Tetbury Food and Drink Festival

PUBLISHED: 08:45 08 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:11 20 February 2013

Hortensia Chocolate Shop

Hortensia Chocolate Shop

Tetbury Food and Drink Festival only began two years ago, but local foodies have developed a real appetite for all it has to offer.

Tetbury Mayor Stephen Hirst is professing disappointment. "I only got two 'seconds' in Cherington Show yesterday, which wasn't particularly good."

He's more used to his outstanding cakes - particularly his signature sticky ginger, using real stem ginger - sweeping the board. His secret? "Patience," he says. "I rarely use a mixer. My uncle was a baker and confectioner in Yorkshire and, when I was young, I used to go and work with him in the holidays.

"Do I get ribbed about my cake-making?" he grins. "Yes, it's terrible. But I have the last laugh when I get my certificates."

Sitting beside him, having a coffee in The Close Hotel, is Kathryn Limoi, chair of the town's chamber of commerce. She's a bit of a foodie, too. "I like experimenting with recipes," she says. "We have a regular delivery from the Veg Shed [the Duchy Home Farm organic vegetable box], so you never quite know what you're getting."

They're meeting up to put the finishing touches to Tetbury's third festival of food and drink. The festival's popularity - in spite of having been launched a mere two years ago - is rising faster than a loaf of Duchy Organic bread. This year it was meant to run from Wednesday, September 23 until the Sunday. By popular demand, it's now going to fill the whole week.

"Hotels are looking at doing all sorts of special menus and events," Kathryn says, "and if we only stuck to those few days, we'd end up with everybody competing against each other."

Stalls for the popular Sunday Farmers' Market are also selling like... well, like Mr Hirst's hot cakes. Last year, several thousand people passed through the Market Place, buying the produce, enjoying the entertainment. This year promises to be just as good: already on board are stallholders offering everything from a Cotswold Country liqueur, to cheese, honey, game and crepes. Daily Telegraph columnist Xanthe Clay will be there, doing a cookery demonstration. "The Sunday market was my favourite event last year. There was a real buzz to it: a feel-good day," Kathryn says.

Another big hit was the cookout at The Chef's Table in Long Street when half a dozen local chefs went head-to-head, cooking their own recipes. "There was such a good competitive spirit," Stephen Hirst says. "They were obviously prima donnas in their own right, and there was a real spark between them." It's an event that will run again this time.

In fact, this year, more people than ever will be involved. The Priory Inn is running a competition in which children have to devise a healthy lunch menu, using as many local ingredients as they can. Their prize is a family meal for four. Highgrove, courtesy of that great local food supporter the Prince of Wales, will host events that are open to the public, including a banquet in the Orchard Room in the grounds. Cotswold Chef Rob Rees is doing a cookery demonstration at The Close, with Bona Wines providing suitable liquid accompaniment.

In 2008, the Gloucester Old Spot Sausage Appreciation Society was launched at the festival, and the theme continues. The Snooty Fox has had an overwhelming response already to its 'design a sausage' competition.

"I'm also a member of the Pork Pie Society, which is based in Yorkshire," Stephen says. "My ideal 'last meal' would be a Gloucester Old Spot pork pie with mushy peas!"

The festival was born from a town 'health check' Tetbury conducted a couple of years ago. The main focus was on developing the economy and the tourism trade, which provides around three quarters of local jobs. Food-wise, Tetbury may not have any raw materials indelibly associated with its name; but when someone suggested a food and drink festival, the idea was taken up with gusto. For the town has a wealthy, discerning clientele (and plenty of visitors, thanks to the country's only high-street Highgrove shop), and some top food outlets.

Relatively recent arrivals on the scene include Quayles, an outstanding delicatessen; and Hortensia, with its stunning chocolates. Michael Bedford and his wife, Sarah, who opened The Chef's Table two years ago, epitomize the sort of passion Tetbury exudes. Of course, their deli, bistro and cookery school is a business that, like any other, has to make money. But this Michelin-starred chef is not going to fill the menu with popular food for the sake of it. "It's not just a case of getting people to spend," Michael says. "The menu is designed around what makes me happy, too. It's got to be a balance."

Other outlets have been valued in the town for years. Jesse Smith, the Tetbury butcher doesn't just win prizes because of the fantastic quality of its meat. Its staff are also a cut above the norm. John Newman is the shop's manager - and what he doesn't know about meat simply isn't worth knowing. The perfect master butcher, John has taken the 21st century and pared off all the indigestible bits: as a result, Jesse Smith's today has the same core values it began with in 1808, garnished with the best contemporary standards. Put another way, the cabinets are state-of-the art, but the bacon-slicer is vintage 1960s.

In short, whether you've a few pounds or a fortune; a love for steak or sausage, Tetbury will satisfy your appetite and quench your thirst.

"If you want a pizza, you can go and get a very good one at the Priory; then the Snooty do their 9.95 deals; or there are places such as Whatley Manor and Calcot just outside," Kathryn says.

"The beauty of Tetbury is that you can go to almost any level you want. We've fantastic hotels and restaurants - and the fish and chips are good as well!"

Tetbury Food and Drink Festival runs from Monday, September 21-Sunday, September 27; for more information and a programme of events, visit www.tetburyfooddrinkfestival.com. Look out, too, for special menus in hotels, restaurants and tea shops in and around the town throughout the week.

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