The best things in life are slow
Slow Food Devon comes to the 5th Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink

Peter Greig and Simone Brogi feed the oven

Peter Greig of Piper's Farm and Simone Brogi of Slow Food Valdera, Tuscany at work together

Exeter, Devon April 10-13, 2008 “The best things in life are slow,” enthused Peter Greig of Piper’s Farm, while handing out samples of his own farmed and produced Red Ruby beef, cooked in a wood-fired oven at the Slow Food Devon Tent at the Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink. “Our naturally fed Red Ruby beef takes a full four years to reach maturity, and this long, slow growth results in a finely grained meat that is both tender and full of flavour. Here, come and have a taste!”

Piper's Farm Red Ruby beef

Piper's Farm Red Ruby beef, straight out of the wood-fired oven

Meanwhile, alongside Peter, Simone Brogi, from Valdera, Tuscany, was tirelessly pulling out the finest, most delicious focaccia, cooked in the ferociously hot wood oven, thin and crackly, sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, some fragrant Tuscan rosmarino, a drizzle of new season extra virgin olive oil. The cooking time for this typical Tuscan flatbread may only have been minutes, but the excellence of the finished product was the result of a traditional dough, made by Simone’s wife Michela, that benefited from two separate slow rises over a period of hours. The best things in life are slow indeed!

This focaccia has pears that have been macerated in Sambuca! Squisito.

As a double act, Peter and Simone could not have provided a greater contrast: Peter, tall, thin, quintessentially English, with necktie embroidered with Piper’s Farm, tirelessly talking, cooking, sharing; Simone, powerfully built, equally tireless, frowning into the intense heat of the oven, looking for all the world like some underworld blacksmith at Vulcan’s forge. To begin with, Peter spoke not a word of Italian, nor Simone a word of English; after three days, they were communicating amongst themselves brilliantly. “Buono, buono,” said Peter, carving off some of his deliciously succulent and flavourful meat and putting the slices onto Simone’s focaccia. “Very good,” said Simone, taking a deep slug of Red Rock beer to accompany a sliver or two of Piper’s Farm home-cured and –smoked back bacon, sliced off the slab, uncooked, to enjoy raw, just so, as if it were a slice of air-cured Tuscan pancetta.

The rapport, the banter, the teamwork, the learning and sharing of new tastes and cultures between Peter and Simone epitomized the spirit throughout the Slow Food Devon Tent.

This same spirit of learning, sharing and tasting was evident on the other Slow Food stands, too. Somerset’s finest artisan cheddar producers worked together to demonstrate what makes our greatest cheese, when traditionally produced by age-old methods and using unpasteurised milk, so special and unique. Keens, Westcombe and Montgomerie cheddars all have their own unique character and personality, and visitors were able to learn to taste, distinguish and enjoy. Emma Parkin, of Emma's Breads, had earlier given a children's taste workshop on 'Slow Dough' in the Food is Fun Marquee, and throughout the weekend offered tastings of her artisan breads, proved in the time honoured way, slowly, using the previous days' dough as a starter. Man (and woman) does not live by bread alone, so for those thirsty to learn, as well as just to drink, there were deliciously quenching beers from the small micro-brewery Red Rock, produced using the farm's own spring water (no water miles), malt from Tuckers Maltings (about 2 miles from the brewery), whole hops from Malvern and fresh yeast from a famous Dorset brewery. Nothing added and nothing taken away.

Red Rock

The Red Rock team

Tuscans Simone, Michela, Antonella and Giuseppe, all members of Slow Food Valdera, had come over especially for the Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink at the invitation of Freddie Dudbridge, leader of Slow Food Devon.

Antonella and Simone

Slow Food Valdera comes to Exeter

On the Thursday before the Festival, they attended the Exeter Festival Conference, whose theme this year was ‘Raising the Game’. At this Taste of the West sponsored event, I gave a presentation about Tuscany, the Tuscan experience, and the similarities between our two regions, and how we can learn from as well as benefit from building relationships. Michael Caines expanded this theme and reaffirmed his commitment to finding a way for Tuscany and South West England to cement this relationship through some form of official twinning, an initiative that is also strongly supported by John Sheaves at Taste of the West.

Marc Millon speaking at the Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink Conference 2008

Speaking at the Conference about the Tuscan experience

In the evening, we all enjoyed a very special Tuscany-South West England Celebration Dinner at Michael Caines at ABode Exeter. The menu was brilliant, Tuscan-inspired foods created by Ross Melling and his talented team utilizing the finest West Country produce and products, and accompanied by a selection of both Devon as well as Tuscan wines.

This year’s Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink was definitely the best ever. The Castle Courtyard, where the celebrity chef demonstrations led and hosted by Michael took place, became a central area in its own right, a place to relax, enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. (The highlight here was definitely Geoff’s newly released, sensational Pebblebed Brut Sparkling rosé accompanied by a half dozen Bigbury Bay oysters!) The Festival After Dark on Friday, with live music, cookery demonstrations (including the surprise guest appearance of James Nathan, MasterChef 2008 winner together with Michael) and of course the ever popular beer tent, was all great fun, too.

Michael Caines and James Nathan

Michael with James Nathan, MasterChef 2008, in the Cookery Theatre

In the main Festival area, the Food and Drink Pavilions offered more producers than ever before, demonstrating once again what an outstanding range of exciting, local and regional food and drink our region has to offer, and proving Michael’s assertion, “The South West has the best larder in Europe”.

Pebblebed Sparkling

Pebblebed Brut Sparkling rosé and Bigbury Bay oysters, an awesome combination

Undoubtedly for me (and of course I am unashamedly biased), the Slow Food Devon tent was the best place to be over the three days of the Festival. Located in its own, spacious and separate tent, and with Peter’s wood-fired oven as a considerable attraction in is own right, here, unlike the other food pavilions where the emphasis was very much on selling, the Slow Food tent offered a relaxing and convivial atmosphere in the true Slow Food spirit. Though hugely popular and packed out during all the three days of the Festival, here the emphasis was somehow less frenetic, primarily about sharing, tasting, learning, enjoying (neither Peter nor the Tuscans were actually selling anything - is that one reason why their corner of the tent was so relentelessly popular?!).

Slow Food Devon tent

Slow Food Devon tent

Liz puts the kettle on while Simone and Michela keep a close eye on the oven

Congratulations especially to Fred, and to Jo and other Slow Food Devon members who worked so hard to create such a brilliant celebration of food that is good, clean and fair, enjoyed amongst like-minded people from various backgrounds and even countries who together all share common values and ideals.

I will never forget the magnificent flavour of Peter’s succulent meat, the juices dripping into that exquisite, freshly baked Tuscan focaccia, and drizzled with a bit of that precious liquid gold, olio extra vergine d’oliva della Valdera, so deliciously melting, such a perfect marriage of West Country and Tuscan flavours and food cultures: in its very essence, the taste of friendship.

Simone and Peter

The taste of friendship

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