Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sunshine on Crail

Months of planning and organising paid off last weekend, as the first annual Crail Food Festival was a roaring success. Even Saturday’s relentless rain couldn’t keep people away, as foodies from across Fife descended upon the town hall to sample Fife’s home grown specialities. With stalls selling out due to their array of delicious produce, it’s fair to say that the popularity of the event exceeded all expectations. I visited the festival on Sunday, where I left a very rainy Edinburgh to bask in the Crail sunshine, for a day of eating, drinking and my favourite subject, talking about food.

Sunday’s foodie delights took place down at the harbour, which was bathed in sunshine. As I made my way down the rocky path, I could see nothing but queues for every stall, and with the fresh local produce on offer it was easy to see why. Our first stop was a visit to the Fife Diet stall, where the challenge was to pedal your own smoothie. As Rob hopped onto the bike, which had a food processor attached, I watched as the strawberries and raspberries were painstakingly whizzed up with each rotation of the wheel. The end product was arguably the most delicious smoothie I have ever tasted.

With 20 minute long queues at every stand, I had a difficult decision to make, the choice between a hog roast roll from Lucklaw Farm, and a venison burger from Fletchers of Auchtermuchty. In the end, my hunger outweighed my desire to wait, and as the queue for venison was marginally shorter, I opted to sink my teeth into prime venison on a seeded bun. It was truly delicious, and the quality of the meat was undeniable.

Although I opted for the venison, there was no shortage in terms of choice, especially when delicious seafood had been freshly plucked from the shore. With fresh lobster, crab and the famous Arbroath Smokies, even the most discerning fish lover would have found something to curb their appetite.

Even if the sun hadn’t been shining on Crail, I have no doubt that the festival would have been a success regardless. With such an array of foods on offer, and producers on hand to answer consumers’ questions, the whole event was a resounding success. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Guid Cheese Shop

If you’ve been keeping up to date with all the recent postings in the run up to the Crail Food Festival, you’ll know that Fife produce is world class. Over the course of last weekend, these producers showcased their products, and allowed us to see, sample and buy the sort of food that only Fife can produce. Another member of this community is Svetlana Redpath from The Guid Cheese Shop in St Andrews. Her range of locally sourced artisan products proudly adorn cheese boards across the Kingdom of Fife. With my mouth watering, Svetlana shared a few secrets with me about the art of sourcing such a vast range of wonderful cheeses.

What made you decide to open your own cheese shop?

My passion for farmhouse and artisan cheese is unrivalled. Being a cheesemonger is a very interactive profession. Every day I get the opportunity to talk to people about cheese, and show them just how many cheeses there are available. When I recommend a cheese to a customer, I encourage them to taste a sample of the cheese before they buy it. This ensures that they leave with a cheese they are going to love.

Do you produce your own cheese, or do you source the products you sell?

The Guid Cheese Shop is a retailer and wholesaler. Cheese making is an entirely different profession, which requires a great deal of time and skill. It also involves a number of specialised processes, such as sourcing the highest quality milk, and allowing the optimum time for the product to mature. Knowing the products we sell have been treated to the best possible process, using premium products, makes us proud to be sellers of such wonderful cheeses.

What methods have you used to engage the local community in promoting your business?

St Andrews is an amazing town, with a number of residents who really enjoy their food and recognise high quality products. We enjoy being a part of the local community and support local organisations, charities and student societies by donating prizes for their raffles and fundraising events. Most recently we were a sponsor of the Royal Wedding Breakfast, an event that had a massive impact on the local community. We also regularly participate in regional festivals and food events, which is why we are so happy to support the first ever Crail Food Festival.

What makes you so passionate about cheese?

It’s a truly amazing product, and so versatile. The number of cheeses that can be produced from an ingredient as simple as milk is a marvel. I never get tired of trying new cheeses, but I do have my firm favourites. What a lot of people don’t realise about cheese is that it’s actually a very healthy food. When it’s made properly, either by a farmer or an artisan cheese maker, it’s full of vitamins and minerals, whilst being a fantastic source of protein and calcium.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?
The organisers of the festival approached us to see if we would be interested and we didn’t need so much as a second to think about it. It’s admirable to see someone invest so much of their precious time to organise such a worthwhile event. We believe it’s extremely important to celebrate artisan foods like this, otherwise we run the risk of being left with tasteless and unhealthy mass produced supermarket offerings.

