A new annual food and drink event for the Forest & Wye? We hope so.

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Well the dust has well and truly settled on the inaugural Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association’s new food and drink event Local Produce, See, Taste, Buy.  The event, originally conceived to match producers with potential clients from within the tourism associations’ extensive and diverse membership, was quickly turned over to a public event to coincide with English and Welsh Tourism Weeks respectively. Sited in the spacious “The Venue” function room on the CSMA site at Whitemead Park, exhibitors and visitors were protected against the worst the Forest spring weather might throw at anyone. In the event it turned out to be a beautiful Forest of Dean spring morning.

As the exhibitors built their stands before public opening at 10am the sights and sounds, and most of all, smells of our fabulous local producers started to build and fill in the background hubbub.

Great names in beer Hillside Brewery www.hillsidebrewery.com and cider, Severn Cider www.severncider.com were there in strength with Paul Williamson owner and head honcho from the Hillside Brewery with a broad selection of the great beers crafted up on the hill. Also showing, and tasting for the first time, their new Anzac beer brewed especially for the Gloucester Beer Festival. Nick Bull was in charge over at Severn Cider where, even though we were working hard, we had to have a small sample of their killer Severn Cider Perry.

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Alongside these headline names in the now thriving local craft drinks industry, was the very tasty Apple County Cider with their “deciderly” good Dabinett and Vilberie dry and medium brands – very easy to imagine drinking those two beauties on a warm sunny evening! We also had Ty Gwyn cider, VQ Country Wines sporting their new swanky designer labels with the same great quality fruit wines still inside and Wye Valley Brewery. Parva Farm Vineyard were there too, showing a good selection of their Welsh wine from the terroir of Tintern  – some great news for Judith and Colin lately in that Marks & Spencer have taken their award winning Bacchus white wine into stock. We couldn’t resist a tasting stop at the amply stocked Chase Distillery stand either – hic!

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Adding to the ambience were the great aromas of James’ Gourmet Coffee brewing constantly in the background, Rayeesa’s Kitchen homemade curry sauce bases simmering away in the tasting pot and fabulous charcuterie cooking on the hot plate from the guys over at Native Breeds. Smarts Gloucestershire Cheeses seem to be essential to any successful food and drink event and no matter how many times you’ve tasted their Gloucester’s before, resistance is futile! Celia’s Pantry was on hand to dispense Caribbean inspired tangy chutney flavours to go with it all.

For dessert there were two great ice cream makers were there Kelsmor Dairy and Hillbrooks Luxury Ice Cream with their own distinctive flavours – all of course available for tasting. The Chocolate Bar had a dazzling array of beautiful handmade chocolates to tempt the palate for that sumptuous finish.

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The timing of the event is driven by the original concept to put producers and tourism association and other local buyers together before the busy Easter season and we think that that makes a lot of sense. A little later mind you and Whitemead would have been thronging with visitors to increase the footfall for the traders and give visitors a fantastic showcase of the produce and the ability to stock up the holiday larders both for their stay and to take home.

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The Venue is a great place for this event although perversely Whitemead don’t actually signpost the halls location at the site entrances which makes things difficult for new conference visitors. The public parking there is also very restrictive (the design and concept of the site envisaged all of the visitor cars being spread out over the whole site outside respective holiday lodges, caravans or tents).  We spoke to Mike Carter (centre manager) who had already identified this issue as a growth limiting factor for this and other conference events. He’s on the case he assures us.

Does this new event conflict with the hugely popular Forest Showcase event in the autumn fields of the Speech House Hotel  www.thespeechhouse.co.uk (Peter Hands and his chef from the hotel were there and actively looking for new local suppliers – featured image)? Not according to John Theophilus of the Tourism Association. “We developed this idea primarily as a trade show for producers to meet buyers from the local economy and tourism sector – and we think that it has worked extremely well! We are delighted so many members of the public came along too as it helps to spread the word about the great work being done in our tourism sector. This incidentally adds a great deal to the local economy. It’s events such as this that make you realise how widespread the influence of a thriving tourism economy can be to the whole local economy”.

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Overall we loved the concept and thought that, for a first year launch event, it was a real bonus to the local food and drink network. We would definitely have liked to have seen even more buy-in from local businesses – every tourism association member and every pub in the area were sent invitations and we think all of them should have attended!

We know only too well that profit margins for local businesses are always tight and the drive for economy in purchasing is a constant pressure on small business. Small artisan producers make up for this lack of “scale costs” with bags of flavour, localism, innovation and skill. This added value is demonstrated nowhere better than in the tourism sector because those values produce a cash sales equivalent and really register with visitors who want to buy local great produce.

If you run a business selling food and drink, why not follow the lead of the Tourism Association and look for one new local supplier today? Let us know how you get on, we’d love to tell your local collaboration story.

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