour on the train to eat with them at Earls Court when I could drive there in 5 hours, and have to put up with the father in law?

* Finally meeting  Kate from Gower Cottage Brownies face to face.

* Having to work my way through 400 fantastic producers of great food and drink from around the UK. This way I don’t have to choose between them, no one will be offended when I don’t buy and I won’t have to carry it all home again. Or resist the temptation not to eat it on the way home.

* Chuntering away to myself as I read the show catalogue at the number of firms who still have no form of website.

So, if you have nothing better to do, then you could continue to book in advance and make a large saving over what you would have to pay on the door. But really, why would you?

Fabulously appropriate photo by The Wolf on Flickr.

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Which parliamentary seat is a foodie gift?

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Where would you be foodie MP for?

 

Of course I was delighted to get back from holiday to find an election had been called. How riveting the 4 weeks will be. I’m afraid I can’t quite see the attraction of being an MP. Unless there’s good food involved.

Which got me thinking. Which is the best seat to hold from a food perspective?

I mean, my local MP, god love him, is Alan Duncan, contesting the Rutland and Melton seat. Which is not a bad seat, if you love pork pies and Stilton cheese, which I’d consider a pretty good haul. So, if I had to stand as an MP, which other seats are worth looking at from a food perspective? Here’s where I’d be voting for:

* Cornwall North – not suggesting that the MP would get any special treatment, but this does cover Padstow. Which apparently has some quite good seafood restaurants. There’s Philip Warren & Son at Launceston, butchers to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Which does seem a slight oxymoron but never mind.

* Chichester – for a prospective MP with a sweet tooth, this could be a great seat, as it includes the home of Montezuma’s chocolate. All that chocolate to work through, that would stave off the nodding off during PMQT. Or during PMT. And for a meat treat, then it has to be O’Hagan’s Sausages out at Fishbourne. And if you needed a pint to wash down the sausages, then maybe Plucking Pheasant from Gribble Brewery. Or, if they were rubbish at their job, then a pint of Pig’s Ear.

* Gower- not only beautiful surroundings, but some good food producers too. Again, may suit an MP with a sweet tooth, to partake of Gower Cottage Brownies. If they’re ok for members of the Welsh Rugby team then…! If they wanted to get a few bottles in, then I would head for Mumbles Fine Wines. Fantastic range of wines from around the world, not to mention wines from Cwm Deri, whisky from Penderyn and beer and lager from The Hurns Brewery.

* Skipton & Ripton – again, gorgeous parts of the country, and some good food to be had. It would be possible to live very well on the products emerging from Bleikers smokehouse. Trout cured with gin is not an insult about an old soak, but a very good piece of fish to have. Need a pudding? Check out good old fashioned puds from Just Puds. And proving Alan Duncan isn’t the only one with access to pork pies, then you could head over to Appletons Pie Shop.Whether you get to queue jump when you’re MP, I’m not sure.

* Bradford West – may not immediately leap to mind, but if you love curry, where better? Well, maybe one of the Leicester constituencies…but this one covers Mumtaz, which covers a restaurant and food empire, so curry for all occasions. If they don’t just want to have a fridge full of curry, then they could pop over to Keelham Hall Farm Shop and stock up on fruit and veg, meat and poultry…pretty much anything with an emphasis on local sourcing.

I think in reality pretty much every seat would have some food credentials worth representing, which is testament to the growth in artisanal and local food production around the UK. It also makes it worthwhile to ask your candidates where they stand on food issues and fair deals for our farmers.

Polling station photo by secretlondon123 over on Flickr.

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Celebrating the best of Wales

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More to Wales than...

 

So here we are, 1st March, St David’s Day already. I have a great many friends over that particular border, and if you haven’t discovered the great foodie things coming out of Wales, then you’ve so been missing out! Here’s my top choices of things you should be discovering:

1. Adra is my favourite source of gifts for the ex pat Welsh friends, whether or not they speak the language. There is a great pride in having things around the kitchen with Welsh words on them. For the cook of the house, perhaps the enamel sign “Cogydd ar Waith“, or for the breadmaker, or eater, the Bara bin. And, of course, who could disagree with the sentiment “does dim i drechu paned“?

