The Speciality Fine Food Fair at Olympia heralds the beginning of the Autumn food trade fair season, on the first weekend of September every year. It is too early for this year’s olive oil harvest, but is timed completely right for showing beautifully packaged jams, chutneys, teas and chocolates, ready for Christmas trade.
This is my absolute favourite trade show in the annual calendar. The stalls, mostly compact, are manned by bright, shining entrepreneurial faces, not necessarily slick with their marketing skills, but bursting with enthusiasm.
It’s always a pleasure to see old friends like La Tua Pasta, and get updated on their progress. This special handmade pasta company, run by Francesco and Caroline Boggian, have succeeded in exporting their fresh filled ravioli to the Bon Marché in Paris, which passes it off as “à la maison”. Knowing this, I had some fun in this chic food hall on the left bank a couple of months ago by exclaiming in front of the staff “Oh! La Tua Pasta!”. I was frowned at politely. So, an example of an Italian company based in London and selling to the Parisians.
Luscombe Organic Drinks always have a merry crew for their exceptional quality soft drinks. I haven’t ever found a better lemonade than their Sicilian. There are many imitators but none come close. Partnered with Chegworth Valley apple juices, it would be hard to better a range for a café or restaurant. And Brown Bag Crisps continue to make waves with their delicious potato crisps fried in light olive oil.
This year, the 50 best of the three starred winners of the Great Taste Awards were elevated to a select group. These included a yoghourt ice with made with Tregothnan honey, produced by the wonderful Salcombe Dairy. Another of these special products was Patrick Moore’s sourdough bread at More? Artisan Bakery near Kendal.
I was pleased to see Forest Products and Bay Tree join forces. I used to do well with both these brands when I had my North West based sandwich delicatessen chain, and the marriage seems natural. Customers would walk far for our home baked gammon sandwiches with Forest Products’ spicy gooseberry and coriander chutney. And Bay Tree’s stylish jars provided great Christmas presents.
I’ve always had a weakness for lassi. The small Bio Green Dairy would supply me with drinking yoghourt through an Indian wholesaler in Liverpool. Its lightly acidic quality is less bland than more mainstream versions. They also have a small range of sweetened lassis, a salty Lebanese version, and labneh, a more solid Middle Eastern yoghourt product which you can use instead of a soft cheese.
A Twitter friend, Hayley Bury, was promoting the wares of Lincolnshire on a stall packed with fresh herbs from the countryside and long established family businesses. I’ve never been to Lincoln, but now I will soon.
A newcomer to the show was the Turkish Flat Bread company. Glyn Strong and his wife, an experienced baker and restaurant owner from Australia, set up Birdwood, a general bakery business in Southend, a few years ago. Part of the business model was to separately develop a Turkish flat bread for national distribution. The Show was the launch of this product, and I was very impressed. Lighter than the traditional Turkish pide, it is made with all natural ingredients, freezes beautifully, and so is perfect for the sandwich café market.
What really stood out for me this year though, were two feisty young women, each with a product of exceptional quality, about which they are completely passionate. They were to be seen manning their stalls alone, indefatigably talking to everyone who approached. First, Dana Elemara at Arganic, who eschewed the usual trestle table for her display, and instead was a picture behind rough hewn crates of her delectable organic argan oil. Dana is getting many endorsements from well known chefs, including Yotam Ottolengi, for her special oil.
Secondly, there was Amelia Rope. I was so busy talking to this viviacious young woman about her incredible chocolate that I didn’t take a photo, but that night she was featured in the Evening Standard, so you can see and read about her here: http://bit.ly/SdPVyf. With her brightly coloured foil and plain brown paper wrappers, Amelia has caught the media attention big time this year. But this doesn’t mean that the hard slog is over. Both these entrepreneurs well know it has only just begun.