Fields of Glory: Wirral Food Festival
Ahead of this year's event, David Lloyd talks to Wirral Food Festival's Andrew Pimbley."People are sick of buying shit in the supermarkets," he says.
For Claremont Farm’s Andrew Pimbley (pic centre), summer’s not over until he’s filled his fields with sausages a-sizzling, lambs a-leaping, geese a-laying and a partridge in a pear and avocado salad.
For two days, his family farm’s cobbled courtyard, paddocks and pastures are home to a temporary tented village celebrating the very best of local, regional and global cuisines. And, this year, the event is set to be the biggest yet.
With a Michelin-starred venue heading up an increasingly impressive roll call of restaurants, the region’s longest running farmer’s market and a patchwork of award-winning producers, the Wirral’s made amazing strides in the past half decade or so, to firmly plant itself on the food map. Other food festivals are available. But, for our money, the Wirral Food Fest is still the one to beat.
“The team behind the festival are all genuinely passionate about championing local produce and producers, that makes all the difference,” Pimbley tells SevenStreets. “Plus it’s an all round fun day out for both foodies and families, with lots of entertainment and music which, we think, creates the perfect atmosphere which a lot of other food festivals lack.”
Maybe it’s its setting – Claremont Farm’s patchwork of fields sloping gradually away to meet the backdrop the Clwydian Hills. It could be the beer tent – Brimstage Brewery’s golden Trapper’s Hat bitter (in the collectible glass) always goes down a treat, or maybe it’s the obvious love Pimbley and his team has for the event that singles out this two day event as a highlight in any local foodie’s calendar.
And, by a country mile, the produce on sale is in another league to the soggy Breton galettes, overpriced cheese and brine-soaked bratwursts of the increasingly cynical European markets laying seige to our streets with depressing regularity.
“We’re very strict about who we let in and the provenance of their produce,” Pimbley says. “We only let a couple in of each type of stall to prevent hundreds of cupcake, fudge and olives stalls taking over. That’s not what a good food festival should be about.”
It feels right, too, that you’re buying from a place that, 365 days a year, is growing the region’s best spuds, asparagus, strawberries and stuff. The earth underfoot is no municipal park turf, it’s our terroir. It’s ploughed and scattered and harvested – and the produce sold 100 food metres away, in the farm shop.
“The fact that it’s at Claremont Farm does, I hope, set the right tone. You’re already in a place that produces great food,” Pimbley adds.
More than ever, though, the festival is convincing argument that, despite a worryingly limited selection around these parts, if you give us a chance, more and more of us are determined to seek out honest, healthy, home grown fare.
“I think people are sick and tired of buying shit in the supermarkets, being tricked by deceiving labeling or unknowingly supporting underhanded practices by the big four to get the food produced a at an unsustainable price. Maybe it’s sinking in that, if they don’t support their local shop or farmer, next time they come to buy something from us, we won’t be here,” Pimbley says.
“People do want to support local when they can and chefs are working hard to source locally. Increasingly, people like to know that their well earned money will be staying in the area too.”
This year, following last year’s record numbers (and, admittedly, something of a scrum bought about by the festival’s growing reputation, and the freakishly good weather) the festival’s expanded.
“It was difficult to move around at times last year, so we’ve extended the site well into the car park and created a second food court with more tables and chairs,” Pimbley confirms.
“What am I looking forward to? Well it will be great to see (homegrown MasterChef hero) Claire Lara on stage, and with Paul Askew comparing for the two days there will be no shortage of bad jokes and good food. I’m also looking forward to seeing the Loose Moose String band, as I’ve heard really good things about them, and, of course, The ultimate crowd pleaser, The Sheep Show!”
Ultimately, though, it’s the simple pleasures SevenStreets is looking forward to.
“Who doesn’t like sitting back on a straw bale, sampling some delicious foods, sipping cold beer and listening to folk music…it’s what bank holidays should be about!”
Wirral Food Festival, 28-29 August
Claremont Farm, Bebington, Wirral
Pics: Paul Tragen