On the evening of the 21st September I attended the launch of British Food Fortnight hosted on the picturesque grounds of the Rathfinny wine estate in Alfriston, East Sussex. Established in 2010 by Mark and Sarah Driver, the Rathfinny estate is situated in the beautiful Cuckmere Valley. Once complete they will have planted around 460 acres of vines making it one of the largest vineyards and wine producers in Europe. This is really a wonderful site and was really reminiscent of the French vineyards of family holidays in my youth. Once completed it will be an impressive sight and if the wine we sampled was anything to go by this should be pretty fantastic as well.
The event was arranged by www.southdownsfood.org to celebrate all things food and drink in the South Downs area. Created in June 2015 by Natural Partnerships CIC with support from the South Downs National Park Authority and The Southern Co-operative the website features any food business within a ten mile radius of the National Park. Head over there if you are going to be in the area to search for any food related activities you can enjoy during your stay.
I felt very privileged to have been asked to come along and so I got on the journalists bus at Brighton station and headed over there. I was very pleased to find that upon arrival there was even a name badge ready for me. With my badge proudly displayed I headed into the tasting room and joined around 120 other food lovers, producers and media to sample some of the best this area of the country has to offer.
We were treated to wines from some of the world beating vineyards of the area, including Bolney Wine Estate, Plumpton College, Ridgeview and of course Rathfinny; enjoyed a Hepworth ale and High Weald Dairy cheese matching table hosted by MasterChef: The Professionals winner, and local chef, Steven Edwards; not to mention a plethora of other goods ranging from sushi made with wasabi grown in Winchester, pies and pastries, sheep’s milk ice cream, and jams and chutneys. Here are a few of my highlights:
Noble and Stace chocolatiers – http://www.nobleandstace.co.uk/
Immediately as I entered the event I was drawn towards this display – after I had helped myself to a glass of wine of course. Not only because I was the first one inside the door but also because it looked great and had chocolate on it. I had a chat to Mike – who along with his friend Mike – create all of these amazing chocolates at home in Midhurst, West Sussex.
I had a try of their dairy free pure mineral water truffle. Made with water from a natural spring these were a whole new chocolate experience. Surprisingly light and refreshing on the palate these tasted like no other chocolate I’d eaten before. Certainly worth a try if you find truffles a bit too rich. I also had a truffle which had been made using Arahapo Ale from the local Langham brewery. Combining Ale and chocolate they really could not go wrong as far as I am concerned. This tasted a little more conventional but had a slight hoppy edge to it from the ale. Mike did mildly let himself down by saying he was not a fan of chilli chocolate but I will let this minor indiscretion slide.
Gran Stead’s Ginger Co – www.gransteadsginger.co.uk
I am an absolute sucker for ginger and I love a ginger drink – ginger beer is pretty much the only fizzy drink I will buy. I spotted these guys hidden away in the corner of the room and headed over for a taste. Speaking to director Chris Knox I heard about how he and his wife run the business from their farm in Mile Oak, Brighton. The recipe was purchased by Chris’s parents back in 1994 and now he and his wife Rosemary are the keepers of the secret.
I had a taste of some of the range starting with the lemonade with a zing. This was a really pleasant refreshing drink that was not overly sweet. Made with Sicilian lemon juice there was a natural lemon flavour with just a hint of ginger heat in the background. Next up I tried the original recipe which was a nice balance of spices and ginger without being overpowering. The same could not be said of the fiery which I had next. This was exactly what I was after with a really powerful ginger hit which came on slowly and lingered for a good long while. I will definitely be seeking some of this out as it was delicious.
Stratta-Sphere – http://www.stratta.org/
Last but certainly not least I paid a visit to Mary and John Stratton who had a very exciting range of flavoured vinegars and oils. I spent a good long time chatting to both Mary and John who were really lovely and heard about how 10 years ago Mary – after becoming disenfranchised with the teaching profession – decided to give up her job and start making vinegars. Eventually the business was doing so well John also gave up his day job and they have not looked back. They have been making vinegars, oil and preserves ever since and clearly knew their stuff and were really passionate and knowledgeable about their products.
I think I sampled pretty much everything they had to offer and would have gladly bought everything off their table if I could. Particular highlights were the elderflower and elderberry vinegars which were surprisingly different in flavour; another vinegar flavoured with shiso which was really fragrant and aromatic and could definitely be used in an Asian style salad; finally the fennel infused olive oil was really delicious and coincided with the fennel kick I am on at the moment – I would love to use this in the risotto I made in my last post. I really enjoyed chatting to them both and sampling their wares.
Special mention also goes to Ridgeview wines http://www.ridgeview.co.uk/ where I sampled some of their Cavendish Brut. This was a really full bodied and complex sparkling wine unlike anything I had tried before.
I would also like to thank Roly from Saddlescombe farm http://www.camillaandroly.co.uk/ who had some of the most melt in the mouth lamb I’d ever tasted. I had a nice chat about how they moved their flock down from Oxfordshire and are now on this National Trust farm. They will soon have some beef for sale and you can even go and be a Shepard for a day.
A bit of background and information
British Food Fortnight is held in the autumn and ties in with the harvest festival. It is the biggest annual celebration of British food and drink; and an opportunity for farmers, producers and sellers to shout about the wonderful produce that this country has. It is also a chance for everyone else to show their support by eating and drinking as much as possible – not a bad way to support British produce.