As we stumble towards the spring awakening of all things foodie, marquees across the UK are being dusted down, trestle tables dragged from storage and food producers revving up production as the frenzy of food and drink festivals kicks off.
The earliest UK festival has come and gone with the Wakefield Festival of Rhubarb last week, but there are plenty more in store for the coming months. In fact, there are enough to fill every weekend right through to the autumn if you were so inclined. Five of my favourites include the UK and further afield, and all worth a visit.
On the national radar, say ‘food ‘and ‘festival’ in the same sentence and invariably Ludlow or Aldeburgh will be tagged on. Well, move over chaps, ’cos there’s a new(ish) kid on the block in the North of England – shock, horror – in the pretty market town of Malton.
The Malton Food Lovers’ Festival is in its fourth year and now dubbed ‘The Ludlow of the North’ (praise indeed). The annual festival is a two-day celebration of ‘Yorkshire’s Best’, with more than 100 enticing producer-stalls, a beer festival, taste trail, street food and tons of things for the kids.
There are two cookery theatres boasting an enviable chef line-up. Expect to see such celebrities as Antonio Carluccio, Tom Parker Bowles, Matthew Fort, Rosemary Shrager and a clutch of renowned local chefs and food producers. And all of this comes at the cheapest price of any festival in the UK. Amazing. Malton Food Lovers’ Festival: 19-20 May 2012.
2012 is a pretty hectic year here in the UK, what with the Jubilee and the Olympics, and tagged on to these events is British Food Fortnight. It’s a kind of food festival but one taking place across the country rather than in a muddy field. The flag-flying event normally takes place in the autumn, but this year they wanted a piece of the Olympic action, so it’s on from 27 July to 12 August.
Look out for promotions in shops, pubs and restaurants throughout the land. Schools are taking part in a competition for the chance to cook for the Queen in Buckingham Palace. As part of the London 2012 Festival, Family Feasts are being organised in disadvantaged areas of the country in an effort to spread the Olympic spirit. It seems the stage is set for a huge celebration of British food while the eyes of the world are upon us. Love British Food Festival: 27 July to 12 August.
Skip over the sea to Ireland
This is one of my all-time favourite festivals, and one of the latest on the calendar: The Dingle Festival of Food and Wine is a weekend-long celebration of the best of Irish food and drink on the beautiful Dingle Peninsula in south-west Ireland. The opening party and prodigious craic on the Friday night set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Expect great food and drink, lots of on-street entertainment, music and fun, all wrapped up in the warmth of Irish hospitality. Definitely not one to be missed. Dingle Food and Wine Festival: 5-7 October.
Any wine-growing region invariably will have a festival going on around harvest time. If you are fortunate enough to be near one, they are great fun. As the festival will be held in situ – close to the vineyards or the winery – you are likely to be rubbing shoulders with the locals and workers, which makes a visit so much more enjoyable and far less ‘serious’ than when the sniffing-swirling-spitting brigade are involved.
So hotfoot it to Tuscany in September if you can, for the Chianti Classico Expo. The town of Greve in Chianti comes alive and is practically swimming in the eponymous drink. Pick up a glass at one end of the town and off you go…
Alongside the wine tasting are samplings of local food products (to soak up the wine) including olives oils, breads, salami and cheeses. And if you should get bored of the wine (?) there’s usually a stream of fringe events taking place. 42nd Expo of Chianti Classico Wines: 6-9 September 2012
It’s not just here in the northern hemisphere that food is celebrated, courted and feted. One of the best festivals, worldwide, is the biennial Tasting Australia festival in Adelaide, southern Australia. It is considered one of the most significant of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region. I was fortunate to be at the last one and, though making a special trip can be costly, it feels less indulgent if you plan a trip to Oz around it.
With 80 events over the week, there’s plenty on, including appearances from both Aussie and British celebrity chefs, youth activities, regional experiences and local arts, all served up with an amazing range of hands-on experiences for food lovers. Should you run out of things to do (highly unlikely), there’s always the city, with its old-fashioned Pie Carts, the stunning City Market, and parks and museums to visit.
Within striking distance of Adelaide are over 200 cellar doors including the Barossa, Coonawarra, Fleurieu, McClaren Vale and more. Kangaroo Island off the south coast is a must for its wilderness, wildlife and amazing food and drink. Oh, and if you do go to the island, Southern Ocean Lodge is a must. It’s hard to find better meals, wines or hotel rooms. How could anyone ever be bored around here? Tasting Australia 2012: 26 April to 3 May.