Foodie Festival Oxford

About a week ago a friend of mine recommended a foodie festival in the heart of Oxford, even better though it was a short cycle away and the ticket spanned the whole three day festival period.  Naturally I could not resist and eagerly bought my ticket, hoping someone would like to come with me.  Luckily people did so I was not left to enjoy the whole food-filled weekend as a loner.  The format of the festival was in the form of three "theatres" or glorified tents featuring a food master class, wine theatre and chef demonstrations theatre, with rows upon rows of local producers (plus some not so local).  Treasures on offer included gourmet cheeses, artisan chocolates, various wines made within the UK as well as Italian wines and unusual liqueurs.  Chefs from around Oxford came to show off their culinary skills, including chefs from the Ashmolean Dining Room and The Cherwell Boathouse and bakers to host fun cake decorating classes.

Decorated cupcake from Holly Cupcakes, St Germain van and an amazingly carved watermelon from the Thai food stand.

The first day was spent gawking at the sheer size of the place, and navigating myself around the place.  We didn't quite understand how to book things yet so only managed to book on to the Holly Cupcake class and a wine tasting class hosted by Villa Maria, which I must say was fantastic.  The presenter of the class was a dedicated wine drinker and reviewer: Quentin Sadler who was highly entertaining, full of fascinating stories based around the wines tasted and the region in which they originated.  I learned that looking at a grape type in wine is not reflective of its taste but that the flavour is also influenced by the climate.  One thing I took away with me was the knowledge in that the more acidity a wine has, the less ripe the grape is and that a Syrah is the same grape as Shiraz only from New Zealand instead of Australia, but has a milder flavour and lighter hue due to the cooler climates, cool huh?  We dined outdoors for lunch, settling for a Thai green curry from Chiang Mai Kitchen (vegetarian of course) after carefully seeing what was on offer from the various stands dotted around.  In the following days we tried Jamaican from Sizzlingpot Supreme (not worth it - I thought I was going to get food poisoning from the cold rice which was a mix of uncooked and over-cooked grains topped with a soggy greasy fish) and a Moroccan tagine which was fantastic, consisting of fluffy couscous buried under mildly spiced roast vegetables in a tomato sauce with a side of green lentils, salad and olives, so good!  Half way through the day we ran to a friend's house as it suddenly decided to downpour, but we happily holed up for an hour munching lemon bon bon and ginger fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge.  The day was complete with a tasting session first with Cordorniu complete with cute gifts then with Villa Maria, needless to say it was a jolly walk home!

Left to Right: Quentin Sadler wine blogger, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham from Dwink and Jo Sorenson for Cordorniu

The next day, I was slightly more on the ball and proudly booked a cooking demonstration featuring Arun Manickam from the Ashmolean Dining Room and a chocolate tasting session hosted by Chocolate and Love.  My favourite chocolate from that session was called conscious chocolate which is bizarrely labelled as "raw" but upon seeing our confused faces, it was explained how the process did not heat the cocoa above 42C to keep all the antioxidant properties and flavour; what resulted was a soft fudge like chocolate which was messy to pick up but tasted amazingly rich and dark but not bitter.  If I had money I'd make this my chocolate of choice hands down!  This was also the day we braved Jamaican food from Sizzlingpot Supreme which seemed a good idea at the time, but what ensued a long wait whilst the team argued and a worrying discussion on the rice occurred.  Optimistically (or foolishly) we waited patiently during which a customer returned with their meal saying it was not cooked and about 10 minutes later our cold rice came out to be microwaved and a soggy "fried fish" was slapped on top and away went £6.50.  I have to say I was tempted to leave it, for safety reasons but then decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and ploughed through as much as possible which did not end up being much.  I failed to understand how the rice could be both overcooked and soggy and undercooked and hard simultaneously.  Oh well, out of the whole weekend this was the only dampener and more good food were to follow!  Bellies just about filled, we continued to wander around the place and happily sampled a whole array of handmade flavoured cheeses from Lymn Bank Farm which I found so amazing I bought a range of flavours which included tomato and basil, ginger, horseradish and garlic.  £10 for 5 cheeses was not too bad in my opinion and since then they have been lovely to eat as a nibble or topped on home made pizzas.

The final day brought more friends and a boozy start participating in a boutique beers and cider masterclass lead by a pair called Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham who were hilarious and they showed a genuine passion for beer and cider which turned out to be every bit as complex as wine drinking.  They talked about the art of mixing beer with cheeses, beer in cooking and how to enjoy certain beers and food partners as well as how each of the six tried were made and how they differed in flavour.  The one thing I took away with me that day was the purpose of levelling the head of beer - apparently it removes the larger gas bubbles leaving only small bubbles which resulted in a smoother head which lasted longer.  Interesting fact but I doubt I'll ever put that to practice!  Their site is well worth a read though, it's highly entertaining as well as informative filled with reviews, facts and competitions.  The next masterclass to follow was about appreciating the origin of Parmiagiano Reggiano and Parma Ham alongside Burgundy wine which also came in a white and rose which surprised me.  I missed the ham out (not a fan of most meats in the slightest) but tasting the different cheese vintages was amazing as the depths of flavour noticeably developed with age.  coming out of that tent though, I must admit I am not keen on Burgundy; the wine was sickly sweet and quite potent.  I have faith that I might grow to like it one day... Another friend came with me today and we returned to Lymn Bank Farm cheese stand where he proceeded to buy lots of cheese as I did (they really are that good!) but upon the third visit taking friends we met up with later, it got slightly embarrassing as they threatened to rename their stand.  Next we went to pay a visit to the St Germain blue van , whereby we had a fun conversation with the bar man and proceeded to sample all three liqueurs: St Germain, Frangelico and The King's Ginger and consequently I broke my personal promise of no alcohol purchasing, taking home a bottle of Frangelico which tasted divinely of hazelnuts.  The bank holiday ended beautifully with another wine tasting session, this time with Errazuriz which is a family run business specialising in Chilean wines.


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