Celebrating the quality and diversity of food and drink in Dorset (with a pinch of Wiltshire and Somerset) with Fanny Charles
When I created the Local Flavours column in the old BVM, 20 years ago, the name wasn’t original. It was actually the title of a wonderful book by the great American food writer and cook Deborah Madison. Her Local Flavours was a celebration not of one county (or state) but of the food local to farmers markets across the USA and around the year. Quoting the then president of her local Santa Fe Farmers Market, Don Bustos, Madison defined the role of a farmers market as ‘much more than farmers selling produce … they’re about protecting our farmland and water … keeping the farming traditions and cultures alive … about providing communities with good food.’
The food campaigner Michael Pollan, whose most famous advice is: ‘Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food’ (In Defence of Food, 2008), described the book as ‘indispensable’.
That was what we rather ambitiously aimed to be with our own Blackmore Vale version. It must have worked because, all these years on, as I started to talk to people about revive the Local Flavours name for The BV Magazine, I was surprised by how widely it was remembered by food producers, chefs, organisers of food festivals and markets and people generally involved in the local food scene.
Food, film and festivals
Although there were a few farmers markets around – Bath had the first, starting in 1997 – the idea of a county-wide farmers market group was still new when Dorset Farmers Markets came into existence in 2004. It was followed in 2011 by the setting up of a producers group, Dorset Food & Drink, and then a growing calendar of events celebrating the wonderful produce that was being made
across Dorset from Cranborne to Wootton Fitzpaine.
There were great DF&D events, including the Dorset Food & Arts Festival at Poundbury and the Athelhampton Christmas Fair, spread through the beautiful Tudor house and a marquee in the gardens.
Two related events were the autumn Screen Bites Food Film Festival, and the bank holiday Spring Tide, at The Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock, created by Caroline (Caz) Richards in her role as visitor experience manager for the National Trust. She collaborated with Dorset Food & Drink in 2012 when it had just been ‘born’, but even after Caz left the National Trust she continued to organise the event as an NT volunteer.
Food stories past and present
Twenty years of financial highs and lows, and massive changes in food production, hosp[itality and farming, as well as the growing threat of extreme events and the pandemic, have all affected the food and drink scene. But Dorset Food & Drink is still going, some of the farmers markets and events continue to bring the finest tastes of Dorset and the surrounding area to the food-loving public … and there has been an explosion of diversity on the local food and drink landscape.
It used to be that our “ethnic restaurants” were Chinese, Indian or Italian – and the food was not always authentic! Nowadays, you can make an A to Z of food and drink that runs from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, embracing kombucha, kimchi and fermentations from Japan and Korea, bread and baked goods from Ukraine, spicy stews from West Africa, charcuterie made with locally farmed meat and wild venison, craft gin, and tastes of Poland, Syria and many more countries and cultures.
So this is what we aim to celebrate in the new Local Flavours. We want to introduce readers to this delicious and colourful diversity. We want to tell you where you can find this vast range of food and drink. We will bring you stories of food from the farm down the road and the ancient traditions of refugees from war-torn countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
We will dig into Dorset’s kitchens and family archives to find historic recipes that link us to our past … and we will tempt you to try new tastes and products with exciting recipes, whether they come from centuries-old farmhouses or the makeshift cooking facilities of people who came here with nothing but memories.
Key dates for your calendar
Dorset Food & Drink has four major events planned for 2024:
Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens food festival, 30th March
Abbotsbury Swannery Food and Craft Fair, a new festival coinciding with the cygnets hatching, with food and drink, music and crafts, 26th-27th May
Dorset Food and Arts Festival, Poundbury Great Field, on the Saturday in August closest to the birthday of the late Queen Mother (4th August)
Athelhampton Christmas Fair, Athelhampton House, Puddletown, last weekend in November.
(Dates may be subject to change – we will be updating the calendar as we go along).
The face of DF&D
Dorset Food & Drink, which operates under the umbrella of the Dorset National Landscape (formerly the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, aka AONB), represents food and drink businesses based in Dorset which produce, serve and sell great local products. It celebrates the producers’ connection to this beautiful county and helps to put residents in touch with them, as well as showcasing the best of local food and drink for people holidaying or visiting the county.
Did you know, for example, that the historic Dorset Blue Vinny, exclusively made by the Davies family at Woodbridge Farm near Stock Gaylard in the heart of the Blackmore Vale, was the first British food product to be awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status?
The first co-ordinator of Dorset Food & Drink was Katharine Wright (now Parsons), whose indefatigable efforts put the organisation firmly on the West Country map, with support – as sponsors and founding members – from some of the biggest names in Dorset food and drink and farming, including NFU Mutual, Blanchards Bailey, Dorset Cereals, the Hive Beach Cafe, Purbeck Ice Cream, Moores Biscuits, Hall & Woodhouse, Ford Farm Cheesemakers, BV Dairy and Olives Et Al. The organisation has been a Community Interest Company since 2017.
Since 2019, the co-ordinator has been Caz Richards, another power-house of energy and creative imagination, who describes her role as ‘trumpet blower, critical friend, knowledge bank, mentor and event, festival and market organiser … I also enjoy helping members, analysing and understanding trends, developing best practice and promoting DF&D to ensure we are the heartbeat of food and drink in Dorset.’
Born in Stoke Newington, Caz started coming to Dorset as a child: ‘My grandmother and aunt moved to Weymouth in 1973, so I spent most of my school holidays in Dorset – working on the beach in the summer with the famous donkeys, or wandering in Thorncombe woods, my head full of Hardy, imagining I was Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Little did I know back then that in 2008 I would be working for the National Trust in West Dorset and managing Hardy Country!’
The role of Dorset Food & Drink is multi-faceted, Caz explains, including improving sustainability, supporting local producers to strengthen the local economy and local food resilience, preserving local culture and enhancing a sense of community.
A new Heritage Lottery-funded partnership with Dorset Race Equality Council has led to the development of the Flavours Project – offering opportunities to people from diverse backgrounds to come together to share experiences, reduce isolation, celebrate our global heritage and connect to nature, using food as a unifier. Activities range from picnics, shared lunches and recipe swaps to baking and cooking together, sharing food stories and traditions. Meet Ups are held in Sturminster Newton, Weymouth, Bridport, Swanage and Sherborne.
Where to find a Farmers Market
- Poundbury, queens Mother’s Square, fourth Saturday
- Sherborne, Cheap Street, third Friday
- Wimborne, Market Square, third Saturday
The nearest Wiltshire Farmers Market is at Salisbury at the Poultry Cross on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
The nearest Somerset Farmers Market is at Frome, at Boyles Cross on the second Saturdat of the month, and – as part of the Frome Independent – on the first Sunday.