Well they say there is more than one way to skin a rabbit, but it seems that if you’re going to do it properly there is only one way to skin a deer. This and much more I discovered at the Universal Cookery and Food Festival this week.
Held at Vallum Farm, the Craft Guild event attracted chefs from all walks of life, as well as suppliers, farmers and even little old me. I kicked off my day with the intriguingly named ‘Feature & Fur’ tour. Not for the faint hearted, chef Jose Souto set about skinning and butchering a deer (minus the head and antlers in case you’re interested). With hints and tips galore for any budding game chefs on how to get the most from the carcass, it was rather more Dexter than To the Manor Born, but all the same very interesting.
Then it was time to take a turn around the big top tent, where suppliers, including our friends at Essential Cuisine, displayed their wares for chefs to sample. From chef knives to edible flowers, Cornish salt to water from just down the road, there was lots on offer and the tent was abuzz with chefs chewing the fat (mainly metaphorically speaking, but possibly literally in some cases).
Then it was time for lunch, and as you might expect from a chef event, the food was to die for! I opted for black n blue beef burger in a blue cheese and white chocolate roll – amazing! After lunch it was time to catch up with familiar faces, take another turn around the tent and wander outside to meet some of the livestock in attendance (and that isn’t a rude reference about the chefs I might add).
You have probably heard of Wagyu beef and how it is renowned as one of the very finest meats in the world. And I can assure you having sampled a little (prepared by the talented Nigel Crane) that it is indeed very tasty. However, what you may not be aware of, is that they are also amazingly cute. If they didn’t retail for breeding at over £6,000 and I didn’t live in a Victorian end terrace, I might have been tempted to take one back home with me (much to the consternation of Virgin East Coast I suspect). Having stared lovingly at the beasts, there was then just time to hear all about the rise of Wagyu in the UK and take a look at the rare breed pigs and sheep before embarking on the farm tour.
Run by husband and wife team, Vicky and Peter Moffitt, the farm not only hosts events like this one, it also has a tea room, full restaurant, mini cheese production, bakery and space for budding food producers to use. And if that weren’t enough, they also have their own chickens and vegetable & herb garden, which helps stock the tea room and restaurant, plus plans to add a bee hive. Goodness knows how they also manage to run the working farm on top of all that, but they do!
Back in the tent the speaker and demo programme hosted by Nigel Barden continued with industry movers and shakers (including Terry Laybourne, John Williams, Nigel Howarth and Craig Bancroft) sharing their thoughts on how the industry has changed along with a good few recollections, including bed hopping hotel guests, pot washers who doubled as bookies and even tales of Mrs Thatcher’s love of M&S ‘ping’ meals.
It made a fitting end to a busy day for me as I boarded the shuttle bus back to Newcastle and left the chefs to tuck into the local beer and dance the night away with the band and BBQ. As I write this on the train back down south I’m sure the party is in full swing, but what I miss out on this year I promise to make up for next year when the #UCFF2016 heads to Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire. Maybe see you there!
But before I sign off, praise must go to Billy and Jacki and the team at McCullough Moore, The Craft Guild and Vallum Farm on a great event – well done guys!