Ludlow Food Festival, Shropshire
PUBLISHED: 10:54 10 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013
Debbie Graham visits the small town with a big reputation for food and drink to find out why its annual festival remains a gourmet event in the foodie calendar.
Ludlows reputation as a place to visit used to rely on its historic streets, impressive castle, fascinating church and picturesque border setting. But all that changed 15 years ago when the food and drink festival first took place. Now this September highlight on the foodie calendar attracts more than 20,000 visitors across three days.
Its original aim was to both promote the area's small food and drink producers and encourage visitors to explore Ludlow's fascinating shops, restaurants and pubs, says Beth Heath, the festivals manager and she admits there were no great expectations: In 1995 this was a novel idea which, it was freely admitted, was done just to see what happened."
Well the festival did more than just happen, it flourished and has been at the forefront of the movement which has seen people change their perception of food and drink and its provenance. And it has done much to promote local produce.
The event remains so successful simply because we stick to our core values of only letting in producers who are based in Ludlow and The Marches, says Beth. You can often find the same suppliers at many food festivals but because we have the restrictions on the producers being local to Ludlow and The Marches you will find some real gems that you will not find anywhere else.
The festival never sells the event on celebrity chefs our local chefs and the local food is what it is all about, Beth answers adamantly. However with an area boasting more restaurants featured in the Michelin guide than anywhere else in Britain (outside London of course), they are spoilt for choice and this year they include Michelin-starred Will Holland from La Bcasse in Ludlow.
Will is going to be busy as he is hosting the Michelin Day on the Friday, where I am getting as many of my Michelin-starred chef mates as possible up to demonstrate, he says, so that will be a good day. It does not stop there either as over the weekend he is running workshops and demonstrations and judging the young chef competition.
For him, Ludlow remains the food festival to emulate and aspire to. When people talk about food and drink festivals Ludlow is one that is always mentioned and it has set the standard. People compare other food and drink festivals to Ludlow. Its become an institution, people book years in advance to come and stay in Ludlow to attend it. I think it is so nice it has not got that commercial feel to it and still has that kind of personal touch. The whole town grinds to a halt and everyone gets involved.
Butcher Andrew Francis from Andrew Francis Butchers echoes this: Its just so exciting, theres so many people about it gives you such a buzz. Its good for the local economy and its good to promote Ludlow butchers, bakers etc.
Andrew will be taking part in the sausage trail, along with the other butchers in the town, and tensions will be running high as they try to win the title of best sausage. He says: We (five local butchers) all make one sausage, and customers buy a ticket, go around, try a sausage from each of the butchers and mark it from one to 10 and whoever gets the most votes wins the competition. There is also an experts choice, he says.
My entry this year will be very special. We won the experts choice last year and the trophy is in the shop and that is where it is staying and we hope to take the peoples choice too.
There are also bread and ale trails. The trails came about to encourage people to move around the town instead of just staying in the castle where many of the attractions are based, explains Beth.
And considering more than 2,000 tickets were sold last year for the sausage trail alone, it appears the organisers hard work has paid off. But the last word has to be left to Andrew to sum up the festival and what it means to the town. It puts Ludlow on the map, he says and that says it all.
On this years menu
The Ludlow Food and Drink Festival takes place between 10th and 12th September in Ludlow Castle and the surrounding town and there is plenty going on for everyone. One highlight new this year is The British Street Awards finals. This recognises how good street food can be and the work street chefs do in a tiny kitchen.
There are workshops running throughout the festival including Tastes (ranging from chocolate to goat and duck meat), master classes, talks and demonstrations. Guests include Chris Bradley, owner and head cook at Mr Underhills, food writer Rachel Green and Peter Cook from Prices Bakery.
The four trails: sausage, ale, bread and window dressing, will take visitors around the town.
Tel: 01584 873957