What makes Fife produce so special?

Fife is a beautiful agricultural region that produces a lot of fresh food that we are lucky enough to enjoy. But what makes it even more special, is the passion of the people who both make and grow this exceptional produce.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Arbroath Smokies

As we all know, Fife is rich in culinary offerings. From fresh fruit and vegetables, to organically reared livestock, the landscape is ripe with opportunity. This wealth extends to the Fife coast, where Iain.R.Spink, founder of Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd, does his magic. I spoke to Iain about the success of his business and how he came to be involved in the Crail Food Festival.

How long has Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd been a fixture in the local community?

The business has been established for eight years and during that time I have been a regular supporter and attendee of all the Fife Farmers Markets.

How did you come to be involved in the Crail Food Festival?

I try to get involved in as many local events as possible, as you never know what opportunities might arise. This was the case with the Crail Food Festival. I met the organisers at several other local events, and following on from this I was invited to attend the festival.

What do you attribute to the success of your business?

I think it’s largely down to the fact that people can see the fish being smoked in front of them. By demonstrating how Arbroath Smokies are made, my customers not only get to see the process their food undergoes, but have the added bonus of eating the fish at its very best, hot, juicy and straight from the fire. As the saying goes you eat with your eyes, and the sight of all the fresh fish hanging on sticks ready to be smoked, combined with the smell of the burning hardwood logs provides an entirely sensory experience for customers at the many fares and markets I attend. Additionally, I only use the best quality raw materials available and usually do every stage of the lengthy process myself.

Why do you think so many people buy from supermarkets, rather than take advantage of local produce?

In the main, I think people are enticed by the convenience that comes with supermarkets. The ability to get everything under one roof is tempting, and can save a lot of time. I also think price has a part to play, and in these financially challenging times, consumers are forced to go with more economical options.

Your business is firmly established, what advice would you give someone thinking of opening a business in the food industry?

My advice would be to keep things small and manageable with an emphasis on producing the best quality products. With growing concern and unrest over mediocre food infiltrating our society, consumers are now looking to extend their knowledge of good food, and where to buy high quality, local produce. If producers can bear this in mind and create something unique, whilst keeping quality at the forefront of their aims, they should be able to establish a very worthwhile business.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce stand out as one of the best?

The diversity of produce available all over the Kingdom of Fife is quite amazing. The rugged coastline produces fantastic seafood, whilst the fertile land allows fruit and vegetables to flourish. Teamed with more unique products, such as venison and water buffalo, it’s easy to see why Fife produce is considered one of the best in the world.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fife Farmers Market

With ever growing concerns about where our food comes from, having a reliable source where we can buy quality food and drink is essential. As people become more aware of the vast array of local produce they have on their doorstep, the greater opportunity there is for local businesses to thrive. A great way to showcase local produce is through the establishment of Farmers Markets. The frequency of these events have grown over the years, thus maintaining a loyal customer base. Barbara Wardlaw, Co-ordinator of the Fife Farmers Market took the time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about the project and its success with the local community.

What was the inspiration behind establishing a Fife Farmers Market?

Farmers in the region of Fife produce so many wonderful products. This was the impetus behind establishing the Fife Farmers Market, as the community was lacking a direct sales outlet for their produce. It also allowed farmers to liaise directly with customers, which really supported them in expanding their client base.

What do you attribute to the success of the Fife Farmers Market?

Consumers are more aware and more conscious about the things they eat. They want to know how their food is grown and where it comes from. Farmers markets facilitate this, as customers can ask the producers questions directly. In turn this allows consumers to make more informed choices about what they are eating. This level of service teamed with high quality produce keeps customers coming back time and time again.

How do local producers become involved in the Fife Farmers Market?

Any producers interested in participating in the Fife Farmers Market should contact us so we can talk them through the process. After the initial enquiry has been made, we send farmers a stall holders application to complete. If they comply with our market rules, the application is then forwarded onto the Fife Farmers Market Committee. The final stage, if necessary, is a visit to the producer’s premises to confirm our health and safety requirements are being met.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

We have several food links with a number of the participants in the festival, and being a local event, we were happy to help on the promotional side. It’s a wonderful event that’s helping to drive forward the notion of eating local, whilst serving as a platform to provide local residents with more information about the availability of high quality, local produce across Fife.

