The Universal Cookery and Food Festival was a full day affair, and a beautiful day at that with blue skies, bright sun, and crisp air – a little too crisp for some of the city dwellers in attendance, in fact, who found themselves ill-equipped for the nippy coastal breeze. Breakfast was served at 8am, a big feed to set everyone up for the day’s events which included farm tours, talks, demonstrations and, happily, lots and lots of food.
Luckily for the chilly amongst us, much of the action took place in a tent – a move which earned the festival its moniker ‘Glastonbury for chefs’. There were no floral headbands, no Michael Eavis and a lot less mud than the real Glastonbury, fortunately, with the festival located in the beautiful surroundings of Vallum Farm near Newcastle. Vallum, proclaiming itself the ‘artisan gateway to Hadrian’s Wall’, boasts an onsite dairy and expansive kitchen garden supplying a restaurant, tea room, cook school and ice cream parlour – the perfect environment for a day of learning, tasting and tromping through fields.
Guests and participants had travelled up (and down) from all over the country for the festival, each with their own story to tell. The exhibitor list was wonderfully varied, with interesting, enthusiastic people at every turn; one minute we were nibbling fennel and wild boar salami and discussing Scottish-Italian ice cream with a game producer from Kilmarnock, the next we were cuddling a trio of sleeping pigs and then, suddenly, we were probing a Streatham-based British cheese supplier on the best edible gifts for Christmas (the answer was cheese, surprisingly).