It was purely by chance a few weeks ago that I saw a comment from a Facebook friend who was looking forward to the Feast of Dorset food and drink festival the following weekend. These days, even the smallest of villages all seem to have their own food festivals and they are often of varying quality, but I was intrigued by this one so had a look at the website and thought it sounded like it could be something a bit out of the ordinary, so on the Saturday, Mr W and I set off for Wimborne to visit the festival, which takes place over two days and bills itself as a celebration of West Country food.
When we arrived at Deans Court, a stately home just on the outskirts of the town, we were amazed by the huge amount of cars already parked outside. Parking was in a field, so it was very, very lucky that the weather had been dry for a few days beforehand, as it could have been impossible if it had been muddy. The festival itself was similarly bustling and busy, but as soon as we walked in there was a great atmosphere and we followed the signs straight to the Tempus Two wine bar where we enjoyed a glass of wine and got our bearings. It wasn’t long before we were approached by a film crew (well, a man with a camera and a lady with a microphone!) looking for sound bites from visitors for the festival’s promotional video. Mr W wanted to remain enigmatic as ever, but I am never backward in coming forward (as my mother would say!) so was more than happy to contribute, subject to being able to hold on to my wine glass of course, and am hoping to see myself on film sometime soon!
The festival is held in the gardens of Deans Court, which are nicely landscaped and also have a few distinct areas, which made it feel like a more intimate event than it actually was, which was good.
One particular area was home to the majority of the takeaway food stalls, which were an eclectic mix of options from local producers and further afield, and not just the usual suspects that turn up at pretty much every event going! We wandered around for ages having a look, trying a few samples – which for the freebie loving foodie were extremely plentiful – and deciding what we wanted to have for our lunch. With everything from Bangkok street food to traditional Dorset fish and chips on offer, we were spoilt for choice, so decided to have a wander round some of the exhibition tents to work up a bit more of an appetite before we made a decision (we did share a portion of Spanish Churros while we wandered, just to make sure we didn’t go hungry!)
In the exhibition area there was a cooking theatre, which was the venue for numerous demos over the weekend, including some from reasonably well known chefs, at least in the local area. Mat Follas, previous winner of Masterchef and owner of The Wild Garlic in Beaminster, Dorset, springs to mind from the list that I saw, but while we were there, there wasn’t anyone particularly noteworthy demonstrating, and indeed the demo we saw was a rather uninspiring one on how to cook a steak, so we moved on!
Numerous exhibitors, in and outside of various tents, included local cheese manufacturers, butchers, chocolatiers and bakers. Cupcakes definitely seemed to be flavour of the month with a variety of stalls selling them, and also an area where visitors could join in a cupcake demonstrating class. We also watched a fascinating demo of some very impressive cookware, and some knife sharpeners, but there wasn’t a huge amount of this type of thing so it didn’t feel like an ideal home show!
After a while wandering round, we returned to the takeaway food area and settled on our lunch. There had been a lot of excitement previously in the day around something or other that had been barbecued/cooked in the ground, but this was sadly now just a hole, so we couldn’t partake, but the same stall had some tasty local sausages, which we’d tried a sample of earlier on, so Mr W had one of these in a bap – I think it was pork and pear, and it was delicious.
I headed for a stall from a fish and chip shop in Weymouth, interesting because it had been featured on Channel 4 with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who had challenged the owners to put something sustainable on their menu, resulting in the birth of the Mackerel Bap. Apparently thousands of these have since been sold, and they seemed to be selling like hotcakes (hot baps?) at the festival too. I’m not a big fan of mackerel, but what did catch my eye were the Dorset crab cakes, so I opted for these, which turned out to be the nicest thing, bar none, that I have ever had served in a disposable receptacle! They were really nicely presented too, and served with a choice of tartare sauce or sweet chilli dip. I went for the latter, which was quite fiery, but went down really well with the crab.
After our lunch, we had another glass of wine in Mr W’s case, and a coffee in my case, then wandered round some of the other exhibits, which included a herb garden (where visitors could indulge in a very public massage if they so wished – I wasn’t tempted!), falconry displays, a bee keeping demonstration (although sadly the weather conditions were not right for the bees to come out!) and ferret racing which caused a great deal of excitement amongst young and old visitors alike. There was a reasonable amount of entertainment on offer for children, including an old fashioned helter skelter and a Punch and Judy show, and there was a crèche area as well, but the event didn’t feel as if it was overrun with children, and was just as pleasant to visit as a couple.
Unlike some of the town centre food festivals I’ve been to, which are just a collection of market stalls in amongst the shops, this was a special event, so we paid £8 each to go in, but for me this was more than worth it, as we spent a good few hours there and could have stayed even longer if we’d felt like it. The location is lovely, and the different sections of the gardens made it feel more special and less like a collection of stalls, again making it feel like it was good value for money.
We really enjoyed Feast of Dorset. It’s currently in its third year, and I’m hoping it goes from strength to strength – and let’s face it, with me in its promotional video, how could it not?! If you’re a local foodie, then go along next year!