One sunny Sunday in September 1994 I turned up – under familial duress - to help out at the first Ludlow Food Festival. I was fifteen years old and my parents with some of their friends had got this thing together in Castle Square.
My parents owned a small cookware shop on the High Street, Dad was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and a brand new Tesco was about to open up on the site of the old livestock market.
In the Church Inn one evening (you give me a properly Great Idea that wasn’t born in a pub, and I’ll give you a tenner), a bunch of likeminded people bashed their heads together in defiance, and decided that Ludlow had enough independent food shops and local producers to create a bit of a celebratory hoo-ha. Shaun Hill, who opened the legendary Merchant House restaurant at about the same time tells me, “It was obvious even to a blind man that a small town that could support three cheese shops, half a dozen world class butchers and two first rate greengrocers contained enough people who cared about food.”
It was a sort of farmers’ market back in September 1994, but there had never been a farmers’ market, in Ludlow or anywhere else. I was there, reluctantly chopping up sausages for people to taste, not realising or caring what this would become.
It’s hard to imagine a time when food festivals didn’t exist, but truly they’re modern phenomena. Ludlow gave rise to the food festival and in turn to an epicurean awakening that exists and flourishes nineteen years on.
The impact that the Ludlow Food Festival has had on reviving artisan food production in this country cannot be underestimated. There are now many food festivals, and some are undoubtedly more highbrow in elite foodie terms. However, Ludlow’s independent traders all those years ago put a peg in the ground that has stayed put.
Ludlow Food Festival is a part of me, and it’s in my blood. I’m not a director, or even on the committee, but every second weekend of September I’ve been there. I’ll be there this year too, amongst other things co-hosting King Pong (a smell-off of the world’s stinkiest cheeses, brought to you by the Ludlow Food Centre). The sun will shine, and I shall beam with pride that I live in a small town where something as huge as this happens every year.
In 2013, my Mum is still a director of this glorious event along with a few other stalwarts who were there in the Church Inn at the beginning. 2013 promises more demonstrations, tastings, workshops and – most importantly – local food and drink producers than ever before. Come one, come all, and enjoy the party.
This year’s Ludlow Food Festival runs from 13th – 15th September. For information visit www.foodfestival.co.uk or call 01584 873957