One would expect a vast array of new and exciting produce, ranging from Essex jam to Hertfordshire goats’ cheese, fudge from Cambridge, and fresh lavender focaccia from the North Norfolk coast. And maybe a few celeb chefs to entertain the crowd, a bouncy castle for the kids, and a big tea tent for refreshments.
These are the expectations I went with, when visiting the festival at Knebworth House with mother this month. But it is with forlorn heart that I admit we were there for only half an hour, and did not have a good time.
Instead of the tantalising new foods I had so hoped to try, we were instead faced with the same old Farmers’ Market crowd: enormous, slightly stale pastries in towering blocks; a predictable selection of olive oils infused with this and that; a very funky and expensive Jamie Oliver stall (I suppose he was born in Essex); and the same mass-produced chutney, which I’ve obediently taste-tested on tiny bits of cracker at far too many food festivals before.
Where was the fresh bread, baked in Cley-next-to-the-Sea the day before? Or the Hertfordshire goats’ cheese, caringly made by just one woman for the past 20 years? And maybe it was the miserable weather, but why were the supposedly passionate producers anything but? We had to work hard to get even a smile, and when I asked one baker if he made all his cakes at home, he scoffed, “what does it look like?” Umm…
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Of course in every rant, there are exceptions. Infused rock salt makers Flavour Magic (their rosemary rock salt was my favourite) were friendly, enthusiastic and confident about their product; and the Black River Chocolate ladies, who make Jamaican single origin chocolate, were very generous with their Jamaican rum cake samples, which was by far the merriest part of our experience.
And I suppose we did go on the last day of the festival when, I suppose, everyone was tired and wanted to go home. But honestly, we did try to enjoy ourselves – we even intended to go to one of the promised cookery demos, only to turn away when we saw how deserted and muddy the workshop was.
Paying the price
I’ve saved the worst bit until last. Can you guess how much we had to pay to visit what was essentially a glorified Farmers’ Market? Eight English pounds! Eight! If anything, shouldn’t we be rewarded for supporting our local producers? And how is anyone without a mother to pay for their ticket (thanks mum) supposed to afford it?
The same thing happened up in Yorkshire earlier this year, when visitors to the Malton Food Lovers Festival had to pay an entry fee for the first time in the event’s long history. Do you think it’s fair to charge for food festivals? And did anyone else visit the East of England Food Festival this year? What did you think? Talk to us in the Comments Box below…