Meat. Do it right.

I have something that has been bothering me for years now, something that seems so trivial to most people that it would come across as a none issue if not brought to the table with a little context. This particular gripe is the incredibly average but irritatingly widespread, supermarket meat.

Now I know this is a sweeping generalisation and that is one thing I don’t like to do, but the quality and level of complacency that people are willing to accept is unfathomable. My granddad worked at a butcher shop in Wolverhampton in his later years and seeing the level of skill and care taken by Graham and Alan has always stuck with me. In supplying the local area with fresh, good quality cuts of meat they were conducting a dying service and I never realised until I got a bit older. Our system doesn’t seem to support the level of demand we have put onto it and this provides the supermarket and its ‘one stop shop’ approach an opportunity to throw plastic boxes of mass produced cack at every Tom, Dick and Harry that walk through their doors.

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Now this is a vicious circle really because the more supermarkets that pop up, the more local butchers that fall flat on their faces and years of experience and knowledge goes down the pan. It infuriates me as you have no idea the level of artistry and experience it takes to make the most of an animal in the way a real butcher can. Sainsbury’s will never give you the option to take home the type of meat you want, you have to make do with what they had. I remember a time a few months ago when I lived at my old house, there wasn’t a local butcher and I wanted to make BBQ pork ribs. Naturally I went to the nearest supermarket to fetch a rack as I knew I had seen them before, however, when I got there I was told that they hadn’t put them out today because they had been sent more pork steaks and they had to sell them. I can kind of understand this to a certain extent but when I asked them to go and try to find me some out I was told ‘No, unfortunately not as they will be at the bottom of a container somewhere’. It took me a week to actually get some ribs and the amount of shiners on them easily qualified them to sit in a sodding jewellers window. (For those who don’t know a shiner is when the rib is cut too close to the bone and the bone penetrates the meat… I am talking at least half of the entire rack was showing bones. dire.) Not only this but not too long ago I was in there getting some bread after work and saw an elderly customer at the meat counter who asked for 800g of fresh mince. One would assume that she is asking this so she doesn’t have to simply settle for the mildly greying brain fart excuse for beef mince sitting on the shelves. What she got however was exactly that. The guy only had 100g or so to hand so he told her he would go and get some more… he went to the shelf, got 2 packs of the aforementioned mince and simply emptied out onto the scale.

The supermarket butchers counter is a front. It presents the illusion of freshness and the real butchery experience when in actual fact it is just the same stuff that is served on the shelves. It just has a man in a hat.

I recently moved house and now live in a village with possibly one of the best butchers I have ever used and the contrast is just on another level. On my first full day living here I went in and had a chat with them to feel out what I was dealing with and to see what was available to me. I had a laundry list of cuts I wanted to know if I could get my hands on that I have struggled for in recent months…. Beef short ribs, whole brisket, game birds and venison steaks, all of which were greeted with a wry smile and a definitive yes. I left with 500g a freshly diced venison to get me going. Now if you can tell me a single supermarket that offers that kind of offering with the quality of product I received I will go out into the currently snow filled streets stark bollock naked and do a Chris Ashton swan dive into my neighbours garden. Not going to happen.

The moral of the story is this. There are some truly talented, under appreciated masters out there and they are being wasted. I was guilty of it as most of us are but we need to stand up and realise that they need our support. Every time I turn on the TV or radio people are talking about supporting local business and yet at every turn we seem to be able to avoid the butcher or the green grocer as an inclusion. I do not give a single shiny toss about another t-shirt company starting in Wolverhampton or a crowd funded start up to develop apps down the road. I care about the kind of sustainably sourced meat and poultry supplied by Astons butchers, Coven, South Staffordshire, WV9 5DB. I may have been a bit harsh on the supermarkets, not all of it is that bad…  but compare the beef or lamb you get there to a cut of native bred livestock that was looked after locally and hand picked to give you the very best experience possible… go to somebody who cares about what they are giving you and not just how much of it they can sell. Your local butcher cares about you coming back through the door and your satisfaction is a priority, not just the yearly profit differentials of 160 different stores.

There is an Astons near you somewhere. Find them. Support them. Enjoy them. Before it’s too late.

 

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Jack Friday!

