Is Nantwich the best foodie destination in Cheshire?
PUBLISHED: 08:23 19 July 2019
Tickle your tastebuds with a trip to one of Cheshire's fastest-growing food scenes.
Should Nantwich ever be in the market for a town anthem, may we suggest the Oliver! classic, Food Glorious Food. Because, while many self-regarding foodies might not be singing its praises as a must-visit destination just yet (we're talking alongside the likes of, say, Paris or Tuscany) its culinary credentials are definitely worthy of note.
Joining its legacy ranks of traditional food producers - the likes of Joseph Heler Cheese and Clewlow Butchers who have had a presence in the town for three or more generations - are an increasing number of new foodie faces, bringing a fresh twist to a classic town.
Many of these will be flocking to the town's famous festivals in the coming months. Late summer will see the return of the Nantwich Food Festival. From 30th August to 1st September, local exhibitors will set up stall and sell their artisan offerings to the crowds. But this is no small parish event - some come from as far away as India and celebrity chefs are involved. This year sees Rosemary Shrager, Matt Tebutt and Nigel Brown make an appearance.
But before that there is the Nantwich Show & International Cheese Awards. As many as 6,000 producers will make their way to Dorfold Hall on July 31st to take part in The International Cheese & Dairy Awards, which are part of the annual Nantwich Show. Cheese may be enjoying a renaissance - you can't swing a cat around the UK countryside during summertime without hitting a food festival touting its stinky Stiltons and churned Cheddars - but this show was established in 1897. Cheesemakers come from all over the world, bringing almost 6000 cheeses from marmalade cheese to traditional Cheshire; all waiting to be judged, all wanting to be the Big Cheese.
'We have Europe's biggest air conditioned marquee: we even have a marquee within the marquee to make sure the more delicate cheeses aren't compromised in any way,' says Chairman, Chris Chisnall. 'There are 415 classes with gold, silver and bronze awards in each, but the cheesemaker who wins the annual Supreme Winner, really gets a huge boost to their career.'
Amongst the expert judges are a couple of well-known faces: 'TV chefs James Martin and Will Holland are coming to demonstrate this year and they've both been many times before. They always manage to have new ideas about cooking with cheese, give running commentaries and yes, the occasional cheesy joke,' smiles Chris who says that the show goes ahead whether wellies or sunglasses, occasionally both, are required.
The show may be the poster child for Nantwich's food heritage but there are some new faces taking Cheshire's cheese to the masses.
Hannah Kinston, 21, has just qualified as a vet but she has put that on the back burner while, along with her boyfriend, John Davies, an agricultural student, she establishes British Food Box - her company selling cheese and other locally-made dairy products both to the general public at various food festivals across Cheshire and Derbyshire as well as to locals shops and delis.
'We were both brought up on farms: my family farm provided the milk for local cheese makers, such as Joseph Heler and now, through British Food Box, we sell that cheese,' explains Hannah, whose produce also includes Cheshire butter, clotted cream and artisan biscuits.
'This is about a passion for local food; we've been overwhelmed with the love people have shown us. People are talking about us, contacting us, following us on social media and it's great how the word has spread in such a short time,' explains Hannah who called the business British Food Box because they sell their produce through one form of box or another, including their trusty van ('A box on wheels,' she jokes) and the boxes delivered directly to customers.
So Hannah and John have it all boxed off, as part of the new wave of foodies hitting the town. Alongside them on that venture is Katherine Love-Rowse with 'Eat Me', her range of home-made jams, sauces and chutneys that fly off the stall at local and shows, including the Nantwich Show and the Nantwich Food Festival. Not bad for something which began as a hobby, with jars being given away as Christmas presents to friends and family.
'I eventually started selling at small craft fairs and I just couldn't believe the response. I had to spend more and more time in the kitchen to meet the demand until the moment came when my day job as a freelance project manager was becoming more part time and so the company was formally started,' says Katherine who has tried the almost impossible feat of growing chillies in her Nantwich back garden.
'Not impossible! I did get a meagre crop. But for now I'll carry on using local suppliers,' says Katherine, whose husband has gone above and beyond to publicise the brand - once dressing as a giant chilli at a local market.
'It certainly drew attention but I do hope it's my products, not his red stockings that have gained our loyal following,' laughs Katherine.
Rachel Haines, cake artist and owner of 'Little Cake Cupboard' is also helped by her husband, especially when she designs and makes a cake for a cycling celebrity.
'He's a cycling fan, so he was hugely keen to deliver Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas' wedding cake, as well as the one I made for Welsh cyclist Luke Rowe,' laughs Rachel, who trained as a 3D illustrator and taught before beginning her business in 2012. She's also baked cakes for footballing superstar Gareth Bales.
'We decided to move to Nantwich two years ago as it is such a great place for foodies. People here take note of trends - they know that buttercream cakes are 'a thing' when they come in to see me,' smiles Rachel who meets clients in her studio to discuss their cake ideas, and where she also gives cake decorating classes to those who fancy wielding the nozzle themselves!
The newest foodie in town is Ian Roberts, Head Chef at the newly opened Churches Mansion, housed in Nantwich's oldest building.
'I've worked at mainly Rossetted establishments but this is the perfect spot for a new restaurant. We want to tap into the fact that Nantwich already attracts foodies from a very wide area, so hopefully they'll be interested in checking out a new venture.
'We're concentrating on fish but, don't worry, carnivores and vegetarians are welcome too. We keep all ingredients as local as possible: soft fruits, vegetables and herbs will come from the lovely restaurant garden,' says Ian, who hopes to wow with his signature dish, a cocktail consisting of prawn, lobster, crab, shrimp and a popping Bloody Mary bubble.
They know all about Bloody Marys and just about any other drink at nearby Rodney Densem Wines. It was founded by Cheshire couple Rodney and Margaret Densem in 1972 and Margaret continues to lead the company following Rodney's death six years ago. Their online offering sells to private and commercial businesses all over the UK while the flagship shop is bursting with every kind of wine and spirit imaginable.
Tapping into the Nantwich community with tasting clubs and customer events is a key part of the company's ethos and staying ahead of the drinks trend curve is paramount.
'We always make ourselves available to chat through customers' dinner party menus, finding them the best drink for each course but we also love to recommend what's on trend at the moment,' says Margaret who, on that note, has a fantastic alternative to a G&T. 'The perfect summer drink? We're suggesting white port and tonic, garnished with mint and lemon.'
It's food, glorious food - and drink - all year round in Nantwich.
Also on the menu
The Nantwich show isn't just about the cheese. It's a family-focused celebration of Cheshire's countryside culture. There will be some 450 trade stands showcasing everything relevant to rural life from cars to clothes, local artisans selling crafts, homewares and produce as well as, fabulous florals and gardening inspiration. In the main ring witness one of the largest Heavy Horse displays in the UK and watch Jason Smyth perform mind-blowing motorcycle stunts. In addition there will be displays of cattle, horses, sheep, poultry, pigeons and dogs. And petrol heads can get their fill with a rapidly expanding collection of vintage cars, tractors and farming machinery.
Tickets cost from £16 for adults. For more go to nantwichshow.co.uk