by Ann Evans

Photos: Rob Tysall

Alice Holden-Brown, Luke Hearn and Fern Anderson

Alice Holden-Brown, Luke Hearn and Fern Anderson

It was the perfect opportunity to stock up early for Christmas on delicious tipples and treats at the BBC Good Food Show at the Birmingham NEC in November. More than 400 exhibitors were displaying their wares of delicious food, drink, gadgets and home-ware, plus top chefs and experts were cooking and demonstrating live in the various theatres.


Over the four-day show visitors could get additional tickets to the Supertheatre and see live cookery action from the Hairy Bikers, James Martin, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Lorraine Pascale, John Torode, Glynn Purnell, Theo Randall and the Two Greedy Italians, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo.


Further open theatre events provided lively cooking and baking entertainment with chefs such as Brian Turner, Phil Vickery, Marcus Bean and other well known names. There was even a master class in drinking beer. The Great British Beer Experience saw various connoisseurs of British beer taking their willing audience through a beer tasting session.


Not being much of a beer drinker myself, I did find a heavenly drink called Rubis, a luxury chocolate wine that won a silver in the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2014. The thought of red wine and chocolate didn’t sound particularly appealing – until I tasted it!


It was explained to me that Rubis is a combination of carefully selected Spanish Tempranillo red wine and premium chocolate, skilfully (and secretly) blended to produce the smooth rich velvety taste that had me dipping into my purse to buy a bottle.


“It’s so versatile,” I was told. “Drink it with ice, or an after-dinner drink, almost like a lighter port, or as part of a cocktail, or drizzled over ice cream.” I certainly will!


It’s always interesting to know what goes into a product to give it its distinctive flavour so I was curious about the little jars on the award-winning Martin Miller’s Gin stand. Matt Dicken from the company explained that the gin is flavoured with juniper berries, orange, lemon and lime peel, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cassia bark, orris root and liquorice. And what makes it so very special is that it’s bottled in Iceland using Icelandic spring water.


It seems that that Icelandic people believe that their natural world, including the water is inhabited by spirits; so the water is not allowed to be de-mineralised. To do that would ‘kill’ the water. The company say they are probably the only gin on the market to use naturally occurring spring water, and what they believe is the purest and softest water on the planet.


Anyone looking for a special gift would have been spoilt for choice at the Vom Fass stand. This German company make personalised gifts of oils, vinegars, spirits, liqueurs and wines, with bottles and stoppers that come in all kinds of gorgeous reusable shapes. Catching everyone’s eye was a sparkling wine which looked normal – until you gave it a good shake. Amazingly it takes on a creamy, pink marble appearance yet still tastes clear and sparkly.


Another quirky idea was at the Vedett beer stand. You could have your photo taken (or upload on line) which was printed onto a label. Rosie Nash said, “People really love having products personalised – and this makes us different from other brands of beer. Vedett beer has been brewed since 1954 and we’ve been taking the photos for labels these last seven years.”


Whether you’re a beer drinker or not there’s something enchanting about the different beers that are all based on mystical woodland characters. Brand Manager at the Wychwood Brewery, Luke Hearn told me that they produce a whole range of different beers plus limited editions to celebrate different seasons and events.


“We have beers such as Pumpkin for Halloween and Bar Humbug for Christmas, and rugby themed beers for the Six Nations Championships. And in terms of draught beer we always have a monthly special. Piledriver is one of our most popular beers. Since February 2014 we have sold 1.1 million pints.”


Their latest is New Gold launched about three months ago which has eight different varieties of hops. It was obvious that Luke and his team thoroughly enjoy their job as smiling he added, “The team have taste trials. There’s a process to getting it right.”

The Oxfordshire Brewery also offers tours of the brewery.


Living in the Midlands, I was interested to find that the Ludlow Food Centre had taken the gold award for being the Midlands Best Deli, fending off competition from hundreds of entrants. The BBC Good Food Show in association with the BBC Good Food Magazine had been scouring the Midlands for the past six months to search for the best deli or farm shop. After an arduous judging process, the Ludlow Food Centre was declared winner with judges describing it as ‘the ultimate food destination in the Midlands.’


Chatting to their delighted team, Hannah Carter explained that they combine farming, food production and retail all in one place. “Shoppers can look through into our glass fronted kitchens to watch products being made. We source locally and have built really good relationships with local farmers. Our fresh meats, fruits and vegetables are grown and reared on the Earl of Plymouth’s Oakly Park Estate.”


We ended our visit to the Good Food Show with a sweet treat, chatting to Scott Davies of the award winning Hilltop Honey based in Powys, Wales. Although Scott has only been producing honey since 2011 he has already won two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2013.


His stand was delightfully golden with all the different quality raw honey he produces. “I do varies varieties such as cream honey which is whisked for 15 minutes four times a day for three weeks, then there’s ginger infused honey which is also quite different.”


These and other delicious honeys are fast earning him a great reputation in the honey field. “Three years ago I started reading up on bees and realised that I wanted to keep bees and make honey for a living. So I got myself a hive then my parents bought me another hive and so it went on. We now sell honey from our own bees and six other beekeepers, with the mainstay of our business selling raw honey, which is how I believe we should all eat our honey.”


The BBC Good Food Show was great entertainment, packed with good things and good advice.  And as the end of a busy day, we headed home to sample some of the goodies we’d been temped to buy and look forward to next year’s shows.

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