This week was a special week for Rub smokehouse and bar in Birmingham as there was a special event held on Friday night. To commemorate Jack Daniels birthday and the launch of ‘Jack Fridays’ Rub held an evening of specially created food and drink, including cocktails and an incredible feat of culinary ingenuity that I will cover a little later called the ‘Mac n Jack’ Burger.

I had promised my Fiance a night out a while ago as it seems to have been a while since we went out just the two of us and given the advert that popped up on my Facebook for Rub’s Jack Friday and the special relationship I have built up with them the past few weeks it seemed like the perfect option. So I booked a table for 8:45pm and rocked up ready to have a real feed, JD t-shirt being worn in the true spirit of the evening!

Broad street was buzzing by the time we arrived seemingly raring to go for a heavy weekend of bank holiday festivities and the high energy atmosphere as ever was carried with us and up into the lift into the restaurant which was heaving with patrons enjoying their hard earned Friday treats. We sat down and ordered a few drinks to whet our appetites before we got started and took a look at the menu, Becky ordering a corn dog out of pure intrigue while I pondered the many wonderful options available. Before long the drinks arrived and again in the spirit of the evening I went for a ginger beer with a single shot of JD’s finest, which seemingly did the trick to relax me after a long week.

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The corn dog was a really nice experience and again came quickly regardless of how busy they were which was great, not something seen regularly on these shores the Corn dog is a hot dog sausage coated in a cornmeal batter and deep fried. The result is a rich, crispy and indulgent little morsel that to be fair would go great as a side served with your food let alone a stater as it is billed, a great little appetizer all the same! For our main meals I naturally ended up going for the epic Mac n Jack as Becky chose the pulled pork platter.

Only when I saw a few of the Mac n Jack’s pass me by did I begin to worry about my capability to actually finish the damn thing! It was huge! A mountain of meat enriched with Tennessee’s famous exported whiskey and three wooden skewers holding it all back from gravity’s cruel and unforgiving attempts to bring it crashing down all over the serving tray. I was not waiting long before it was time to see for myself if I could manage this monolithic masterpiece and was presented with a tray containing the towering burger alongside a nifty little JD branded box containing my lightly spiced fries. The Mac n Jack burger is a coming together of two 6oz cheeseburgers, cooked with a JD ice cube on top of it to imbue with the whiskey’s deep flavours, their signature 16 hour slow Brisket with JD gravy, breaded macaroni cheese (Yes. breaded. macaroni. cheese. If I break it down into singular words its easier to process!) all pinned into a burger roll and garnished with a JD rubbed chicken wing.

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Now if you think its a mouthful when reading this then try eating it! It was a surprisingly fantastic balance of deep beefy flavours, rich and silky gravy with the crispy saltiness that comes from the crunchy breading and smooth insides of the macaroni and cheese cutting through the richness without being stodgy or overbearing. A real treat and something that I hope sticks around on their menu. I couldn’t possibly try and pick it up so I had to dismantle it using my trusty steak knife and break it down into parts, starting with the top part of the burn and using it as a vehicle for the wonderfully wilting beef brisket and slowly working my way through the first layer to get to the mac n cheese below.

Meanwhile Becky was enjoying her pulled pork platter, a rather decent helping of slow cooked pork shoulder served with two sides, her selections were the smoked cheddar mash and the corn on the cob. The pork was smokey and luxurious, with the hickory really coming through as a primary flavour and creating a perfect pairing with the smoked cheddar that was running through the mash. She seemed to really enjoy it but unfortunately she wasn’t able to finish it as she hasn’t quite got the glutinous resilience that I have stored beneath my relatively modest belt line, It was however willingly put into a takeaway box for us by a very helpful member of staff and enjoyed as part of lunch the next day.

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By this point the restaurant was starting to calm down and people were slowly disappearing to do whatever they usually do on a Friday night on Broad street, which for many I assume involved quite a lot more Jack Daniels than was on my table. Myself and my good lady however were sat waiting for me to complete Rub’s latest offering, by this point I was well into the 60z cheesburgers and the spiced Rub fries, which were a really strong aspect of the meal in their own right. Crispy on the outside and temptingly fluffy on the inside which were superbly complemented with a slathering of ketchup and French’s American mustard as most fries are.

