What's on at Fleet Food Festival 2017
PUBLISHED: 15:12 08 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:35 10 May 2017
Now celebrating its fourth year, the Fleet Food Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever. Viv Micklefield samples what's on the menu later this month
It’s a sign of a good festival when a queue forms well before the gates open. Naturally, being Britain, this is likely to be a very orderly queue: no surge to bag a freshly made sourdough, or to nab a sugary macaroon before the trays run bare. Yet passions are set to become raised once the annual Fleet Food Festival, north Hampshire’s largest event of its kind, gets into full swing and visitors embark on another great epicurean journey.
That’s because this is more than a market showcasing regional specialities; it’s more than a cookery theatre with inspiring masterclasses held by local chefs; and it’s more than a line-up of drinks experts sharing their trade secrets.
“I like those festivals that feel ‘real’, by which I mean there’s a really nice atmosphere with a good balance of both food and drink to buy and take away, and to consume onsite,” says Sarah Mills from award winning charcuterie and air-dried meat specialists Parsonage Farm (parsonage-farm.co.uk). “And,” adds the Andover based producer who switched from selling fresh meat four years ago having joined-in Hampshire’s Preserve the Hog initiative: “We’re really pleased that people are thinking more about the food they eat and like the fact that our products come from the animals on our own farm, which are well looked after.” Wherever possible, the seasonings are local too, she confirms. And if you thought that all smörgåsbord were the same then think again. “We always sell out of our north African based sausage made from lamb and beef. It’s really important to have samples of this and our other products to try as there’s not a long history of these in the UK.”
Like Sarah, the New Forest chutney and preserves maker Pig ‘n’ Pickles (pignpickles.com) has been a stalwart of the Fleet Food Festival since it started in 2014. Owner Trevor Prince says: “It’s one of our favourite events.” The former retail manager who began cooking-up small batches of flavour packed condiments in his kitchen eight years ago, uses only the freshest ingredients and spurns artificial additives in a range that now includes a spicy chilli jam, mango and peach chutney and roasted red pepper relish.
“It’s not until you have your own business that you realise how precious time is,” observes Trevor. “I try to cook during the week and then we’re busy most weekends during the summer going to food festivals and agricultural shows. At Fleet, the organisers make it an appealing event for traders and visitors alike with not too many of any one type of stall, there’s a beer tent and entertainment. We get customers coming back to us year after year, talking to them is the single most enjoyable aspect of being here.”
And there’s another food vendor who can’t wait to welcome customers old and new: “We’re going to have an even bigger presence this year, with a pop-up tearoom as well as our Citroën coffee bar,” confirms Sebastian Bonfield, founder of Hook based artisan event caterers, The Hobo Co (thehobo.co). According to Sebastian, regulars will once again be able to graze on their legendary gluten free triple chocolate brownies washed down by a freshly made cuppa, courtesy of Winchester Coffee Roasters.
“All the other stall holders come to us for their early morning fix of coffee so I bring in friends to help on the day. We’ll probably also have our home baked lavender and lemon drizzle cake as well as some sugar free bakes. It’s always a good crowd and there’s a lovely family feel, and if the weather is nice, then people tend to stay for longer.”
Although for some traders this can prove challenging. “Last year was a beautiful hot day,” recalls Jamie Kemp of JK Fine Chocolates (jkfinechocolates.co.uk), who appreciated the help of the volunteer festival organisers in siting his stall out of direct sunlight, thankfully avoiding a sea of molten truffles. Not that the Horndean chocolatier isn’t used to the heat. “For me, it was important to understand where chocolate starts from, so in 2014 I went to work on a Costa Rican cocoa farm for two months. I now do quite a bit of business online and through farm shops but markets and festivals are great, as when you’re busy making something day in and day out you don’t always appreciate how good it actually is, until someone says so.”
Charlie Gardener is another who agrees that Fleet is “always our favourite event of the year”, the inaugural festival having coincided with the first outing for his fledgling Cold Pressed Oil Co (coldpressedoil.co.uk). “I was so nervous, as then we only had a couple of dressings: raspberry and mustard, and chilli and garlic,” he admits “Within an hour, we were down to our last couple of boxes so I borrowed a vehicle, re-loaded it and we, pretty much, sold-out.”
With the Crondall producer currently offering 13 different flavour combinations, and supplying the likes of Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, he confirms that a classic mayonnaise, and a garlic and herb dressing will be launched at this year’s event. “It’s a great chance to see how these natural rapeseed based products are taken-up by customers. Sometimes I wonder if we need a bigger table!”
So, what are the other new treats set to tickle the taste buds? Trevor Prince says he’s been developing a carrot chutney. Sarah Mills meanwhile hopes that a crusted salami gives their best-selling red wine and garlic saucisson a run for its money. And Jamie Kemp is adding a vegan fine chocolate to his range.
All this against the backdrop of a parkland setting, where free family fun and crafts are designed to keep younger visitors amused; whilst those looking for a laid-back Bank Holiday Sunday can simply unroll the picnic rug, relax and enjoy the live music.
“Food festivals offer a brilliant opportunity for local producers to connect with their customers,” says Tracy Nash, commercial manager of Hampshire Fare. “The Fleet Food Festival has grown rapidly into a successful event with lots of food lovers going along to try and buy new products.”
“We do urge people to support local food festivals and use them as an opportunity to find out more about what is grown, reared and made in Hampshire.”
I, for one, think it might be worth trying to get to the front of the queue.
When & where
• When: Sunday May 28, 11am–5pm
• Where: The Views, Harlington Way, Fleet GU51 4AE. Fleet train station is 20 minutes’ walk away and bus stops are close by. Driving from the M3 (Jct. 4) take the A327 (A3013) towards Fleet town centre; charges apply in Victoria Road carpark and elsewhere.
• How: Admission £2; a full festival programme and details of ticketed attractions can be found at fleetfoodfestival.co.uk
Sandwiched between Basingstoke and Farnborough, its bigger neighbours, Fleet holds its own with eating and drinking hotspots to suit all budgets. Our town centre favourites include:
• Cellar Magneval: A wine bar, café and caveau rolled into one. Try their tasty platters alongside the extensive wine list.
• El Castello: Delivers a taste of the Mediterranean on a plate. Being Italian, families are greeted with a smile.
• Café Amici: A winner when it comes to breakfasts or light bites, the pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and coffee come recommended.
• Daisy’s Tea Room: Tucked within Serendipity antiques and collectibles, it’s for lovers of all things vintage.