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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The day of cheese, cheese, and more cheese

I've always loved cheese. Well, coming from Leicestershire, it's a given. There's good grass here, and cheese makers have been producing excellent Stilton and Red leicester in the county for many years.

That's why I was so pleased when the Artisan Cheese fair at Melton Mowbray came into being in 2011, and it's now the UK’s largest dedicated Cheese Fair.

This year's event was held about ten days ago in the town's old cattle market, with 62 cheese producers showcasing 300 cheeses. They came from all over the UK from as far away as Fife in Scotland, from Cumbria and Yorkshire to Devon and Cornwall, from Wales and Ireland.

 Cheese heaven!

First tasting of the day was at the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company stall where I had a chat with David Clarke. He and his wife Jo make few different cheeses...Sparkenhoe is their big hitter , being made in large wheels of  ten and twenty kilos. With an excellent flavour, I love the texture of this cheese made from unpasteurised milk. Their Battlefield Blue is also made with unpasteurised milk and then the Bosworth Field is made with raw milk.

 It's always a pleasure to see Alan and Jane Hewson exhibiting ..they run the Belvoir Ridge Creamery, and raise native rare breed cows - Red polls, Blue Albions and Kerrys.

I really do like their Slipcote cheese...a tiny circle of cheese which really packs a creamy punch, and it was lovely to be able to buy a bottle of their raw milk. 

Of course, Long Clawson Dairy was exhibiting...the times I've been over there at the dairy at Christmas...but there were so many different, new tastes to discover too.

And so much cheeese made by small producers from raw milk.

There was lots of goats cheese on offer, I particularly liked a couple of cheeses from Cerney Cheese based near Cirencester, namely the Cerney Ash , coated with a mix of oak ash and sea salt, and  the Cerney Pepper. My tastebuds said yes, these have soft subtle taste and at the same time, my head was filled with memories of France.. And I was on the right track...talking to Janet Angus, I found out that her mother in law, Lady Isobel Angus was inspired by living in France to make goats cheese. Apparently she persuaded a French farmer's wife to teach her the basics,and the rest is history...and she's been making cheese ever since.

And that's what I like about visiting a cheese's not just about stocking up with cheese, or trying before you buy. It's the stories I hear, the passion from the producers about their cheese, how they make it, as well as their expert knowledge about each of their cheeses, which is a big draw for me.

I remember two years ago at this cheese fair meeting Graham Kirkham who now runs the family cheese business run by his mother.  I tried the Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese , and was bowled over it's creaminess and crumbliness. I asked him for a large cheese for the evening party at my daughter's forthcoming wedding. "When's the wedding date?" he asked . and then felt around feeling each cheese,"This is the one," he said , and gave me precise instructions as to when to take it out of the fridge etc. It was perfect.

I made my way home, like many others,with a bulging bag of cheeses, thinking how lucky I am to live so close to such a good artisan cheese fair, It's very popular too...over 10,000 people visited this two day event organised by Matthew O'Callaghan, pictured here being roped into some morris dancing.

Next year's event takes place on 29th -30th April 2017.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Days of the BBC Food and Farming awards


A few months ago, I went to Derby, to the old Victorian Market there. Walking along the rather impressive colonnades,
into the beautifully designed old market,

I could smell food. My stomach growled, I knew I was in the right place. I 'd arrived at the Pyclet Parlour owned by the charismatic Mark Hughes.

Thousands of pyclets are made here every week....and they're not just any old pyclets. If you've never heard of them before, they're like a flattened crumpet.Made with flour, yeast, milk and salt. These are made to an adaptation of an old traditional Derbyshire recipe, baked on griddles and even eaten without any toppings or butter, they're tasty and comforting.

 I was here to record Michelin starred chef Angela Hartnett and Paula McIntyre, the Director of the Slow Food Movement in Northern Ireland , as they tasted their way through the whole menu of pyclet dishes. Mark didn't know it, but he'd already been selected as one of three finalists in the forthcoming  BBC Food and Farming Awards in the street food category.

What an enjoyable morning's recording here, listening to Mark's story of how he came to start up here. He bought a house, and then found out it had belonged to the Monk family who had been making pyclets in Derby since 1864. He began to research the origin of the pyclets, tested some recipes and the rest is history.

Angela and Paula were a joy as they tasted, tested, asked questions and chatted...they were having fun as well as taking their role seriously. The plain pyclets are sold by the bag, but perched on stools at the counter, Angela and Paula really liked the hot,welsh rarebit topped, toasted pyclet, followed by one topped with stilton, honey and walnuts, followed on with smoked salmon and horseradish cream. Then there's a sweet one topped with nutella.