Needless to say I didn’t finish the Mac n Jack, but as the trend that Rub seem to be developing since they opened in Birmingham goes, It was an incredibly satisfying experience that did not leave you wanting for more. An all encompassing combination of flavours and textures that leaves no stone of detail unturned, no craving unquenched and no belly empty. A great addition to an already stellar line up on the menu, only enhanced by the Jack Daniels party vibe. We finished the evening with a drink at the bar (Brewdog Punk IPA on tap. Don’t mind if I do!) and a quick watch of the band that was setting up for the evenings festivities. Unfortunately our parking time restraints did not allow us to see the whole gig however they sure looked the part and sounded great while they were starting up. I hope the gig went well for them as a bass player myself I can appreciate the hard working musicians of this world as well as the food.

So as ever Rub gave us a great night out with some great food and kept me busy while also reminding me that as greedy as I am, even I have my limits however much I would of loved to have polished off the Mac n Jack and gone again on another one. The staff were excellent in such a high pressure, busy environment and they kept everybody well looked after and happy as per usual. Great work as ever guys and I’m sure it wont be long before we see you again.

….Oh and Happy Birthday Mr. Daniels I am a big fan or your work!

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Meeting Brewdogs Black Russian

Flavour matching food with beer is something that is certainly on trend at the moment and for good reason. Beer is not just something to be taken in with salty snacks and pub grub, there is a beer for every meal or occasion be it sitting at home with a steak, eating seafood with friends or even when enjoying a luxurious, rich dessert.

I would quite like to focus on the dessert aspect for this post as there is a lot to be said for a beer with your after dinner treat as I have started to appreciate recently. If I was to ask you to think of ways to describe a dessert I’m sure words like rich, thick, luxurious, sweet and decadent would possibly pop into your mind, which is pretty much what you need from a sweet. The reason that those words relate themselves so easily to the final course of a meal is, I would safely assume, that you have had some pretty damn good desserts that fit the profile. So its only natural that you need a beer of considerable quality that also fits this description itself to go with it right? well you’re in luck, as Brewdog have got you covered.

Last week I tried their Cocoa psycho: Russian imperial stout for the first time in their Birmingham bar and my god was I impressed. I have not been a stout or porter drinker up until this point in my life, as I am usually drawn to lighter ales such as their ‘Dead pony club pale ale’ (Which by the way kicks some serious ass too as far as sessionable ale goes) Hobgoblin gold, Ringwood Boondoggle and that sort of thing, so I ordered this particular drink out of pure intrigue. I had had a little look at the bars ‘Menu’ of currently available beers prior to arrival to try and plan what I wanted and at a mean 10% this Cocoa psycho fella seemed like the only option that not only challenged my usual choices but also tested the outer limits of my threshold for alcohol!

Brewdog- going Coco!

Upon ordering from the bar I started to pour the stout into the awesome glassware they hand out for each respective drink and was met with a mysterious, thick, delightfully black drink that meant business from the beginning. A decent little head initially graced the glass before slowly dissipating into the moody abyss, leaving behind a scent that gave notes of oak, a little vanilla, coffee, and offered some subtle chocolatey highlights.

First taste opens up a world of tongue led exploration that wont get you in trouble with the wife, giving you a lot to think about without overwhelming you. Waves of dark chocolate and coffee dominate this stout while only a subtle bitter note nips through. Malty, vanilla afters linger with a twinge of its 10% ABV appearing only when it starts to warm a little.

In summary: This beer would be a brilliant accompaniment to a Tiramisu or dark chocolate fondant, finishing off your evening with this would be advisable as you feel incredibly satisfied, spoiled and a little disappointed when you have finished your glass. Decadence is provided in droves as promised by Brewdogs description of the product on their website, all of which is spot on. While not being particularly sessionable due to its high ABV and maybe being a little too rich for some peoples blood it is a must buy for any discerning beer drinker who either wants to try something new or just enjoys a really great, well made drink. Good job Brewdog!

9.5/10

http://www.brewdog.com

One pot: Part one – Sausages

I realise I have been fairly quiet for a few weeks but I hope you will agree, for good reason, as I have been developing some new recipes for the blog. As I mentioned in an earlier post I received a cast iron pot for Christmas from my future in-laws, and thought as I seem to be using it a hell of a lot that I should share some of the things that are coming out of it.