In your opinion, what more can be done to promote local produce?

By getting information into schools, we can start with the younger generation, encouraging them to adopt these values before any others can take hold. We also need to educate consumers on the value of buying local, and the positive effects it has on the local community.

A Thoroughly Modern Approach to Food

There’s no denying that modern technology has very firm roots in our society. As we have evolved over time, so has our machinery, with it becoming ever more sophisticated. With lines of communication now extended through the technologies we have at our fingertips, I spoke to Susan McNaughton, an enthusiastic advocate of social media. We chatted about her involvement in the Crail Food Festival, and how she has utilised her skills in this area to help them pilot this event.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

My husband and I run a small accommodation business, Sandcastle Holidays, which owns Sandcastle Cottage in Crail. Having owned the business for 20 years now, we’ve established a number of relationships with local residents. They were aware of my new business venture in social media management, and invited me to a Crail Business Group meeting, where I talked about how I was using social media to promote my business. It was at this meeting where Graham Anderson of the Honeypot Guesthouse and Tearoom talked about his vision for the Crail Food Festival, based on an idea he had been discussing with Finlay Kerr of the Caiplie Guest House in Crail.

What were your initial thoughts about the festival?

Hearing Graham and Finlay talk about the benefits of local produce were not in any way isolated, which made me think that this could really work. Just before they mentioned the prospect of a festival, I had attended the first AGM of the Fife Diet, whose ethos tied in directly with what Graham and Finlay were striving for. With such a wealth of local produce available in the Fife region, we are trying to encourage people to take advantage of this, rather than resorting to convenience.

What strategies have you used to help promote the festival?

Initially, I set up a Facebook page and Twitter account to start generating coverage. Using this strategy, I felt I could promote the festival, whilst helping local businesses by encouraging them to add comments about their participation. Not all of the businesses involved had been exposed to social media tools, so I was happy to assist in setting them up with Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. When using Twitter, we based our people search on those who listed food as one of their interests. We knew that people from Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow would be the most likely to embark on a day trip to Crail, so we further focussed on these groups as well as those based in Fife. This promotions approach was relatively unknown to the business people in Crail, who had used the more traditional advertising techniques of posters and press releases to promote previous events. This has still taken place, however I have focussed more on using on-line means, such as creating content for the Visit Crail blog, using short videos on YouTube, and linking photographs of the area back to the festival.

How successful do you feel the use of social media has been in promoting the festival?

Ask me on the 19th of June! We’ve done the right things, we’ve put the word out, we’ve engaged with new friends online, we’ve used social media to entice suppliers and participants, as well as generating new business for Crail. We’ve also managed to get some press coverage by engaging with freelance journalists on Twitter, and promoting the event at the Fife Tourism Conference. But the hard work involved here won’t just stop as soon as the festival is over. We’ve set up a Flickr page, so visitors can share their images from the festival, and we’ll be asking for feedback so that the festival can continue in future years. As a business owner in Crail, the ideal scenario for me would be to see local business owners engaging with their customers in a very 21st century way, by using the same tools as I have in promoting the Crail Food Festival. I'd welcome the opportunity to help more people in the area learn to take an active role in promoting Crail as a destination.

What can local businesses and producers do to tempt people to adopt a more 'local' attitude?

I think a better story needs to be told about our food. We need to make people more aware of where their food is grown and what’s in it to allow them to make more informed choices. With the use of intelligent labelling, we can give customers more information on what they’re actually eating. It’s also key to listen to customer feedback and react to this, to ensure you are giving customers what they want. A good example of this pro-active approach is Ardross Farm, who use Facebook to inform their contacts of specialities arriving in store, and to listen to requests from customers for items they’d like to see stocked. This can make all the difference in tempting people to shop at the farm shop rather than the supermarket.

What’s the best thing about local produce?

It's so delicious! By eating locally you're not only eating fresh food which is in peak condition, but you're helping to make local businesses successful. This in turn helps strengthen the local economy and makes it possible to continue to live in places as beautiful as the village of Crail.