 Luckily I was being kept in the tasting loop too and the three of us ate every single scrap of food put in front of us. No dainty forkfuls, just a quick bite and then onto the next....oh no. We were all hungry and these were delicious.


Meanwhile Mark was serving his regulars with charm and cheeky banter,

and there was  just time for a another photo before Angela and Paula have a final deliberation on their overall decision.

Meanwhile judges in the other categories, such as Sheila Dillon, Yotam Ottalenghi, Allegra McEvedy, Stefan Gates, Ken Hom and Diana Henry were criss-crossing the country to visit food producers, drinks producers, cooks, food shops and farmers, who had all been selected from the thousands of nominations received.
On Thursday night, the winners of the 16th BBC Food and Farming Awards were held on College Green in Bristol, and what a night it was. Hundreds of people from all over the UK were there to celebrate excellence, innovation and passion in the British food communities.
I was there early doing a bit behind the scenes with others... ... 

My friend Anne-Marie Bullock, one of the producers of the Food Programme was there welcoming the guests, who were being served with tempting trays of canap├ęs, all inspired by the food of the finalists. Oysters, pyclets, salami, chorizo, cheese, and so much more. The trays just kept coming, and guests were all tasting cider, fruit wines and fruity lagers.

I had a sneaky peek at the  practical yet so stylish!

And at 7pm prompt, the awards ceremony began, expertly compered by Sheila Dillon, pictured here with the gorgeous Yotam Ottolenghi. Yes, Sheila is small and Yottam is that tall!

Winners were feted in nine categories, their back stories were humbling and inspiring, and the audience loved every moment. These awards really are the Oscars of the British food industry, but unlike the Oscars, the acceptance speeches were humorous, gracious and mercifully short.

As the ceremony ended , the launch of Bristol Food Connections began - a week long food festival full of banquets, debates, cooking demonstrations, foraging walks and other community events.

Outside, there were tantalising aromas coming from a number of street food stalls who were showcasing what they do....from Caribbean jerk chicken, to pizzas, to oysters, to barbecued goat...
and spirits were high despite the rain.

The rain may have begun to lash down, but people were still chatting, smiling, eating...such a great atmosphere.

Back in the Orangerie, by now slightly damp, I caught up again with Anne-Marie and Sheila

and the inspirational and oh so likeable Dee Woods who won the BBC Cook of the Year award. Dee works as a volunteer cook and serves hundreds of free meals every week at the Granville Community Kitchen London. Outgoing and entertaining, with a life enhancing laugh, she loved her award...

I don't think you can underestimate the power of the Food and Farming Awards. I was chatting with the funny and friendly Sam Evans and Shauna Guinn from the Hangfire Smokehouse . They won the Best Street Food or Takeaway category last year, which has had a profound influence on their lives. Their first cook book has been published by Quadrille, and they've opened their first restaurant in Barry.

What a good night....the camaradie amongst foodies, so many people enjoying themselves, celebrating our food and drink communities, so many stories, so much passion about how food really can transform lives, and so much good food to eat too.

It may be another year until the next awards ceremony in Bristol, but until then, we can all get our weekly fix of award winning food related stories every Sunday lunchtime and Monday afternoon on Radio 4's the Food programme.

Here's the full list of the award winners

BEST DRINKS PRODUCER – Hallets Real Cider, Crumlin, Wales
Presented by Jancis Robinson
THE ONE SHOW BEST STREET FOOD OR TAKEAWAY - Gourmet Goat, Borough Market, London
BEST FOOD PRODUCER - Charcutier Ltd - Carmarthenshire
Presented by Ken Hom
BEST FOOD MARKET - St Dogmaels' Local Producers Market, Pembrokeshire
Presented by Diana Henry and Charlie Hicks
THE 'YOU AND YOURS' BEST FOOD RETAILER AWARD - The Almerley Food Shop – Herefordshire
Presented by Mitch Tonks
FUTURE FOOD AWARD - Our Cow Molly, Sheffield
Presented by Mike Gooding and Julia Glotz
BBC COOK OF THE YEAR - Dee Woods, Granville Community Kitchen, Kilburn, London
Presented by Allegra McEvedy
COUNTRYFILE’S FARMING HERO AWARD - Julia Evans, Worcestershire
Presented by Adam Henson
Presented by Tony Hall - BBC Director General

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

the day of the London Marathon

So, after all the preparation, the early morning training sessions, setting off at 6am on cold winter's mornings, and even giving up rugby for a few months so he wouldn't get injured , my son Callum finally got to run in his first full marathon. And what a marathon to start with...the London Marathon itself.