So this will be a series of three recipes all in made in under an hour in one pot, keeping the washing up down and keeping the whole family happy… I’m struggling to see a downside on this one! Unless you don’t like sausage. Then that’s a big downside.

Ingredients:

  • 8 good quality, pork sausages. (95% pork or more)
  • 1 can of Butterbeans
  •  2 red peppers, finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • sliced button mushrooms
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 2 tbsp. tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp. Worcester sauce
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • A little water (about a 1/4 of a cup)

Method:

  1. Start by putting the pot on a medium heat and adding the oil.
  2. Add the sausages in and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
  3. Remove the sausages and add the onion, garlic, peppers, sage, mushrooms, worcs. sauce and tomato puree, season well with the salt and pepper (to taste) and keep on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the water, reintroduce the sausages and pop the butter beans in. Stir well.
  5. Put the lid on and leave to simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Check the pot every now and then and stir to stop any sticking or burning. Add a splash more water if really needed. (Be careful not to over do it)
  6. Serve with brown rice or potatoes and dig in!

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As you can see it is superbly easy and it is honestly really good, hearty food. One down, two more to come. The next recipe is a chilli that is packed full of veg and has heaps of everything good to keep you ticking over nicely as we start to creep towards the slightly warmer, brighter, spring months.

Mugs of joy: Why you should put PG tips on hold and have a ‘Bluebird day’

Over the past few years, everybody has become familiar with the idea of coffee as a real treat, thanks to the large chains such as Starbucks and costa. These companies find new and extravagant ways to entice use through the doors of their cafes with variations of the strong stuff that a lot of us crave during our daily commutes. This could be a caramel latte with sugary crunchy nuggets sprinkled atop a small mountain of cream and caramel sauce or a simple dusting of chocolate to cap off your mocha, however these come at a price, and not a price everybody can afford regularly.

So this naturally leads to the astute business types in their lovely suits and offices, backed up by a small army of marketing gurus to take the opportunity to get these drinks, put them in a nifty bit of packaging and sell them in your local supermarket making it more cost effective for you to keep drinking their products. This has been on the up for a while and the coffee sections in our shops seem to be getting bigger all the time, with seemingly endless amounts of combinations of flavours, strengths and styles to chose from. However something stirs on the opposite side of the aisle that peaks my interest.

Tea. The third food group a vast majority of the world assume we in England, constantly consume next to roast beef and scones. A product that is consumed in such vast numbers all over the world, in so many different forms, it makes coffee look pretty drab! From the traditional English breakfast, earl grey and Darjeeling, to the incredible array of fruit teas and eastern favourites such as green and white tea. The potential to have a different tea, every hour for the next year is a distinct possibility if you look hard enough I’m sure. Now for a nation such as ours that is famous for our consumption of tea, are there any companies out there trying to push the boundaries and offer us something completely different? Well, yes. there are. There are a few. But one comes to mind that beats all of the others that I have tried so far.

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The Bluebird tea co: You can find them at http://bluebirdteaco.com/

Who are they?

In their own words ”Bluebird Tea Co. is a fairly young, happiness spreading, independent, award winning, unique, caring little Tea Mixology Company on mission to make people happy with tea!”

I like this, not only because they’re not just another version of Twining’s or PG tips, designed to grab you on your way into kwikcutter or costsaver or whatever your local shop is called, designed only to increase the margins of an already huge company, but because it is quite clear they love what they do and really believe in it. The ‘award winning’ part of the statement says that somebody else does too, and the quality an innovation shows when you drink their teas.

Product focus:

I first discovered them at last years BBC good food show tucked away at the back of the show, while I was, and ill be honest, prowling for cheese and chocolate. I was talking to a guy about a sugar free chocolate that he was selling and I realised I couldn’t see my partner, so naturally I poked my head round the corner and happened upon the Blue bird stand to my left, I decided to investigate.

