Celebrity Chefs at Nantwich Show 2017

Will Holland, James, Sean Wilson, chefs, Nantwich Show, 2017

Celebrity Chefs at Nantwich Show

I do love being a part of what’s happening in this corner of Cheshire that I’ve claimed as my own. It seems there’s something going on here in Nantwich nearly every week of the year but July is a particularly busy month with the International Cheese Awards, Nantwich Show and South Cheshire’s Big Day Out all happening within the space of a week. One of the big draws for the Show is the celebrity chefs who come and demonstrate.

Despite its small stature as a town, it seems Nantwich can command big names, and so it was that we hosted no fewer than four celebrity chefs at the Show on Wednesday.

The Biggest Cheese Marquee in the World

After the serious business of cheese judging and stewarding on the Tuesday, I returned the following day to work at the Nantwich Show – the largest one day agricultural show in the UK. I had been tasked with managing the Chef’s Demonstration Kitchen, sponsored by Le Gruyère.

The Demo Kitchen is housed in one of the largest marquees you’ll ever see. It’s 80,500 feet²  to be precise, or nearly 7,500 metres², and this year it housed an amazing 5,685 entries for the cheese awards to make the largest cheese show in the world!

aerial, view, Nantwich Show, world, largest, cheese, marquee
Nantwich Show with the world’s largest cheese marquee shown top right

Alongside the Demo Area and the award entries were numerous trade stands offering tasting samples and selling their cheeses and other dairy products. It really is a cheese-lover’s heaven!

Despite the fantastic weather the previous day, show day dawned with torrential rain. However, the forecast promised clear skies by noon so, undeterred, I donned my sundress and sandals, knowing from experience how temperatures can rise in the cheese marquee on a hot day, despite the air conditioning.

The Celebrity Chefs

Having worked the Chef’s area area for the last couple of years, I knew that celebrity chef James Martin commands quite a following and it takes a small army to keep the (female) crowd under control! I had assembled a team to help me on the day including my son Seb and my friend Teresa plus a couple of ladies I know in Nantwich, Judy Stafford-Watson and Sarah Perris.

Aside from James Martin, three other celebrity chefs were also doing demos including Sean Wilson, aka Martin Platt from Coronation Street, who now makes cheese in Lancashire with his company The Saddleworth Cheese Co, Will Holland who runs Coast in Saundersfoot and Jonathan Harrison, mine host at The Sandpiper in Leyburn, Yorkshire.

Sean Wilson: Former Actor Turned Chef & Cheesemaker

All the chefs cooked dishes that included cheese (naturally)! My personal favourite was Sean Wilson who made the most amazing star bread. It was a recipe inspired by Great British Bake-Off finalist Luis Troyano, who has written a recipe for a sweet hazelnut star bread, published in a new book by Lakeland.  Sean did his own twist on it making it savoury with a tomato jam and his own crumbly Lancashire cheese.

Sean is such a down-to-earth, natural guy who held the audience’s attention throughout his demonstration. He also shared some great tips including using a shower cap over the bowl proving the dough – what a great idea! I’m just sorry I didn’t get a picture of it! The aromas coming from the kitchen area were amazing and the finished product looked superb. Sean was happy to hand out some of his food to the audience to taste too, and afterwards was happy to remain behind to talk to his fans.

Sean Wilson’s cheese making skills were also honoured at the Cheese Awards the previous day, when he was inducted into the Internationale Guilde des Fromagers – a top honour for cheesemakers.

James Martin Pulls in the Crowds

As in previous years, James Martin’s small army of mostly female fans was much in evidence. The die-hards arrive at least a hour before he’s due on stage, hoping to get a seat right in front of the stage and, I’m assuming, within James’ eyeline. It’s astonishing to see how ruthless these ladies can be: they will stop at nothing to ensure the best seat is theirs!

James was doing two demonstrations on the day and the auditorium was filled to capacity for both events.  As with the other chefs, he cooked some gorgeous cheese dishes including a delicious looking steak with a cheese sauce. My personal favourite was this lovely looking strawberry cheesecake with a spun sugar topping. It was certainly interesting watching him spinning the sugar.

