Say it loud and say it proud

The Cotswolds now produces some of the finest food in the country, but that progress is at risk unless we don't shout about it.

Say it loud and say it proud

The Cotswolds now produces some of the finest food in the country, but that progress is at risk unless we don’t shout about it.

The summer’s here, our brief season of outdoor living has arrived and everybody’s in a patriotic mood thanks to the triple feelgood factor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics. It all adds up to great news for one of the blossoming industries of the Cotswolds: local food.

Now as someone who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, I can well remember the era of ‘plastic’ grub; the first microwave meals, dehydrated mashed potato, packet curries and the ultimate in sophistication, frozen Black Forest Gateaux. Back then the idea of a locally produced rare breed sausage from pigs reared a few miles away would have been laughable to most people. But what a long way we’ve come in the years since. The Cotswolds is now one of Britain’s prime regions for well-produced, high quality meat, cheese, vegetables, bread, preserves, fruit juices and wine. We’ve even gained a reputation for our ice cream and rapeseed oil (an alternative to olive oil), proving once and for all that the Cotswolds can give those foodaholic Italians a good run for their money.

Thankfully this move towards great regional produce isn’t going on quietly and unnoticed. In fact the success of our enterprising and innovative producers is being shouted from the roof tops. Leading the way are the Cotswold Life Food and Drink Awards, now in their tenth year. From relatively small beginnings the annual prize-giving is now a lavish affair which attracts hundreds of guests and the backing of well-respected foodies like Rob Rees, Matthew Fort and Prue Leith.

I’m lucky enough to be on the judging panel for another acclaimed celebration of British produce, the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Where else would you find a cook who travels to remote villages with a wood burning pizza oven truck, a man who’s helped change the way Britain thinks about bread and a chef who serves food to young offenders in a Scottish institution? Last year a wonderful community enterprise in the Wye Valley waved the flag for Gloucestershire at the award ceremony when the Brockweir and Hewelsfield village shop was named Best Local Food Retailer. The BBC awards for 2012 have just been launched by the Michelin star-rated chef Angela Hartnett who opened this year’s nominations with some wise words:

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“After decades of having among the world’s worst reputations for food, we now produce some of the best you can find. But this progress is fragile and is at risk if we don’t shout about it”.

With that warning ringing in my ears, and aware that we all need to do our bit, I’ve given my backing to a great initiative called the North Cotswolds Food and Farming Festival. By the end of the year the Farm Park will have hosted three separate events, inviting farmers, producers, suppliers and chefs on site to showcase the very best that our lovely corner of England can offer. Even music festivals like Cornbury are community-minded and include locally produced food and drink as part of their eclectic mix. It’s rock ‘n roll meets the Good Life – who’d have thought it?

Of course this momentum is due in very large part to the fantastic Farmers’ Market movement which started in Bath and Stroud and has now spread right across the country. Along with the 2,000 farm shops which are now operating nationwide, they’ve changed the way lots of shoppers behave. Now hundreds of thousands of people relish the opportunity to buy directly from the grower.

Interestingly, because the supermarkets saw themselves losing a certain percentage to the farmers’ markets and farm shops, they’ve now upped their game and have brought localism in house. Even the Big Five promote local producers now and you’re very likely to see them with huge stands and marquees at the summer agricultural shows. It’s certainly food for thought as you wheel out the barbeque or prepare that summer picnic.

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