It's something I've watched on BBC television for many years, and it's compulsive viewing. For the first time though, I went down to watch it along with our family and friends.

What a wonderful day...with London showing off in the sunshine...Mr Thinking of the Days and I passed The Tower of London,

before making our way to a standing point where we met other Pancreatic Cancer UK supporters .

We all shouted every time we saw  runners wth their distinctive charity running vests, and I started to go cross eyed as my eyes scanned the waves of runners coming towards us. Thousands of them, most running for their chosen charities in memory of their loved ones.

All sizes, all shapes, from all over the world, some cruising past casually where we were at the 12.5 mile mark, some struggling already. Then came Callum - he saw us, I was screaming his name, and he came over, gave me a big hug, and ran off looking as fresh as a daisy. My eyes filled with tears of pride , so I turned took this photo and composed myself.

Of course I was fine after that, and we then joined up with our daughter and her husband , my eldest son and his girlfriend, Grace and Rich, Danny and Alex and even Cammo who is over from Australia. We waited by the 23 mile mark,

 but began to wonder where Callum we waited and waited. His knee which had proved troublesome a few weeks was giving him problems from mile 15 onwards, and when we finally saw him, he didn't see us. He was firmly focused on the road ahead, pain etched onto his face, dragging his leg slightly.

But he finished, and we caught up with him afterwards at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Conference Centre by Westminster Abbey. That's where many of the charities hire rooms to welcome their runners, give them massages and a place where they can rest and meet up with their supporters. Here was his lovely girlfriend Elly and her family and friends who'd also come to give support and so a photo of all of us was taken. I love this....


And this

Callum could hardly walk by now, but managed to get to the restaurant for a curry

And to have a laugh and a joke wit his brother, sister and his gorgeous cousin Ollie, who we reckon looks a little like Tom Hiddlestone

He's still walking like John Wayne, but is ecstatic at raising what will eventually be over £4,000 for such a good cause...for research into pancreatic cancer  and support for those who have it and their families. People like his uncle Dave and grandmother

But of course this is just one story out of millions who were there.

What a day. All those runners, over 39,000 of them, and the huge crowds who came to watch. The sense of camaradie and fellowship and fun which was all around. The millions of pounds raised for such worthwhile charities.

What a day...what a bloody brilliant, beautiful, emotional and proud day for so many people.

Then what a sad day the following day as we learned about the army captain aged 31 who died after collapsing at the marathon. RIP David Seath.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Cherry blossom days

When the cherry blossom is out, you know Spring is here. It's the law. Just the sight of the blossom fills me with joy and a sense that all will be well. The cherry trees are showing off their finery in towns, cities and gardens everywhere in April.
There's one tree though that means the world to me. It's fifteen steps from the back gate of the BBC studios where I work, and this week I keep nipping across to see it, touch it, stand underneath it and look up at the pink canopy of blossom set against a bright blue sky .
And if I focus slightly to my right, there's Leicester Cathedral in the background.

 Turning around, I love the way the blossom looks almost ethereal set against the silver grey and powder white  historic Guildhall.

 And then if I stand close up to the blossom, it's so easy to be completely overwhelmed by the pale pink perfection of the petals.
But the beauty of the blossom is so fleeting, you have to appreciate it while you can. There's something quite magical about seeing something so transient against a backdrop of buildings hundreds of years old.

I know it's officially Spring, but outside the sky is dark and large hailstones have been falling this evening. Will the cherry blossom still be there when I go back to work on Tuesday?

Monday, 4 April 2016

smiling and gardening on a spring day

It's been so long since I've been able to get out in the sunshine to do some gardening, and it was such a joy to do just that this weekend.

It wasn't hot, a mere 14 degrees Celsius, but I cannot tell you how good it feels to have the sun on your face, while doing some digging and weeding.

 It's an instant tonic to be able to wander around the garden  and see the daffodils, paper white in the light....

and to watch the pale blue flowers of the pulmonaria unfold. They do well here, on the right hand side of my garden, in claggy clay soil shaded by next door's one hundred year old oak tree. They may be pretty but I'm not keen on their common name..lungwort.

This glowing  clump of dironicums  are an instant boost in spring, their buttery yellow blooms are so cheery, they make me smile. Or are they dironicums? I think they are. My friend Edna from a village about twelve miles away kindly dug up a small clump for me on a visit to her garden about five years ago. I do remember her telling me to divide them in September time...which I need to do this year.

I love their common name.though ..leopards bane.

