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Somerset is the traditional home of cheese and cider and to celebrate its great bounty, the region holds many annual food festivals. Producers from the highest hills and smallest seaside towns come together to showcase their finest food and drink for visitors from all over the world. While you’re tucking into tasty samples of cheeses, pies, meats and ciders, you can expect a friendly chat with the producers about how the product is made in the county.
One of the most famous Somerset foods is cheddar cheese. According to Katherine Spencer, technical manager at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, there are many stories as to how cheddar cheese originally came into being. She said: “The land around the village of Cheddar has been at the centre of England’s dairy industry since at least the 15th century, with the earliest references to cheddar cheese dating from 1170.
“With the absence of refrigeration or adequate transport, the problem of what to do with surplus milk was solved by turning it into cheese. Cheesemakers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd to squeeze out the moisture, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheese making, along with other refinements, was perfected in Cheddar village and so the first authentic Cheddar cheese was born.”
Katherine and her husband John took over the old Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company in 2003, determined to restore the only cheddar cheese made in Cheddar. Their cheese is made using the original technique, keeping the art alive in the village.
“The beautiful county of Somerset is a huge attraction to visitors, food lovers and holiday makers alike,” said Katherine. “The rolling green county of Somerset has always been well-known for its cultivation of excellent produce – traditional Somerset Cheddar cheese (of course!) – but famous too for its cider and strawberries.”
According to Katherine, the famous Cheddar strawberries are “perfection”. She added: “They grow nowhere better than the south facing, well-drained lower slopes within the Cheddar area. The same goes for the apple crops. Weather and climate is again perfect, and Somerset produces arguably the best apples and cider in the country.
“It’s no surprise that this humble county is at the forefront of the food and drink industry with over 8,500 farmers and producers spread over 50,000 acres of agricultural land – the highest in any UK county, creating a staggering £500 million industry.”
Next festival: October 8, 2017
In the heart of England’s smallest city, this artisan food and drink festival offers an excellent excuse to visit Wells. The festival encourages families to include more fresh food in their cooking through demonstrations by local producers. More than 150 individual traders showcased their goods at Wells Food Festival in 2016 including tasty cheeses from Bath Soft Cheese Co, local honey from Bumblee’s Preserves, artisan cakes from Crumpet Cakes and award-winning pies from The Humble Pie Co.
“Somerset is everything to our cider,” said Chris Worledge of Ham Hill Cider, one of the producers attending this year’s festival. “Cider making flows through the rivers and streams of Somerset and we are very proud to be part of this heritage. All our apples are harvested from vintage orchards within 5 miles of Ham Hill.
“Wells Food Festival epitomises Somerset, every producer is passionate about their offering and the people are just lovely.”
When visiting the festival, be sure to try Ham Hill Cider’s best-selling traditional medium cider. If you prefer ale, you’re in luck! Cheddar Ales will also be attending the festival. “Somerset countryside influences pretty much all of our beer names,” said Jem Ham, managing director of Cheddar Ales, “especially locally, local water influences the actual beer itself as we get supply from the local reservoir, malted barley and hops less so and although mostly British sadly not grown close enough to call truly local.
“I think it is very important for people on holiday to visit local food festivals and events as regionally there are some wonderfully different foods and drinks wherever you go throughout the UK. We are famous for cheese in Cheddar and ever more so, beer!
“Local festivals are run, populated and dictated by people with true passion for their produce, true artisan companies who care more about what they do than how much profit they can make.”
If you’re heading to Wells Food Festival on your Somerset holiday, be sure to try Cheddar Ales’ best-selling brews, Potholer and Gorge Best.
Next festival: September 23–October 8, 2017
Gourmet food, cheeses, ales, ciders and everything in between are on offer at The Great Bath Feast. Spread over two weeks, the festival takes over the historic city of Bath, with food stalls commandeering the pretty stone streets and a diverse range of restaurants opening their doors.
Now in its fifth year, The Great Bath Feast offers locals and visitors the chance to taste exotic flavours, develop new skills and enjoy exciting culinary experiences. Businesses including book stores, cafes, tour groups, restaurants and pubs come up with imaginative ideas to create a calendar packed with events including talks and tastings, gourmet dinners, demonstrations, foraging trips and food tours.
This year, the festival will launch with the Bath Good Food Awards Gala Dinner on September 24 at the Apex City of Bath Hotel, championing the very best food and drink in the city. Savouring Bath will be leading culinary tasting trails throughout the city and the Bath Pub Tour will lead participants through Bath’s drinking history. Of course, Bath Artisan Market will return to Queen Square with the finest street food while in Green Park Station, the Artisan Brunch Market will offer world flavours from India to the Caribbean. David James, chief executive of Visit Bath, said: “The Great Bath Feast is a superb way to showcase the quality of the food and drink on offer in our city and drive footfall into our bars and restaurants.”