James Martin, strawberry, cheesecake, Nantwich Show, 2017

What Else Was at the Show?

Unfortunately I missed Will Holland’s demo as I took the opportunity to take a break and walk round the showground with Teresa. Remember I said at the beginning of this piece that I thought I was being clever wearing a sundress and sandals? Yes, we were cool in the marquee but our feet were decidedly muddy after we’d traipsed round a very squelchy showground for an hour or so!

That aside, we had a great time taking in the show atmosphere. There’s literally something for everyone! We took in the exhibits in the produce section, from jams and chutneys to amazing cakes and cakes made by children. There were also artworks, handicrafts and floral displays.

In the main ring there were the Cheshire Hounds and the Huntsmen, as well as Cheshire Beagles. What a beautiful sight they made.  Nearby were the vintage cars looking resplendent in the sunshine. And I fell in love with the baby piglets nestling in the straw!

After a stop off at one of the food stands to buy a scrumptious cheese and mushroom crèpe, it was back to work in the Demo Area again, doing our best to hide our muddy feet from the punters!

Jonathan Harrison

Jonathan Harrision, chef, Nantwich ShowJonathan is a somewhat lesser known chef though he has some pretty hefty credentials earned in his years of cooking. He was crowned Roux Scholar in 1993 – the Roux Scholarship being the premier competition for chefs in the UK. He trained with Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV Restaurant Monaco and now runs The Sandpiper Inn, in Leyburn, a country town in Wensleydale. Here he strives to serve the freshest and finest of local ingredients and makes everything in house, from bread to ice cream.

At the Nantwich Show, Jonathan was joined by a very young commis chef – his daughter! She worked alongside him helping him prepare the food and even wore a mic so she could add her two penneth to the proceedings!

Le Gruyère

The whole Demo Area was sponsored by Le Gruyère and I can’t end this piece without mentioning the lovely ladies who were managing it. Helen Daysh and Jen Willows were so friendly and helpful to us all day It was great to work alongside them.

At the end, they gave each of us a hefty slab of their best Gruyère, part of which I enjoyed in a dish I made last week – see the recipe here.

And so ended another fantastic Nantwich Show for another year. A huge thank you to the team: Teresa, Sarah and Judy – plus Sarah’s daughters and friends who provided reinforcements for James’ afternoon slot! I can’t wait to return next year with more cheesy tales!

Continue Reading

Nantwich: International Cheese Awards 2017

cheese, cheeses, international, awards, 2017, Nantwich, Jonathan White, photographer, photography

I LOVE living in Nantwich. I moved here in 2001 and am really beginning to feel part of the fabric of this great town where so much happens. Not quite a true “Dabber” but certainly an honorary one! Following on from my post last week about the Nantwich Show, I was involved once again this year in both the International Cheese Awards on Tuesday, as well as show day itself on Wednesday.

Cheese Stewarding

international, cheese, awards, 2017, Nantwich, stewards, stewarding, volunteers, volunteering, Cheshire
The Stewards’ Briefing

It was an early start on Tuesday, arriving at Dorfold Park at 8am. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with local folk I don’t see very often, as so many people I know volunteer their services in the name of cheese!

After a chat with several people at the entrance, we checked in, took ownership of our stewarding packs and donned our white coats. Then it was off to the cafe for a cuppa prior to the stewards’ briefing.

steward, stewarding, cheese, international, awards, show, Nantwich, 2017
Seb avoiding having his photo taken with his mum!

This year, I roped in my 14 year old son, Seb, to help – his first year of stewarding.  As he was a late addition, he was given the role of supporting stewards and judges in the Retail Marquee. I think by the end of Show day, he’d practically eaten his bodyweight in cheese!

The Cheese Judges

International Cheese Awards 2017, Cheese Judges, John Axon
L to R: John Axon, Jan Deldycke & Marcel Klaver

I was allocated three judges: John Axon from The Cheese Hamlet – a fabulous delicatessen located in Didsbury; Jan Deldycke from D’s Deldycke Traiteurs – owner of another gorgeous looking deli, this time from Belgium; and Marcel Klaver who is a cheese producer in the Netherlands with his business Klaverkaas.

