Every year in September, York is taken over by food and drink lovers in a 10-day long celebration of all things food related. I was invited by Visit York to come and see what is on offer at the York Food and Drink Festival for its 20-year anniversary, and as a foodie I couldn’t resist!
The 2016 festival is currently running until 2nd October, so you still have chance to visit and try it out for yourself!
I previously lived in Yorkshire for 10 years during university, and later when I was living and working in Leeds, a short 20 minute train journey from York. However, I had never heard of the York Food and Drink Festival so was keen to learn more. I caught up with Festival Director Michael Hjort at one of the Food Festival Events – a sparkling wine tasting.
Michael is a chef by trade, having trained under Michel Roux in the 1980s. Originally from York, he returned to the city in the 90s and to open one of York’s leading restaurants, Melton’s, and later the Walmgate Alehouse & Bistro. He has been one of the main organisers of the Food Festival since its inception 20 years ago, and is now it’s passionate yet understated Director.
He admitted in the last couple of years they haven’t done much promotion of the festival, but now are hoping encourage more visitors to the festival, which focuses on sustainability, seasonality and supporting the local and regional economy. I had assumed it was a council-run event, but was surprised to learn that the council charges rent for the use of the stand space on Parliamentary Street and Fossgate. Most of the events are run by volunteers, and the cash provided by sponsors who share Michael’s love for food and the community.
A full calendar of events is available on the Food Festival website www.yorkfoodfestival.com
York Food Festival Events
I was only able to spend a long weekend in York to get a feel for the festival, but there was so much going on I wish I could have stayed all week! I attended the following events as part of the festival:
Guided Historic Pub Walk
Hosted by history buff and all round nice chap Keith Martin, I joined a guided tour through the oldest parts of York to uncover myths and mysteries surrounding York’s historic and heritage pubs. We learned about the history of beer, the beginnings of pubs, inns and taverns and the sometimes gruesome stories of ghosts that haunt the oldest pubs in the city. Keith hosts these tours at various times of the year, and runs several during the week of the festival. He donates the £5 cover charge to the local charity Keep Your Pet which offers foster care for elderly people’s pets when they need help looking after them. I thoroughly enjoyed delving into York’s history, and got to know some of York at the same time, I highly recommend this tour! Book your place by emailing Keith on firstname.lastname@example.org
English Sparkling Wine Tasting
I can’t resist a wine tasting, and this event hosted by Christine Austin, wine writer for the Yorkshire Post, was a fabulous introduction to English Sparkling wines, which now rival French Champagne for quality and taste. We tried 8 different wines, as Christine explained the history of each one, who makes the wine and then talked us through the tasting. We then had to guess the price of each wine, all priced between £25 and £37 – so much cheaper than champagne and just as good! As is customary with wine tasting, the group got more rowdy and more ‘expert’ as the evening progressed, but I must admit I can’t tell the difference between a good wine and a not so good wine! I enjoyed them all, the evening as a whole! Christine usually hosts at least one event during the food festival, and helps organise some of the other wine related events during the week. You can find her on twitter @christine_wine
Cookery Classes & Demonstrations
I joined the York Cookery School for a taster class on how to make shortbread biscuits. Our teacher was cake designer & director for YorkCakes and York Cookery School Kate Clarkson, who expertly guided us through the ins and outs of our shortbread recipe. In between stirring and blending ingredients Kate answered our burning baking questions, and I learned some great tips! Kate then demonstrated how to make some allergy friendly flapjacks, which we also got to taste at the end. As with all good cooking classes we got to take home our creations (and didn’t have to wash up!). This class cost a £10 donation to local charity, which they brought in to ensure people signing up actually turned up to the classes. York Cookery School offer classes throughout the year on everything from cake baking, classes for kids and baking masterclasses to preparing for Christmas. The classes also make great gifts for your loved ones. Find full details at their website www.yorkcookeryschool.com
During the week there are tons of classes and demonstrations by local chefs, as well as a young chef’s competition. See the York Food Festival Website for a full calendar of events.
The festival hosts over 100 stalls and stands selling every kind of food and drink you could possibly want. I explored the Fossgate Festival on Saturday, which is a new introduction to the Festival to encourage visitors to explore more of York’s foodie delights. Only open on Saturdays during the festival, you will find temporary stalls here from Ward Wine company, Yorkshire Spoggs handmade fudge, Shutishuti patisserie and more – as well as permanent shops and restaurants including the wonderful Hairy Fig café and delicatessen which is a delight. Fossgate is well worth exploring for the foodie traveller.
The Shambles Market is open all year round, here you can find handmade crafts, paintings and clothes, and more foodie delights.
Parliament Street & St Sampson’s Square is host to the busiest area of the festival, including the demonstration tent, and at the opposite end the stage which hosts live music every night of the festival. Food and drink stalls line the pedestrian street and the smells drifting on the air are irresistible!
A lot of stalls offered samples of their wares, which were all greatly received – but I wasn’t just in it for the freebies. I bought some rare breed pork pies from Farmhousedirect, a bag of butterscotch fudge from Spoggs, a bottle of Rhucello rhubard liqueur, and a splendid Yorkshire Pudding stuffed with roast beef and gravy from Walmgate Alehouse.
The Taste Trail
If all that wasn’t enough, another way to explore York through its food is on the Taste Trail. Running throughout the duration of the festival, the Taste Trail is a selection of 24 food and drink suppliers offering samples and discounts to the hungry (or thirsty!) visitor. The trail map costs £5 per person, or £8 for two, and if you are in York for a couple of days is well worth purchasing so you can snack your way around the city. I sadly didn’t plan my visit properly and only managed to visit a few of the stops along the way. Plan yours better, and keep an eye on when each offer is available. Some are closed on Sundays or Mondays so Saturday and later in the week would be best to take full advantage of the trail.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the York Food and Drink Festival, and would definitely recommend it to foodies, or indeed anyone who enjoys tasty, good value food and drink! Have a look at their website for full details of all the events www.yorkfoodfestival.com
Thank you to Visit York for inviting me to the Festival, to York Food & Drink Festival for allowing me to take part in the complimentary wine tasting. I donated personally to the charity events.
Thank you also to the Best Western Monkbar Hotel who hosted my complimentary stay in York.
Some of my experiences were complimentary, but as always all views are my own – and the fact I had a fabulous time definitely influenced my opinions of the York Food Festival!
Find other things to do in York
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