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A feast for food lovers

WHILE 2018 was certainly a special year for the county’s increasingly successful food sector, marking as it did a decade of the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards, 2019 has been no less impressive.

The results of this year’s competition were revealed at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate and Business Times will carry all the results next month. Meanwhile, here’s a chance to reflect on some of the activity and success of the sector over the last twelve months.



FEBRUARY saw more than fifty members of Made In Northamptonshire – the group which was set up in January 2011 to support the county’s producers, stockists and eateries – gather for the first of their four quarterly meetings of the year at the Brampton Halt at Chapel Brampton.

These meetings offer members the chance to gather together to network, share their expertise and gain further help and support from sector experts and it was Rachel Goff from the Food and Drink Forum who shared her incomparable knowledge on consistency of supply to a very engaged room. Subsequent meetings saw Stuart Love, Litigation Partner at Wilson Browne offer top tips on how to avoid bad debts and Jav Mistry from Dawn Farms tackle the often the thorny issue of HR, including such topics a zero-hours contracts, sick leave and conduct management.

In March, the sector celebrated the launch of the long-awaited Food and Drink Innovation Centre at Moulton College, offering students the opportunity to study a variety of bakery, nutrition and food sector courses, while in April, and having cut the red ribbon on the previous event, Masterchef judge and The Telegraph’s restaurant critic William Sitwell proudly declared Northamptonshire ‘Britain’s Most Foodie County’ as he helped to launch the Northamptonshire Year of Food and Drink – the 2019 theme for the county’s Britain’s Best Surprise tourism campaign.

Generously hosted by the then High Sheriff of Northamptonshire James Saunders Watson and staged at Rockingham Castle in the presence of the Lord-Lieutenant David Laing, William impressed the assembled throng with some impressive statistics to back up his claim, including:

* Northamptonshire has twice the national average of producers and manufacturers, whose food output was worth over £600m in 2016 (Source ONS)

* 95 per cent of British householders owns a product containing a herb or spice from Northampton’s British Pepper & Spice

* Guests at The Ritz and The Savoy tuck into chocolates made in Brackley by Belflair Chocolates

The year of celebration has seen a new web campaign dedicated to the county’s culinary excellence, not only promoting dining venues and producers but also a host of food festivals and events for all foodies to enjoy, while its ongoing loyalty card scheme will enable supporters of local food and drink to take advantage of discounts at participating venues.

Meanwhile, the thousands of drivers passing Northampton’s train station every day cannot fail to have noticed the hoardings which trumpet some of the county’s best producers – putting cheese, popcorn wine and ice cream in delicious giant sized technicolour panels! You can read more details at www.northamptonshiresuprise.com

In May, Made In Northamptonshire returned to Rockingham – to the International Horse Trials – to launch its online shop, MINonlyne – the only place to source only Northamptonshire produce.

Now stocking more than 200 products and drinks, you can have such staples as bread, pies, fruit and vegetables as well as other tasty treats delivered weekly to your door, and while not all parts of the county are currently covered by the delivery service (usually priced at £7), special delivery can be arranged. For more details or to place your order visit www www.madeinnorthamptonshire.org

In July, the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards reached their halfway point and were thrilled to welcome Sir Richard Branson’s private chef of Necker Island and former Northampton College student Simon Dyer to act as a judge at the Booker Young Chef of the Year semi-final.

Indeed Simon has been just one of a plethora of culinary luminaries to play their part in this year’s competition, with chefs Tom Aikens and Blo Deady judging the Chef of the Year category the same month, while Daniel Inniss-Fitzhugh, who is Raymond Blanc’s Assistant Development Chef, was part of the panel alongside William Sitwell and former Communards and Strictly Come Dancing star Rev. Richard Coles, to determine the results in the Artisan Local Sweet Product and Artisan Local Savoury Product categories.

And things continued apace throughout the autumn, with September bringing the exciting news that multi award-winning wine expert, TV personality, author and columnist Olly Smith was to be the special guest at this year’s Awards Dinner, following in the footsteps of culinary luminaries Marcus Wareing, Jason Atherton, Michel Roux Snr and Thomasina Miers.

Meanwhile in October, while Brexit – or lack of it – continued to dominate the Westminster scene, the Houses of Parliament were given welcome respite from the political turmoil with a showcase of some of the best food and drink the county has to offer.

The Taste of Northamptonshire Day, which was hosted by South Northants MP Andrea Leadsom and supported by her fellow county MPs, the Lord-Lieutenant David Laing and Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards Patron William Sitwell, saw almost 20 members of the Made In Northamptonshire network offer samples of their tasty treats to MPs, peers and staff.

The selection included award-winning breads, artisan cheeses, cooked meats, pies, chutneys, gins, wines, beers, and ciders and with the event attended by several hundred people – many of them describing it as the best of any of the counties’ tasting days they had previously experienced.

Mrs Leadsom was clearly thrilled to have played her part, saying: “These ‘Taste of’ days are an excellent opportunity for Members of Parliament to showcase the best that their constituencies have to offer, and I was delighted to have been able to host last month’s event.

“As the former Environment Secretary, whose remit included supporting our great British food producers, I know just how fantastic our home-grown produce can be and we are particularly fortunate in Northants to have twice the national average food and drink producers and manufacturers, whose food output was worth over £600m annually.”

Among those sampling their wares was Julie Crofts-Mitchell from Northampton’s The Tea Lab Company and after later recovering from pouring hundreds of cups of her tea blends for thirsty guests – including her Dream Catcher, which co-won the title of New Local Drink in the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2017/18 – she said she was thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend such a prestigious occasion.

“Without our membership of an amazing group like Made In Northamptonshire, we would never have done anything like this and it was a real thrill to be alongside so many great fellow producers and get a chance to show how fabulous the county’s food and drink sector is,” said Julie.

“On a personal level, I really enjoyed the event and found the level of engagement from the guests to be amazing, while from a business point of view we were delighted to have received an online order from an MP’s office before the taxi had even got us as far as Euston.”

With December and the festive season well and truly under way, MIN is proud to be providing hampers with a range of delicious options, starting from just £40, and featuring fantastic fizz and mouth-watering chocolates.

Other options include a free-range Bronze turkey, Northamptonshire Blue Cheese, Warner’s gin, sweet potato pie and hedgerow chutney, while bespoke hampers can also be made to order.

With Christmas a time for giving and showing those in your life how much they mean to you, so why not treat your family, staff or customers to a delicious Christmas hamper bursting with local produce from across our county?

Finally, 2019 has been another successful year for the regional FEAST2 project, which has seen an increasing number of businesses across the county take advantage of the free scheme, offering access to grant funding, sector events, mentoring and technical support to eligible food and drink manufacturers.

Indeed since March of this year, Business Times has each month revealed the considerable impact on those who have signed up for FEAST2 support and you can read more on December’s featured success story on Page 16.

For more details on any of the food and drink projects above, including ordering your MINonlyne Christmas hamper, contact Rachel Mallows at The Mallows Company on 01933 664437 or email

The results of the 2019/20 Carlsberg Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards will be featured in a special feature in the January/February edition of Business Times.

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