Trotters Independent Condiments

This time next week the streets of Crail will be awash with all things food related. Stalls will be going up, music will be playing and all the hard work that has gone into preparing for this festival will be on display. Come rain, hail or shine, the festival promises something for everyone, and with Fife’s finest food producers on hand, I can be certain about one thing, nobody will leave feeling hungry. Another contender to keep our tummy’s from rumbling, is Byam Trotter of Trotters Independent Condiments, who talked me through why he was looking forward to the first Crail Food Festival.

What were your initial thoughts upon hearing about the Crail Food Festival?

I was really excited when I heard about it. Some people are passionate about music, and there are numerous festivals to celebrate that, so why not spend a little more time celebrating food? Food is amazing, and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate that fact.

Why did you decide to become involved in the festival?

Since I established Trotters Independent Condiments in November 2009, Fife has been very good to me. Trotters wouldn’t be the business it is now if it wasn’t for the support of the local community who share my passion for food. This reaction has also encouraged me to get involved in any food related events that take place in the Fife area. It’s nice to support the people who have supported me in the past, whilst meeting new customers and members of the community.

What tools have you used to promote your business?

In the main, I have used events, like the Crail Food Festival to promote the business. I have also regularly attended farmers markets, which has been a great way to meet customers, and get feedback on new and existing products. I also make sure the company website is up-to-date, so that customers can explore our full range of products.

What do you attribute to the success of Trotters Independent Condiments?

I have been very fortunate in the response from the local community. I’ve started my business in an area where support for local produce is incredibly strong. There are also numerous farm shops, who are always keen to stock local produce. After customers had tasted my products, order requests soon started coming in, which helped the business to continue strengthening.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce so special?

Unfortunately, Scotland isn’t a country that’s renowned for its food. We have been tarred with the proverbial poor food stick, which is hard to shake. But what people don’t know is that Scotland has some of the best food in the world. From amazing salmon and wild venison, to mouth watering strawberries and raspberries, and wonderful artisan cheeses, Fife produces just about everything Scotland can offer. I would struggle to think of a Fife producer that I wouldn’t recommend, which really makes me proud to come from Fife.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The time for spice

There’s no denying it, our culinary horizons have broadened. With the streets of Scotland awash with international eateries, we’ve come a long way since the days when mince and tatties were the most exotic thing on offer. Nowadays, we take delight in offerings from further afield, with a tendency to use spice to curb those hunger pangs, so much so, that the humble curry is voted time and time again Britain’s favourite dish. It was this love for curry that encouraged Darren Mollan to set up Chilli Papas, a company that takes all the hard work out of making curry, by offering oil free, fresh spice blends, making it easier than ever before to make a delicious family meal. I had a chat with Darren about Chilli Papas and its success within the Kingdom of Fife.

How long has Chilli Papas been a fixture in the local community?

We started the business in February of this year. Considering we’ve only been established a short time, the response from retailers across Fife has been overwhelming.

What inspired you to start Chilli Papas?

Last Christmas, when things were at their most frantic, my sister-in-law wanted to cook a curry. As everybody knows, time really is not of the essence around Christmas and New Year, so my wife Lynn suggested blending the spices and including cooking instructions. It was a resounding success, and prompted us to start the business.

How have the Fife community reacted to Chilli Papas?

The support for the oil free curry mixes has been particularly impressive. The local community have really embraced our products, which has resulted in us building up a large bank of loyal customers. We have also been very well supported by regional retailers throughout Fife.

What were your initial thoughts upon hearing about the Crail Food Festival?

As a local resident, I don’t think there is enough of a celebration centred around Fife produce. The Crail Food Festival is exciting and very worthwhile. I really do look forward to it becoming a regular fixture in the foodie calendar.

Why did you decide to become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

It’s such a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the Chilli Papas brand. We’re also very excited to be involved in something that will get Fife the coverage it deserves for its local produce. I really can see this festival being a key fixture for years to come.

What makes Fife produce so special?

Here in Fife, we have one of the most unspoiled landscapes in the world, which allows us to produce goods of the highest quality. From seafood, meat and poultry, to the freshest fruits and vegetables, Fife producers are renowned for their quality. With a landscape so rich in opportunity, it’s easy to see why Fife has upheld its reputation as a world class food producer.