Next festival: September 30, 2017
Backed by Exmoor National Park, the coastal village of Porlock is truly a sight to behold. Pretty fishermen’s cottages line the weir, which reaches out towards the sea. Amid the cottages, shops, independent eateries and historic pubs, Porlock Oyster Festival takes over the village at the end of the summer. The event, created by Porlock Bay Oysters, celebrates the return of oysters to Porlock Bay with tastings, cookery demonstrations, music and crafts, as well as the eagerly anticipated International Crabbing Competition.
This spectacular yet unassuming village has put itself on the map as a haven for foodies and is well worth a visit during your stay in a Somerset holiday cottage. Tucked away in a small shop overlooking the weir, Ziang’s serves mouth-watering Far Eastern street food. The restaurant has become so popular that people travel from all over the country to eat here. Be sure to call ahead and pre-order to avoid disappointment. Also making a name for itself in the village is The Mandala, a cosy pizzeria using innovative local ingredients such as venison salami and a selection of Exmoor cheeses.
Next festival: October 21, 2017
For two days each year, the picturesque seaside town of Burnham-on-Sea is transformed into a food bonanza. To keep things as local as possible, the event invites producers from within a 25-mile radius of the town and only extends the invitation for “exceptional products”. Eat: Burnham-on-Sea is completely free to attend and is perfect for those eager to sample and buy local fayre. Chat to the producers and be sure to ask for tasters to help you decide which delicious cheese, pie or sweet treat to buy.
According to Beverley Milner, festival organiser, the event is the perfect blend of an agricultural show with livestock and tractors, a farmers’ market with over 120 producers and a picturesque Somerset town with market stalls and cookery demonstrations. Beverley said: “A visit to this festival will help you fill your picnic basket with the best of local food and drink and give you some ideas of where else to visit while you are in the area, such as farm shops, vineyard tours and food safaris.
“It’s free to attend with lots going on all day and a wide variety of entertainment for all ages. Being a mixture of indoor and outdoor venues, it’s great whatever the weather.”
Next festival: July 15-16, 2017
For all lovers of chilli, chocolate, or both, this unique food festival in Bath is well worth a visit. Over 35 traders bring sauces, chutneys, seeds, plants and other chilli-related products to Bath Chilli and Chocolate Festival, alongside artisan chocolatiers. If you think you can handle the heat, enter the chilli eating competition or the hot wings challenge. There’s even an opportunity to learn about chilli science as you tuck into some of the delicious food on offer. Look out for producers including Hollychocs,Crackle & Jam and Screaming Chimp Chilli Sauce.
Next festival: September 1-2, 2017
For a taste of Somerset’s finest brews, head to Wessex Beer and Cider Festival. Now in its 11th year, the festival offers a tasty selection of beers, ales, IPAs, stouts, porters and ciders. The brewers will be on hand to answer your questions and serve tasty samples, so you can find the perfect brew to suit you.
According to the event organiser Alan Bowhay, people visit the festival in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, just outside Shepton Mallet, from all over Europe. He said: “This year we have 28 beers and 35 ciders with one special cider made for the festival called Wessex Wallop. Live music and hot food are available throughout the duration of the festival.”
Next festival: September 7-9, 2017
When it comes to cheese, nowhere does it quite like Somerset. To celebrate its vast array of cheeses, the county holds its annual Frome Cheese Show. The oldest cheese show in the country celebrates the global cheese industry alongside all things country, farming and agriculture. If you know your stilton from your cheddar, there’s no better place to brie. As well as enjoying delicious samples, you can observe the judging of 1,500 cheeses at the Global Cheese Awards.
Amelia Coates, show manager, said: “Visit the newly developed Agri-Village at this year’s Frome Cheese Show where you’ll find lots of things to see and do for all the family including big machine displays, heavy horses, milking demos, Tractor Ted, the Sheep Show, our animal nursery, livestock showing and much more.
“Throughout the rest of the day, we’ve got hundreds of trade stands, incredible food halls, rural and equine exhibitors, a new music stage featuring West Country heroes The Wurzels, a family dog show, arena attractions and of course copious quantities of cheese!”
Next festival: TBC, 2018
Eat your way across Exmoor during this month-long food festival. Local restaurants from gastropubs to fine-dining eateries participate in Exmoor Food Fest, offering two-course meals for £10 or three courses for £15. The festival offers visitors the perfect opportunity to sample some of the best restaurants in Exmoor for a fraction of the price. Prestigious restaurants including Psalter’s at the Luttrell Arms in Dunster and Lowtrow Cross Inn in Taunton took part in February 2017’s festival, along with over 30 other Exmoor eateries. Be sure to check the slots on the website and book in advance.
Whether you’re seeking a taste of traditional cheese or cider, be sure to visit a food festival or stop by a farm shop during your stay at a Somerset holiday cottage.