It was quite busy and the guys that were on the stand were quite occupied talking to other customers so I had a look at some of their products myself. The one that stood out to me was the “Coco chai no.5” so it came home with me. (Naturally I waited and paid!) Once home all of the goodies that filled our copious amount of bags were unpacked and the kettle went on. The pyramid shaped bags revealed the contents of the teabag, which look and smell great. A promising start. The teabag contains Indian Assam tea, Ginger, Cardamom, Cloves, Red peppercorns, Coconut, Natural flavour” the coconut in particular seems to be a winning combination when added to the classic chai experience, as once the hot water is added you can really smell the exotic twist slinking out of the mug and up into your nose.

Once the water goes in you have to leave it for 4 minutes to infuse, which allows it to get to more or less perfect drinking temperature for myself, then add milk if you take it that way. I have been taking it with milk and a sweetener but its doesn’t need a sweetener to enhance the flavour at all, as the coconut does come through very well considering its in bed with the diverse combination of flavour’s found in chai tea. However I do enjoy my chai a little bit spicier than this comes out, but I appreciate that the coconut aspect of the drink would get lost in translation if the spices were to be cranked up a notch. This teabag provides an intriguing and comforting experience that helps you melt into your chair after a day at work or a long day out, I can also report this is consistent throughout the whole box and not a one off great teabag as I have now finished them all!

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What else do they offer?

The website provides a lot more detail into their range but to give a quick overview, they provide a great range of caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks. I myself have to drink predominantly decaff drinks due to having given up coffee some number of years ago and not having anywhere near the caffeine tolerance ever since, but I can drink some caffeine in small doses. Which is lucky as the coco chai does have some ‘caff’ in it I believe. I do find it hard sometimes though to get interesting decaff (or low caff) options. Blue bird provide a good range of teas including fruit, black, green, white and herbal teas, as well as all sorts of other tea paraphernalia to expand your experience with their products. Full information is available on their site so pop over and have a look!  http://www.bluebirdteaco.com/

Final verdict

There are alternatives on the market when it comes to chai tea but personally I would recommend you look no further than Bluebird tea co. This particular product stands out as something very different, while simultaneously not losing its basic promise of being a cup of chai tea. They are out to fill a void in the tea market that has been filled to the point of total saturation when it comes to coffee, and I can see them doing very well if people continue to look for diverse ways to enjoy a hot comforting beverage in the comfort of their own home, that offers something more than an industrial strength mug of Yorkshire tea can ever hope for but not something so ”out there” that it completely loses its way. The bluebird tea co “Coco chai no.5” never left me thinking that it could do with something more, I am quite confident you will feel the same way.

8.5/10 – recommended purchase.

Also available at http://www.notonthehighstreet.com/bluebirdteaco

BBC good food show winter 2013

December 1st 2013 marked my first visit to the BBC good food show winter at the NEC in Birmingham, offering a day full of food and drink and a chance to meet some great people with similar passions for the edible delights our world has to offer.  There were plenty of celebrity chefs rolling around the halls to grab a quick chat with some real giants of the food entertainment industry, and it was quite surreal to meet some of my own media influences.

Me and Cyrus Todiwala CBE

We purchased the tickets fairly early at a charge of around £25 each with a ticket to the super theatre show with the Hairy bikers, two of my favourite TV chefs (also quite easily a two of the nation’s nicest people, as I found out). We got their early enough to park relatively easily and made our way down to the main NEC halls, accompanied by a growing hoard of other tired looking hungry people. We entered the hall at around 9:30 on the button, this being fairly early for a Sunday morning everybody’s heavy looking eyes and drooped shoulders in the queue were absolutely justified. The perfect tonic however was the smell of the supreme sausage stall cooking their wild boar and apple sausages www.supremesausages.co.uk, The smell crept around the peripheries of the show, right by the exit, for the entirety of the day making it possibly my favourite place to stand throughout the day.

Before we had chance to start trying any food we had to dash to the super theatre to catch our early morning appointment with Si and Dave, the Hair bikers. I initially thought it would be a lot more intimate and was a little concerned with how back our seats were, but I have to say it was set up perfectly. Having the monitors behind them so you didn’t miss a trick was great and the sound work was great meaning you could hear it all happening, it really was worth the ticket price just to see them work their magic with the crowd and the food. They really are more than just talented cooks, they are natural entertainers and made everybody laugh while really getting people involved in their show, it really was an enjoyable experience.

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After around 40 minutes, the show finished and we were released upon the rest of the show to view the stalls and start getting some decent food in for our late breakfast, so naturally we made a break for the supreme sausage stall again. Upon browsing the range they have to offer it was apparent we had come across something special, but I will go into this in more detail later. I had a million and one ideas that I could use the sausages for (check out the recipe in the prior post for a good one), and we really weren’t disappointed with what we tried. We ended up buying two packs the wild boar and apple with a pack of the venison, pork and mushroom sausages and at £10 for the 3 I can’t complain at all.

The W.H.Smith stand provided an opportunity to buy and get your books signed by some of the celebrity chefs in attendance, but their strict ‘one book to one person’ rule was a bit harsh but I do understand why it was in place as the queues got a little bit hectic.

 

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The show was huge and to go through everything we saw would be a rather mammoth read so I will give you my top 5 stall highlights from the show and then fill in any details afterwards if I miss something, so to get us started we have:

5: I am not known to be a drinker but towards the end of the show we uncovered a stall doing a variety of flavoured alcohol, there was a few flavoured vodka’s and a really refreshing limoncello which I enjoyed quite a lot. The star of their range was raspberry vodka, which I must say tasted amazing, but dangerously not like alcohol! A definite winner though and I would recommend them to anybody, unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the company and I cannot find them on the exhibitor list so I will update this if I find out who they are.

4:  Coopers gourmet sausage rolls. I can pretty much sum these up in 2 words really, yes and please. These babies are probably among my favourite sausage rolls that I have ever had, the mixes they came up with looked great but between me and my girlfriend we had pork and leek and I had black pudding and pork. They were really tasty and to back up the size they packed some really big flavour, we bought a couple to take home and heat up for our dinner. It was a really hearty end to our day back home. Good stuff coopers! www.coopers-sausage-rolls.co.uk

3: Napton water buffalo. When you find yourself feeling hungry at a food festival or food show, there’s either something wrong or you’re not trying hard enough! We spent so long walking around taking everything in and going to book signings that we neglected to really fill up that much, luckily for us Napton’s caught our eye. Fresh water buffalo burgers, made with their own animals reared on their farm. The meat was cooked to perfection, Just the right side of rare with a nice bit of bite to it. Was a great little treat that we would be able to eat it over and over! They produce a whole host of buffalo products not just meat, including milk, cheese and ice creams. Mainly available local to them or at the shows they attend. Find out more at www.waterbuffalo.co.uk

2: Pie mania. These guys are a Banbury based gourmet pie producer and have a small but strong showing of handmade pastries that are good value for money and are very pleasant, while not being too heavy which I find some pies can be. We opted for the Goats cheese, sweet potato and spinach variety. Upon arriving home we reheated it in the oven for about 25 minutes and when warmed through it became a completely different animal and we loved every mouthful, only downside was we thought it would have been nice to have been able to buy them warm at the stall. Apart from that they were incredibly moreish and look forward to seeing them again so I can nab another one.  www.pie-mania.co.uk

1: Already mentioned and deservedly so, Supreme sausages. Amazing. This company provides some of the best flavour combinations found in sausages that I have encountered, being somebody who loves game and other alternative meats they really do cater for my tastes. We both agree that they deserve the number one spot purely down to the fact that eating that first sausage kept them on our minds all day. Not only did the initial sausage make us marginally fall in love with their produce but the ones we took home created some great meals that pushed us further over the line. Their range includes (As mentioned above) the venison, pork and mushroom, the wild boar and apple along with the Toulouse, Cumberland, the fire sausage, pork with tomato and black pepper, pork with honey and mustard and also lamb and mint to name just a choice section of their range. They also offer an online delivery service guaranteed delivery within 24 hours of despatch, packed with icepacks in polystyrene boxes to guarantee they maintain their freshness en route. Visit www.supremesausages.co.uk to order yours or to find out more.

 

 

Other honourable mentions are, the Cheshire cheese company, the Snowdonia cheese company, the arm and hammer soda mixology stand, Lakeland, the world cheese awards (never seen so much cheese!), The potted game company.

Overall the show worth every penny of the entrance fee and I would recommend it to anybody who loves food. The next one is in July just in time for all your summery gluttonous needs, Fingers crossed ill see some of you there, in the meantime visit the links and help support these great companies!