If you've never been to a food festival, put the Ludlow food festival on the top of your list. Victoria Hoare discovers the roots of the food festival.
Most food festivals are held in a park, or maybe in a willing farmer’s field. Not Ludlow. Their food festival is held among the ruins of this medieval castle, set high in the rolling hills of the Shropshire countryside.
But the original setting is hardly surprising given that Ludlow is home to the very first food festival. Now in its 24th year, the festival was originally created to help boost the business image of Ludlow and the surrounding area, promoting the area’s small food and drink producers and encouraging people to explore Ludlow’s variety of shops, restaurants and pubs. Back in 1995 the festival was organised “just to see what happened”. Given the immediate success and the number of food festivals we now see around Britain it’s surprising that no one had the idea sooner.
Everything about Ludlow screams food, which is why it’s the main criteria for exhibitors who want to be involved in the food festival. “The core of the festival is the same each year. It’s about giving the producers a platform to talk to the public,” says events manager Hannah Mackley. “We’re clear with exhibitors that everything must come back to food. On the Friday of the festival lots of schools come for free cookery lessons, and families can drop in over the weekend. That’s why we’re different; we’re not trying to be a big family entertainment event. Food comes first. ”
The festival atmosphere doesn’t just stop inside the castle grounds but spills out across the town. Visit Ludlow for the festival weekend and you can take part in the famous sausage trail. Hannah explained: “The butchers cook their sausages outside their shops and the public vote for their favourite. There are two awards, the People’s Choice and the Judge’s choice, but it’s the People’s Choice that all the butchers want to win because it means people will buy their sausages!”
A taste of Ludlow
Meet some of the producers that you'll find at Ludlow this year:
Shropshire Salumi is a small company producing handmade British Salumi with a nose to tail ethos. Founded by self-confessed charcuterie enthusiast, Will Macken, Shropshire Salumi began life as a small-time hobby taking place in Will's home kitchen preparing and curing meats for himself, family and friends.
“I’d buy a shoulder of pork and mince it by hand for hours,” Will said. “Nowadays I take a whole carcass from producers that are within 15miles of my base.”
Animal welfare is a key factor for Will when he’s choosing his animals. “I’ll only use locally sourced pork because I can visit the pigs and be happy that the welfare is up to high standards. I’ll take my three young girls and pick the animals by hand. It adds a bit of understanding on where meat comes from for the girls and they pick the pigs that look the happiest!”
The spirit of Ludlow Food Festival fits in with Will’s approach: “I’m lucky to have met such like-minded people who all have a great ethos of creating the best we can with the produce that’s on our doorstep. Some food festivals have producers from far and wide but agriculture is at the heart of Shropshire and the festival really gets behind the local producer.”
D.W. Wall & Son
D.W. Wall & Son has been preparing and supplying high quality meat for over 50 years and own the award-winning recipe for the “Ludlow Sausage”. Ian Ray joined Walls 30 years ago as a 12-year-old boy and took on the business in 2003.
“We specialise in traditional British breeds of beef and pork, sourcing our animals within a 20-mile radius, and are lucky enough to have one of the few remaining privately owned slaughterhouses within nine miles of the shop.” explained Ian. “It’s a big selling point for us is. Our customers like to know where their meat has come from. They don’t like to think of an animal being moved hundreds of miles.”
Ian has nothing but praise for the Ludlow food festival. “It started with such humble beginnings but a small number of people have done a huge amount of work to put Ludlow on the map.”
Ian credits the customers for his love of the job. “The best bit about the job is the customers. The shop is well known for a lot of banter and buzz - it’s a pleasure to go to work.”
Farming and cheese-making have been a way of life for the Appleby family for several generations. Founders Lance and Lucy Appleby were awarded MBE’s for their services to cheese-making in Shropshire in 2001.
The Appleby family are the only remaining producers of real calico bound traditional farm Cheshire cheese, made from their own unpasteurised milk and then matured on the family-run dairy farm. They’re one of the few remaining real farmhouse- kitchen cheese makers left today.
The third generation of Appleby’s, Paul, his wife Sarah and their young children are all involved in the business and their cheese recently won Supreme Champion at the Cheshire Show and Gold awards at the 2018 British Cheese Awards.
“We say each cheese is like a snapshot of time,” said Sarah. “The spot where the cows were grazing, the air temperature and how the cheesemaker was feeling on that particular day. It really is a snapshot of time which I really love about our British territorial cheeses.
“I love what Ludlow has done with the festival. It’s kept that real integrity to its food and its makers and the connection between us all.”