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Boycie, Marcus Bean and Trader Critiques at Ludlow Food Festival

Ludlow Food Festival on a Saturday morning was full to the brim with local foodies and city dwellers who had travelled to this picturesque market town, all eager to fill up on the best food and drink. My friend and I had been looking forward to this event and it proved tremendous fun.

The castle location adds a little something special to this food festival. As we walked within its ancient walls, twists and turns revealed hives of activity and a few famous faces, making for a slightly surreal experience. As we rounded a corner, we bumped into John Challis from Only Fools & Horses promoting his new book; we discovered Marcus Bean’s cookery school within one of the old dilapidated rooms; and we stumbled across a food science lab somewhere in the bowels of the castle. Around this laboratory echoed the words of a food scientist, talking the crowd through Scoville heat scale for chillies and offering willing participants to try anything from the humble jalapeno to the Trinidad Scorpian. One poor man bravely tried one of the hottest sauces, only to splutter and run from the room – that, for me, was one of the highlights of the event: it never gets old!  

As with any good food festival, there were hoards of traders and there were a few themes running throughout the day: things made out of rhubarb, for example, and plenty of fruit liqueurs, ciders, ale and jerky.  The difference and variety of ways that traders present and sell their products was something that really caught my attention. Some were particularly engaging and really stood out, while others – perhaps those who were not as experienced – seemed to a little reluctant to interact with the public. I’m not saying we’re experts, but it seems at the larger food festivals you really need to stand out as a trader: pick your unique selling point and make sure it translates to the audience.   

Nevertheless, all of the traders had throngs of people surrounding them throughout the day, so you’ve got to hand it to those who must have spent a fortune on free samples for us greedy foodies to taste our way through. I imagine that most visitors did just what we did, and sampled first and then returned on the way back to purchase the best of the bunch.

There were so many traders and a lot of competition, so I’ve whittled down our top picks from the day:

BEST Service and rapport: Gwatkin Cider amused us with anecdotes and a sample of the driest cider I have ever had the fortune (or misfortune) to try – Old Rats Tail. I’ve still got no idea how a liquid can be as dry as the desert. If you see them at an event, grab a bottle and you’ll see what I mean.

BEST Promotion and branding: Legges of Bromyard have not only been featured on Countryfile – where they named one of their pies after John Craven (The Celebrity) – but their stall was beautifully presented and they were willingly handing out samples to everyone. Knowledgeable and unfazed by the crowd, they handled the day perfectly and I’m pretty sure they’d sold out by about 4 o’clock. Well done guys.

BEST Fun factor: The Tipsy Tart had decked out their stall stylishly, offered great customer service and importantly had a fantastic looking product which tasted amazing. After enjoying the (very generous) samples of what we aptly named ‘happy wine’ served in half pint plastic cups, me and my friend found ourselves a little giggly. It’s lucky they bottle this stuff; we bought a couple to mix with Prosecco at Christmas. We like them so much, we've recently named them as our trader of the week.

BEST Placement, price and product: The Great Berwick Organics’ stall was set right next to the main cookery theatre and once lunchtime came around, it only took a few people to buy one of their beef rolls for the word to spread. Just a few glimpses of beautiful pink, organic beef packed into a tasty roll caused a ripple effect across the whole site and hungry festival goers flocked to the stall in droves. We followed suit and were not disappointed.

BEST Festival extras: The dog’s crèche is a great idea for those bringing the pooch. A pretty little café, complete with quaint Cath Kidston-esque tablecloths was a particular favourite, and flowers floating in the castle moat were a delightful touch.

You’ve got to hand it to the guys who organise this festival; they are obviously well-versed in executing the perfect event and fair play to them. Where many places would struggle with such large numbers of visitors, Ludlow have turned this into an asset and the bustling crowd just added to the overall atmosphere. There were plenty of knowledgeable stewards on hand all day, and a huge ‘well done’ should go out to all who did such a fantastic job.  

Ludlow, we’ll definitely be back next year.

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