John was the Head Judge and it was Marcel’s first time judging. He had been put with seasoned judges John and Jan to get to know the ropes.

The Judging Process

Our first class was hard goat’s cheese. I’m always amazed at how many varieties of one particular type of cheese there are: there were only 8 cheeses in the class but they were all quite different.  The judges use a special tool called a “cheese iron” to burrow into the cheese without destroying it.

tool, trade, cheese, show, international, awards, Nantwich, iron
Tools of the Trade: A Cheese Iron

It’s such an interesting process watching the judges take cheese samples, sniff them, slowly taste them and then “deliberate, cogitate and digest” as Loyd Grossman used to say!  I like to fully immerse myself in the process too: I think I have a reasonable palate and it’s fun assessing each cheese myself and then seeing if my comments concur with the judges’.

As a steward, my job was to note down the judges’ thoughts on each entry.  Jan and Marcel tended to speak Dutch to each other so it was tricky at times gleaning their thoughts. During the judging process, stewards have to supply kitchen roll for the wiping of cheese irons and knives, slice apples to cleanse palates, clear up the mess cutting cheeses leaves behind and seal up cheese iron holes or open packets with a (supplied) roll of sellotape. It’s all go, believe me!

After sampling each of the cheeses, there were two aged truckles that stood out above the others and after a second round of tasting, gold and silver were declared.

My job then was to take the winning entry to the “top table” where the “Best in Show” is judged, ensure all notes are written up, take the notes to the Show Office and take the judges to the next class.

Soft Cheese and Speciality Cheese Classes

Our next class was over in the Soft Cheese marquee. We tasted 17 cheeses in this class, including more goat’s cheese. There really were no “stand out” entries in this class and in the end, the judges awarded a Gold and a Bronze as they felt that the gap between the best and the second was too wide to justify the second being given Silver.

Belton Farm, Sage Derby, cheese, Nantwich, 2017, cheese, awards
Belton Farms Sage Derby Cheese

Our final class was back out in the main marquee and this time we were judging 13 speciality whole cheeses from UK and non UK creameries. There were some delicious entries in this class including a gorgeous Gouda, a Sage Derby Top Hat which I thought tasted amazing – a real zingy fresh herb taste – (but the European judges thought was “very English” and even John didn’t share my opinion!) and a Morbier.

Morbier, cheese, ash, Nantwich, cheese, awards, international, 2017
Morbier: cheese with ash running through it

My education in cheesemaking continued when John explained that what I thought was a blue vein running through the Morbier was, in fact, ash! French cheesemakers would put a layer of evening milk in a mould and spread ash over it to protect it overnight until more milk could be added the next day. Fascinating!

Disappointingly, 3 or 4 of the French cheeses were a “no show” leading John to speculate that one of the French producers had had problems getting their entries to the show. It was a shame as I am particularly partial to French cheese.

Finally, my part in the judging was over for another year. The judges and I shook hands, swapped business cards and took some photos. Then it was off to undertake other stewarding duties including finding “missing” cheeses off the top table, ensuring all the tables were clear, and patching up cheeses with sellotape and fastening open packets.

The Award Lunch

Soon it was lunchtime. It’s quite a sight to see 1450 people sitting down for lunch in a huge marquee. The timings were impeccable and the food fabulous. We were served delicious canapés and fizz as we entered and bumped into  yet more people we knew.

international, cheese, awards, trade day lunch, 2017, marquee, Harvey's catering, Sarah Faulkner, Kevin Murphy, Helen Gregory
Kevin had us all in giggles …

Seb and I chose a table and I was delighted to find my pal Sarah Faulkner from Sarah Faulkner Lettings was already sitting there with her lovely teenagers, Harriet and Dom.  We were soon joined by other Nantwich friends, Halina Dzisiewska who is a weeConsultant, Kevin Murphy from Employment Law Solutions and Aimee Standring who is doing work experience with us at RedShift at the moment. Kevin took great delight in making us all giggle with his innuendos and wit … and I think he thoroughly enjoyed getting me in trouble with the catering team for trying to break the rules!