2. If you want a bit of a treat at breakfast time, or afternoon tea, then try Angharad’s Anglesey Blackberry & Sloe Gin Conserve. Made from wild fruit from Anglesey, this will definitely perk up a cream tea! Very attractive looking, and there are some other great flavours on offer too. And if you’re shopping on the site, you best try their butter and Bara Brith as well. (UPDATE, sadly no longer any sign of them trading)

3. Give yourself a beef treat with a great piece of Welsh Black Beef from Beef Direct. Deservedly one of Rick Stein’s food heroes, you may well come across these guys at one of the farmer’s markets in the area, or you can order online for next day delivery. Hung on the bone for 3 weeks for maximum taste and tenderness, and delivered fresh not pre frozen, you won’t be disappointed. Perfect for dinner parties if you want a big joint, drop them an email and let them know exactly what you need.

4. I couldn’t possibly mention Welsh food, without mentioning Gower Cottage Brownies. Kate Jenkins is busy rustling up great brownies, and these make a great sweet treat, and a great foodie gift. There are versions with and without walnuts or hazelnuts, and also dairy or gluten free versions, so truly something for everyone. It would appear from her tweets that Kate keeps half the rugby team in brownies. Draw your own conclusions, based on their current performance!

5. I am a bit of a cheese fan (understatement) and there are some great cheeses being produced in Wales. The Snowdonia Cheese Company make some great tasting, and looking ones, like Black Bomber the extra mature cheddar with the tough guy black jacket, or if you want something smokey, then try the oak smoked Celtic Promise made in West Wales. If it’s the blue stuff that takes your fancy, then try Perl Las Blue.

6. I know as far as some are concerned, there is only one drink worth having out of Wales, but there are also a surprising number of vineyards. The oldest established one is Glyndwr, from all the way back in 1982, and not only is the produce delightful, but they do great bed and breakfast too. Try the mixed case as a great introduction to what they are doing.

So, more to Welsh food than Welsh cakes and Bara Brith! There are such a great variety of fabulous food festivals in Wales that you have no excuse for not exploring the Welsh food scene. If you need breaking in gently, get the train to Cardiff (big city, other end of the M4 to London), book into Jolyons to sleep and start with dinner at Le Gallois. That should see off a few misconceptions!

UPDATE Sadly Le Gallois is no longer in business, it was a truly fabulous restaurant.

Fabulous photograph by zoonabar over on Flickr.

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Send them a surprise in the mail

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Brownie heaven from the Gower Coast
Brownie heaven from the Gower Coast

You know what it’s like, you come home from a fairly rubbish day at the office, and there’s piles of post waiting for you. You know what’s waiting: bills, junk stuff about products you really don’t want, more bills.

How about sending something that will really turn any day around, and leave everyone with a great dessert to go at. I was thrilled to receive a box of brownies to try from Gower Cottage Brownies, and I have to say I can see why these have received all the plaudits they have received.

Forget the tubs of brownies you would get from the supermarket, these are on a level of their own. Melt in mouth, moist but not sticky, and chocolatey beyond all belief. The packaging they arrive in is simple but very lovely, so the treats begin as soon as you open the outer wrapper.

You could send these for any reason: new job, new baby, engagement, Christmas, it’s Wednesday. Treat a friend or treat yourself, I promise everyone will be happy. Including the fact that you are supporting a small, but tasty business from a beautiful part of South Wales. It feels good to spend money that supports a small business, especially one that is really good at what it does.

I thought it couldn’t get any better, but then I discovered that they also do a gluten free version, which is just fantastic. Those with gluten and wheat intolerances don’t always get the best deal on tasty cakes and sweet treats, but I would think these are absolutely worth giving a go. There are also varieties with hazelnuts or walnuts, so you really are spoilt for choice.

Go on, make the post something worth coming home to!

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