I smiled as I saw the shadows of the strands of  holly trail over the old brick wall which divides our garden from the old chapel

Further along  it was good to glimpse the periwinkle flowers peeping from the laurel hedge.

On the other side of the garden, on the left of the cottage are lots of bluebells which have amassed , the flowers haven't yet come out but I'm going to have to move them later because these pretty as a picture pink plants were here before them.

Of course I wasn't alone in the garden, the gang of three kept me company. It was good for them to race around in the sunshine . I didn't manage to get a photograph of Winnie, my grand dog who was staying for the weekend - she couldn't sit still. Boo had wandered in for a nap on Winnie's snuggly blanket in the kitchen, but wherever I was working, Eric was sitting beside me, chewing on a tennis ball.

When it was time to sit down for a breather , they all joined me though - on the bench beside the kitchen door with one sitting each side of me and one on my lap. I had smudges of  dirt on my face and scratches on my hands, but as I looked out into the garden, I couldn't help but think... "Isn't life grand!"

When it was time to sit down for a breather , they all joined me though - on the bench beside the kitchen door with one sitting each side of me and one on my lap. I had smudges of  dirt on my face and scratches on my hands, but as I looked out into the garden, I couldn't help but think... "Isn't life grand!"  

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A day remembering the reinterment of Richard III

Saturday marked the first anniversary of the reinterment of King Richard III here in Leicester.

Services were held, exhibitions opened and books launched as we remembered the heady, exciting yet reverential and remarkable day twelve months ago.

I've blogged before about the events leading upto the occasion itself....but I've only just realised how much I've done are the links

But yesterday was a day of celebrating and remembering. Kirsteen Thomson who lives a few miles from Leicester opened her art exhibition at the Guildhall.

She's been fascinated by Richard III for many years. In fact, the King passed by the back of her garden over five hundred years ago. She painted the spot twenty years ago, ...and behind the green door in the painting lies the intact drawbridge to the old castle in Kirby Muxloe.

She's painted Leicester Cathedral, the Guildhall and other local landmarks as well as other places associated with the last Plantagenet King. Fotheringhay, where he was born, Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Wales. There's also a book about Richard III filled with her paintings ...

Another book launched yesterday was "How to bury a King" by the Reverend Pete Hobson. He's the man who was given the responsibility of  doing just that...the redesign of the cathedral and preparing it for the reinterment.

And that's something that has never been done before , so it really was a step into the unknown. Pete though is so calm and level headed , and in the build up to the pomp and pageantry of last year,
he remained quite serene every time I interviewed him.
His book tells  the inside story of what happened behind the scenes .

A CD was also launched on Saturday featuring the music during the services at Leicester Cathedral last March performed by the choir from Leicester Cathedral. I still remember the shiver at the back of my neck during the Sunday service when they sang.....

And a new, different portrait of Richard III was unveiled on Saturday at the King Richard III Visitor Centre. Back in February, the centre asked people to send in their photographic memories of the reinterment in Leicester. Over ten thousand images were sent in from all over the world, and the result is this, a rather stunning , three metre high , photo montage portrait of Richard.

I love it.....and when you look closely, you can  see some of the original photographs

Local dignitaries laid white roses at the statue of Richard just outside the Cathedral on Saturday too with quite a crowd there to watch.

The effect of  Richard's reinterment on Leicester and the county is huge - symbolically, historically and financially.

Working so close by to the cathedral, I'm amazed at the numbers of visitors there over the last year. To hear American, French , Canadian and even Australian voices as I walk past would have been very unusual a couple of years ago. Not now though.

Visitor numbers in Leicester and at the Bosworth Battlefield centre where Richard III was killed remain high, hotels are running at eighty per cent capacity,

It's been estimated this week that the reinterment  has brought £59 million worth of business to the city, and that's a conservative estimate.

But let's not just talk about money...there's a buzz about Leicester now. Our Midlands city has been put on the map historically, there's a pride about the place, and that's due to the 'Richard III effect' as it's known locally.

Of course our football team, Leicester City, have also been hitting the international headlines. The stuff of dreams, the story about our team who were languishing at the bottom of the Premier League in March last year, has now become a global phenomenon. Little Leicester City, are now at the top of the league, inspiring everyone ....and it's been suggested that Richard III , even though he died over five hundred years ago, could be responsible.

I'm not kidding. Some fans say since Richard was reinterred, the football team has had a runaway success, and that the facts speak for themselves. Is it a coincidence ? Or is it a form of "King Power" which incidentally is the name of  the stadium where Leicester City play?

Whatever, Leicester has changed since a dead king was found in a city car park and was reinterred at Leicester Cathedral. And it's a very positive change too.......