Cochrane Cottage

How much do we really know about the foods we eat? This was something that troubled Carol-Anne Doyle, owner and co-founder of Cochrane Cottage, an artisan producer of flavoured balsamic dressings and fat free vinegars. This train of thought prompted her and her husband to establish Cochrane Cottage in November 2009. Since then, their commitment to using locally sourced produce in their range of delicious condiments has resulted in a business that has gone from strength to strength. I had a chat with Carol-Anne about Cochrane Cottage and how they have developed over the years.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

My husband Kevin met one of the organisers of the festival at another food event. They got chatting about the festival and its aims, and we were really excited to hear that someone was being proactive in their approach to promoting local produce. We knew that this was something that we wanted to become involved in, so we got in touch with the organisers and asked if we could be part of the festival.

Cochrane Cottage has gone from strength to strength since it launched in 2009. What do you attribute to the success of your business?

Our customers are definitely attracted to the fact that they recognise all of the ingredients on our labels. People want to know what they are eating and feeding their families, and with our products, they have the guarantee that they are produced locally using quality ingredients. Furthermore, we grasp every opportunity that comes our way. We try not to say no to even the smallest event, as everything should be considered a development opportunity. At the moment, our growth has far outweighed our initial expectations. We always had faith in the quality of our products, but to have the business grow to a point where we now have our own outlet shop in the Silverburn shopping centre in Glasgow is truly amazing.

What promotional tools did you use to raise awareness of the Cochrane Cottage venture?

We made good use of modern technology, ensuring that we had a media profile to offset our aims. We also participated in a number of tasting sessions, took our products to sell at events, and as I said before, we rarely missed a networking opportunity.

In your opinion, what more can be done to help support local businesses?

Good feedback is invaluable. Providing a quality product itself is not enough. You need to get people talking about it and recommending it to extend your customer base. This approach encourages people to buy local, which is what we are really striving for.

 What makes Fife produce so special?

Nothing is better than local produce. It’s fresh, doesn’t taste mass produced and you know where it comes from. This alone gives local produce the edge over anything you could buy in the supermarket.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Castle Garden Flowers

Over recent years, there have been general concerns over a lack of community spirit, with the media urging us to believe that this sense of community has now been shelved, and people are far more detached from their neighbours. In the Fife community, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and having been fortunate enough to work with the lovely people that are participating in the Crail Food Festival, I feel privileged to have seen how their passion for local produce has encouraged them to unite. This has very much been the case with the relationship that has developed between Castle Garden Flowers and Ardross Farm. A venture that has been in place since March of this year, Sue Rabjohns and Karen Wilkieson talked nicely to Fiona and Nikki Pollock of Ardross Farm, who kindly allowed them to grow salads, flowers and herbs in the Ardross Farm garden, which they then sell in the farm shop. I had a chat with Sue about Castle Garden Flowers and their involvement in the Crail Food Festival.

Castle Garden Flowers has been with us since March of this year, what made you undertake this venture?

The idea came to us around a year ago. Karen and I are both keen gardeners with a particular passion for herbaceous perennials. We were in the process of looking for a suitable site to establish a nursery, when Karen became aware of the possibility of setting this up within the beautiful walled garden at Ardross Farm. This encouraged us to have a chat with Fiona and Nikki at the farm and set up Castle Garden Flowers.

What sort of produce do you sell at the Ardross Farm Shop?

We sell flowers, herbs and salad leaves. Our pot grown herbs are proving popular, and we are looking to extend the range over the coming weeks. We have also really enjoyed the challenge of ensuring we grow enough salad leaves to supply the farm shop on a daily basis.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

We attended the Fife Diet East launch event at Kellie Castle earlier this year, where there was already a buzz around the festival. We knew that there would be many like minded locals and producers involved, which was an added incentive. Teamed with the fact that Karen and I are passionate about both eating and supporting locally grown produce, we were happy to give up our time and promote the cause in any way we could.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce so special?

The East Neuk is blessed with a fantastic range of produce. This should be more readily acknowledged, and people should be encouraged to take greater advantage of it. With concerns over climate change and the rise in petrol prices, we have a greater responsibility than ever before to both think and shop local.