Generally speaking, festival food is nothing to write home about. OK, so a soggy kebab might taste amazing in a field at 3am after six hours of energetic dancing, but it’s no Michelin-starred experience.
Some of the more bohemian festivals have started to catch on to the foodie trend, and the likes of Wilderness, Festival No.6 and Bestival now proudly offer gourmet meals and appearances by celebrity chefs. But for true food lovers, you really can’t beat a festival where the food takes top billing and the music comes second. Here are our pick of the top eight foodie festivals happening this summer.
The Big Feastival
Location: Alex James’ Farm, The Cotswolds
Date: 28-30 August
If you love cheese, Alex James will already be on your radar. The Blur bassist famously packed in his rock star life a few years back and bought a farm in The Cotswolds where he began making award-winning cheeses.
A few years back he teamed up with Jamie Oliver to launch The Big Feastival – a weekend of music, food and nature, right there on Alex’s own farm.
This year, acts include Dizzee Rascal, Grandmaster Flash, Ella Eyre and Groove Armada, as well as a whole host of old and new favourites. Meanwhile, world famous chefs such as Raymond Blanc, Monica Galetti and, of course, Jamie Oliver will be sharing their top tips and handing out delicious food samples.
Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity spotting – past attendees include Kate Moss, Daisy Lowe and, erm, David Cameron.
Don’t Miss – Raymond Blanc. The ludicrously charming French chef will be hosting a live cooking demo followed by a Q&A.
Location: Bristol, Harbourside
Date: 11-12 July
Bristol has quietly built up a reputation as one of England’s best foodie cities, so it is no surprise that Grillstock has chosen it as its latest location. Following on from the success of Grillstock London and Grillstock Manchester, the Americana-loving, BBQ-obsessed weekend is hitting Bristol, in all its flame-licked glory.
Musical acts include De La Soul, Goldie Lookin Chain, and The Heavy, as well as a clutch of bluegrass bands from America’s Deep South. Vintage jeans and flannel shirts are non-negotiable.
Don’t Miss – The Chilli Eating Competition. They start off mild and get hotter and hotter until you are eating some of the hottest chilli peppers on the planet. The last one standing is the winner.
International Cheese Awards
Location: Dorfold Hall, Nantwich
Date: 28-29 July
This is not your typical awards ceremony. The International Cheese Awards stretches across two full days and features more than 4,000 different cheeses from 24 countries across the world. At the end of the festival, one cheese is chosen as the Supreme Champion – last year’s winner was the now-ubiquitous Colston Basset Stilton.
While the judges do their thing, guests can wander from tent to tent, sampling cheeses and picking up cookery tips from celebrity chefs such as James Martin, Will Holland and Jonathan Harrison.
Don’t Miss – the 80,500 sq ft Cheese Marquee, the largest in the world. On Show Day (29 July), it will be filled with all the cheeses you can imagine…and a few you cannot. Doors open at 8am, so arrive early to get your pick of the samples.
Port Eliot Festival
Location: St Germains, Cornwall
Date: 30 July – 2 August
This is the ultimate foodie retreat. Featuring the likes of Thomasina Miers, Rick Stein and Tom Parker Bowles, it is a celebration of all things fresh and organic, with an emphasis on Cornish cuisine. Grab a pasty at the Cornish Picnic, or try a classic cream tea at the Orangery.
There is music by Stornoway, The Unthanks and many more, plus comedy from Dom Joly and Shappi Khorsandi, but the busiest area is always the Flower and Fodder Stage, where the chefs hang out.
Don’t Miss – Hix’s Fish Dogs – a Port Eliot institution. Think hot breaded fish fingers, served in a fresh bap, with minted mushy peas and homemade tartar sauce. Unmissable.
Newlyn Fish Festival
Location: Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall
Date: 31 August
This is without a doubt the fishiest fish festival in the whole of the UK. The entire event began with a humble fish auction, but it has grown to include a huge series of fish-related events, from the kid-friendly Fishy Trail; to the Great Cornish Fish Off; cooking demonstrations; and punting around the harbour. The highlight is the Lugger Rowing Championship, where competitors race traditional wooden boats along the coasts. Only the winners can claim the coveted Golden Pilchard award.
Don’t Miss – the fish auction. Which is exactly what you imagine it’s going to be like, except louder.
Ludlow Food Festival
Location: Ludlow Castle, Ludlow
Date: 11-13 September
The Ludlow Food Festival is one of the best kept secrets among dedicated foodies. It has been held on the magnificent grounds of Ludlow Castle for the past 20 years, and the organisers are as passionate about food as they are about drink – as long as it is all produced locally, of course.
More than 180 vendors will be there this year, doling out local produce, and offering tastings and demonstrations. Masterclasses take place throughout the weekend, teaching essential life skills such as ‘how to fillet a fish’, and the ominously-titled ‘knife skills’.
Don’t Miss – the Real Ale Trail. Not so much a trail, as a nice sit down in a country pub while bar staff pass you 12 different pints of various local brews. The last one’s always the nicest.
Edinburgh Vegan Festival
Location: The Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh
Date: 8 August
Once upon a time, vegan cuisine consisted of lentils, beans, rice and little else. But today, vegans are at the forefront of the food revolution, introducing exotic new ingredients (quinoa; tempeh; miso) into British kitchens. Even Beyonce has embraced the joys of veganism!
The first ever Edinburgh Vegan Festival is being organized by the same people who launched the Newcastle Vegan Festival last year, so you can expect plenty of TED-style talks on organic farming, animal cruelty and cooking tips, as well as dozens of food stalls and the odd cookery demonstration.
Get in on the ground floor so you can say you were there when veganism really started to take off.
Don’t Miss – Yaoh manager Tim Barford’s Hemp Smoothie Demo. Guaranteed to get messy, but in a good way.
Location: Castle Hill, North Devon
Date: 23-27 July
Every year, the Somersault Festival presents an eclectic array of stellar performers, new artists, outdoor pursuits and edgy comedy. But year after year, all anyone wants to talk about is the food.
Each evening, a different celebrity chef prepares an enormous feast for festival-goers, which is served by a giant bonfire and includes only the finest locally sourced ingredients. This year, the organisers have signed up Jamie Oliver and his team at Fifteen Cornwall, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage chefs, Valentine Warner and multi-award-winning The Ethicurean. This is probably the only time it will ever be appropriate to eat Michelin-starred food with a plastic fork.
If you’re stuck for something to do while you wait for your evening meal, check out headliners such as Laura Marling, Bombay Bicycle Club, Passenger and Crystal Fighters, or try your hand at a spot of coasteering or mountain biking in the surrounding countryside.
Don’t Miss – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Sunday. This year’s feast includes Cornish Crab on toasted sourdough with barbecued lettuce, mint, spring onions, parsley and chervil.