This past weekend the Highcliffe Food and Arts Festival was held, the emphasis being on the Food, with Beverages, and gins in particular, of the New Forest area. Highcliffe is a small town down the road from Chewton Glen, the hotel at which my son works in the New Forest in southern England, an area well-known for its heathland, forest trails, and native ponies. And it surprised me at the variety of craft beverages and craft foods that were on offer to buy, in full size or as a tasting portion.
The Highcliffe High Street Lymington Road was closed off, with stalls covering most of it, probably disadvantaging the stores. It was a perfect sunny day, at 21C the warmest day forecast during my ten day visit to the UK.
I am by no means an expert on British Cuisine, or of the New Forest Food and Beverage specialities. I therefore decided to walk to Highcliffe, to get a taste of the local cuisine at the festival.
Highlights of the Festival for me were the following:
#. the variety of local artisanal ice creams made in the region, including
. the Award-winning Purbeck ice cream from Dorset, its brochure promising that it is gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free, and only contains natural ingredients. Flavors offered are Mint Choc Baby Chip (the one I tried, delicious, rich, creamy), Salted Caramel, Rum & Raisin, Honeycombe Hash, Passion fruit, Serious Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla Bean.
. New Forest Ice Cream Ice creams were offered in the Traditional Dairy Ice Cream trailer, offering chocolate, vanilla, mint choc chip, honeycomb swirl, salted caramel, strawberry, and chocolate, but without any serviettes!
. GiGi Homemade Italian Ice Cream, offering similar flavours to the other ice cream stands
. The Gin and Rum Blend, called Mad Hatter’s Gin Rummy, with a beautiful label, the concept developed at a … Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!. Its brochure reads like Alice in Wonderland, in telling the story of how the new Blend was created following a boredom with Gin & Tonic. Ten out of ten for this innovative beverage concept, clever branding and exceptional marketing literature. It was offered at £32,50.
. Fresha Strawberry Gin, perfect to sip whilst watching tennis! It is described as being ‘Spanish style, English class’, made with strawberries from Huelva in Spain, and seven Botanicals from Spain too, including lemon and orange peel, vanilla, star anise, and some additional secret ones. A Wimbledon cocktail was offered, with Fresha, cream soda, lemonade, and grenadine.
. Wyrd Gin, a brand new small batch gin hand crafted ‘with a touch of wyrdness’ in the New Forest with 12 Botanicals of sweet orange, lemon and grapefruit peels from Spain, coriander seeds from Bulgaria, Angelica from Eastern Europe, liquorice root from Eastern Europe, juniper berries from Kosovo, cardamom, cassia, cubeb berries, orris root from Morocco, and green gorse shoots from the new Forest.
. Pothecary Gin, a longer-standing and awarded gin described in its brochure as ‘the perfect tonic’ (just love the British play on words), with Botanicals of organic lavender from Provence, wild-foraged juniper from Bulgaria, organic black mulberries from Anatolia, organic lemons from Sicily, and wild-foraged Tilia flowers from Poland. Each botanical element is individually distilled, and then blended together.
. Haselbury Gins, offering fruit flavours such as Watermelon, and also offering fruit-flavored vodka and liqueurs
. Beachcomber Southern Sweet Gin, developed by a local lady (right), her partner told me proudly.
#. Gin liqueurs made by Smith & Weston made from a variety of berries as well as elderberry and rosehip;
# delicious handmade cured Dorset venison and pork sausages made by The Real Cure, including a sloe berry and smoked garlic venison salami, one which I bought for my son; smoked venison chorizo; venison pepperoni; air dried coppa ham; pink peppercorn and Purbeck cider sausages; blue Vinny and fig salami; and fennel and white pepper salami.
#. an unusual 140 ml 13% alcohol pre-bottled Tail Feather Espresso Martini, made in Dorset, which one shakes and serves. It’s labelling on the black bottle is attractive. Not having drunk coffee for three months, the espresso taste dominated. It’s website explains that it is made from ‘100% UTZ sustainable grown coffee and organic vanilla from Madagascar, adding premium triple distilled grain vodka for a full bodied cocktail full of beans! Suitable for vegans. Free from allergens, preservatives and artificial flavourings’.
#. Pork appears to be a local favorite, with a stand on which slices of a roasted pig were being cut and sold.
# a variety of cheeses, offered by two stalls. I bought a local Brie as well as a Matured Cheddar from one of them.
# a number of sweet treat stands, specialising in fudges, macarons, biscuits, marshmallows, Rocky Road, biscuits, cakes,
# Yarty fruit vinegars, and Two Fields Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The nearby Highcliffe Recreation Ground had been turned into a Festival venue too, with Marquees for food demonstrations, as well as a variety of art objects, alongside food trucks and a stage for performances. I sat watching a cookery demonstration by Chef Neal Jepson, the Head Chef of Christchurch Harbour Hotel, demonstrating cooking bream and plaice, served with samphire and new potatoes. I had missed his preparation of a seafood starter, which looked colourful, and left before the poached peach dessert had been completed. I had wanted to see the demonstration by Chewton Glen Chef Luke Philips.
Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised in getting to see and learn so much about the local beverages and produce. It is a good thing that Tasting samples were not offered, of the gins in particular, as I had to walk back to my son’s home in Walkford.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein