It’s less than a month until the first ever Wells Food Festival and I’m rather excited at the prospect of a big foodie event practically on my doorstep.
The festival promises to be a marvellous celebration of the finest food and drink Somerset has to offer. Taking place on Sunday 20 October, the same weekend as National Apple Day, the organisers have timed the event for when Somerset’s produce is at its most abundant and glorious.
Centred around Wells’ historic market square, the festival will feature a whole host of fabulous foodie events and activities. There will be an artisan producers’ market, a ‘Question Time’ style Milk Matters debate in the Bishop’s Barn, a cake competition, cookbook talks and signings, a foodie pub quiz; a vintage tea party; cider, beer and wine bar and a tempting choice of great Sunday lunches showcasing local ingredients served up at restaurants and cafes across the city. Take a look at the full line up on the Wells Food Festival website.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring interviews with some of those involved in the festival here on the blog to find out what makes Somerset food so special and to get their advice on cooking with local ingredients.
To kick things off, I popped into one of my favourite and most regularly frequented shops in Wells, the family butchers F Griffiths & Sons, who have been selling meat and poultry to locals since 1953. It’s a wonderfully welcoming shop where customers can ask questions and learn about food without feeling overwhelmed.
Pretty much everyone who knows Wells will know Gerry Morris. He is the ever-friendly, smiley face behind the counter at Griffiths, always able to provide you with knowledgable advice and top tips on what cuts of meat to buy and how to cook them. I asked him how Griffiths will be getting involved in the food festival.
“Wells Food Festival will give us a chance to cook and sell our new range of award-winning pies to a wide range of local people who will be there because they love food,” Gerry tells me. “The pies are made from scratch, including our own secret recipe pastry, in our Street branch. As well as selling the pies through our own shops we are supplying pubs, shops and hotels from Taunton to Bristol.”
I’m a sucker for a good pie and so are the rest of my family, so we had to put The Humble Pie Co. range to the test. Well, it would be rude not to. And I am pleased to report that they are very, very good. They taste just like a proper homemade pie, with a lovely crisp pastry and delicious fillings, using only shredded meat rather than chunks to ensure you get a meaty mouthful every time. If you happen to be in the West Country and come across them, you must give them a try.
But back to Gerry. What does he think this new festival means for Wells and the food and drink of Somerset?
“Food and specifically the provenance of our food has become much more important in recent years,” says Gerry. “The festival will give local producers and suppliers the chance to show people from all over the county the vast range of high quality food that is available on their doorstep. It is also a chance for traders to get together and exchange ideas and have a chat to see how they can improve products and service to their customers.
“Somerset produces a surprisingly varied array of food and drink. Obviously there is the locally produced meat and poultry (most of our meat comes from within a 20 mile radius of Wells), as well as wonderful cheeses, cider, artisan bread but there’s also a huge list of produce you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the West Country but is made right here in Somerset. This is what we’ll be able to collectively showcase at the festival.”
So which are Gerry’s favourite local retailers and restaurants in Wells?
“Shops like Sante Wine and Queen Street Deli are a real asset to the city and bring people from all over to come and shop here. We are spoiled for choice as far as restaurants are concerned and, particularly as we supply many of them, I couldn’t possibly nominate a single favourite!”
Finally I ask Gerry to suggest a cut of meat for me to cook at home; one I probably haven’t tried before. Without hesitation he suggests the ‘gastro steak’.
“The gastro beef steak is carefully cut from a very specific and small part of the calf of the animal,” Gerry explains. “It can be cooked as a traditional braising beef but I think it’s amazing when you cook it very quickly on a high heat and serve it rare. It eats like a very tasty fillet steak, but costs just one-third of the price. It only needs a pepper or hollandaise sauce, some green vegetables and new potatoes to make a stunning meal.”
If you’re interested in seeing how this cut is butchered, Gerry recommends taking a look at this video. “Although we didn’t invent the actual cut, we did come up with the name ‘gastro’ steak. It seemed appropriate as the specific muscle it comes from is the gastrocnemius.”
And so I did exactly as Gerry suggested and took home a couple of gastro steaks for my husband and me to put to the test. I seasoned them with ground black pepper and fried them very quickly, just for a few minutes on each side, on a very high heat. As you might have gathered, I’m a bit of a mashed potato fiend, so I served them with mash and steamed green beans and a simple peppercorn sauce.
And the verdict? Simply divine. Believe me, I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to hurt Gerry’s feelings. These gastro steaks really are packed full of flavour, as tasty as a sirloin but with the cuts-like-butter texture of a fillet. And since they’re a fraction of the price of a fillet, I think I’ll be buying a few more of these delicious meaty morsels very soon. I’d recommend you do too, but I’m slightly concerned that if more people start buying them Gerry might be tempted to put the price up. So on second thoughts, steer clear!
Thanks so much to the lovely Gerry for his time and advice last week and I look forward to sampling more of his gorgeous pies at the festival.
Look out for further festival related posts in the coming weeks, including cake baking tips from Royal wedding cake maker Fiona Cairns (who is judging the cake competition), and Somerset cheese recommendations from Dan Holland at the Queen Street Deli.
Disclosure: Griffiths provided me with complimentary pies and gastro steaks for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.