This weekend marked the end of the Taste Festival season, with a trip to Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park. True to form for Taste of Birmingham the wellies were put to good use, but thankfully we didn't see a repeat of the previous two year's Glasto-Taste mudbath!
...umm, there might be a spot of rain on the way.....
Still, a good time was had by all despite the weather, and it was even fun to have my mum on board as the unofficial kitchen porter for the chef's theatre - she definitely earned her share of the demo dishes!
After the madness of Taste of London, it was luxuriously laid back in Birmingham. So much so that I had time to nip around the producers market and pick up a few bits. Few producers inspired me to part with my cash, but I did very much like the hand made chocolates from Gorvett & Stone.
Absolutely beautiful to look at (not too perfect... in a good way), and delicious. They had a lovely range of flavours - different enough to be interesting but not odd for the sake of it - and spot on with the texture. The milk chocolate truffles with sea salt were mouthwatering yet creamy, and the dark chocolate with chilli was perfectly balanced to give rich fruity cocoa followed by an addictive chilli tingle. My favourite was the strawberry with black pepper: a good hit of dark chocolate and strong strawberry with just enough pepper to make the strawberry sing. Yum. I'm still struggling slightly with the white chocolate with green tea however. I love both of those things, but remain to be convinced that they can be successfully combined in truffle form.
Gorvett & Stone's flavour name of strawberry with black pepper was correct in that it was strong on strawberry with the pepper playing a supporting role. On the other hand Berry Scrumptious, who were at Taste of Edinburgh, need to swap around their name to black pepper with strawberry!
Bitter dark chocolate, very hot full on black pepper at the back of the throat, and tiny flecks of freeze dried strawberry. I'm not at all questioning the classsic combination of strawberry and pepper, but when you've got that much of a cocoa and black pepper slap in the face, the strawberry gets a bit lost. This one would be just as delicious, and slightly less confused, if the strawberries didn't make it into the chocolate at all. I love the hot spicy kick of the pepper in their dark chocolate, good on them for not being afraid to use a decent amount of it. It reminds me of an unexpectedly fantastic meal I had in Sicily a few years ago with some very good friends.
On the long drive home from Birmingham, I made my usual pit stop at Tebay services on the M6 in Cumbria to visit Westmoorland farm shop. Tebay is the only small locally owned motorway service station in the country and it is a crime that there are not more like it. No KFC, no Costa Coffee, no minging burgers and soggy sarnies. They serve honest home-cooked food using local produce including beef and lamb from their adjoining farm (they do a mean curry by the way), and always have an irresistable selection of cakes. The farm-shop is also excellent although increasingly they seem to be stocking gourmet products from all over Europe, which is no bad thing, but somewhat detracts from the local angle that they are keen to push.
The things that keep me going on the long journey to Tebay are this...
1) A first-rate cheese counter in the farm shop. I always get a good hunk of Swaledale, and whatever else looks nice. I could easily spend 20 quid on cheese!
2) The cakes. Home made, interesting selection, huge portions, reasonable prices. What's not to like?? The coffee cake is exceptional, and pretty much a meal in its own right. Today I tried their baked cheesecake and found it rather good - high praise indeed from someone who is usually very disappointed by commercial cheesecake encounters.
3) The coffee. I don't know what beans they use but they make a mean macchiato. Just the job to keep me going for the final three and a half hours of the drive.
4) The views. And the ducks!
And so another foody trip comes to an end. I'm not sure what's next on the horizon, but in the mean time I've got no small amount of leftovers to eat! And my Westmoorland cheese, yum...