international, cheese, awards, trade day lunch, 2017, marquee, Harvey's catering, Helen Gregory, Seb Gregory, Aimee Standring, Halina Dzisiewska
Aimee, Seb and Halina enjoying their lunch

After indulging in ham, beef, salmon, quiche, numerous salads and fresh rolls and butter, we spoilt ourselves with homemade desserts. There was trifle, chocolate roulade, pavlovas and mountains of strawberries. And of course, no cheese awards lunch would be complete without a whole host of cheeses to round off the meal!

cheese board, trade day lunch, international, cheese, awards, 2017, Nantwich, Cheshire
The well stocked cheese table

After the meal was the induction of new members into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers (see my recent blog) followed by some speeches and then the all important awards to the cheesemakers and retailers: the outcome of all the judges’ and stewards’ hard morning’s work!

The Final Push

Eventually it was time to get back to work. The next couple of hours were spent replacing the “blind” packaged cheeses in the retail marquee with their branded counterparts.

It’s a huge job that entails offloading a pallet piled high with boxes of branded cheese, opening the boxes, finding the relevant cheese class on the tables, removing the unbranded cheeses and replacing them with branded ones.

It’s a shame that the cheese that has been sampled cannot be donated to the Foodbank or other charities but I guess because it’s been opened there would be a food safety issue. However, that certainly didn’t deter some of us who were quite happy to take home a few pieces to enjoy later!

Finally everything was done and it was time to go home and do a quick change before returning for the pre-show reception which RedShift were holding in association with South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.

A Great Way to End the Day!

My lovely friend Teresa joined me for the evening reception back in the cheese marquee, along with over 200 other local business people. The whole place was buzzing as people enjoyed wine and cheese sponsored by one of my favourite local restaurants, Residence, run by the ever-affable Ben Rafferty.

Nantwich Show, reception, pre-show, RedShift, SCCCI

After a long and busy day, we headed home via Simply Thai to pick up a takeaway … enjoyed with a couple of glasses of red! Then early to bed, ready for another long but enjoyable day at Nantwich Show.

Continue Reading

International Cheese Awards & Nantwich Show

International Cheese Awards, Nantwich, Cheshire, UK

Today I want to tell you about the International Cheese Awards coming up next Tuesday 25th July in Nantwich, and the  Nantwich Show on Wednesday 26th.

International Cheese Awards

The ICA is the biggest cheese event in the world – right here on our doorstep! Next Tuesday we’re expecting over 5,500 cheeses to be exhibited in the biggest marquee to be erected in the country. I’m stewarding for the fourth year: my white coat is at the ready and my pencil sharpened ready to take down the judges’ comments.

It’s a great voluntary role that involves escorting two cheese judges as they assess their allocated group of cheeses. Oh, and did I mention that it involves tasting lots of cheese?

This video, filmed a couple of years ago, will give you an idea of what it’s like on the day. I spotted myself very briefly near the beginning when the stewards are being given the run down by Henry Elsby!

The place literally is abuzz with excitement and everyone involved works really hard to ensure the cheeses are all judged, notes taken, results given to the Chief Steward’s office and afterwards, that all the cheeses are moved back to their correct location in readiness for the following day’s Show.

Lunchtime at the ICA

Once the judging is finished, we all filter into a huge marquee for a fabulous lunch. It’s quite a sight, believe me: more than 1,200 people sitting down around dozens and dozens of tables, and everything runs with military precision.

Hats off to the wonderful catering team who do an absolutely fantastic job. The food is fabulous, beginning with fizz and canapés as we walk in then the most gorgeous cold buffet with meats, lots of different salads and crusty bread and butter.

Peter's Yard, Crispbread, board, crackers

Afterwards there is a huge choice of delicious desserts – and yes, you can have seconds! And of course, the International Cheese Awards would not be complete without a multitude of cheeses to eat, accompanied by the most divine crackers from Peter’s Yard who supply these wonderful crispbreads with a hole in the centre, served up on a bespoke board.


International Guild of Cheesemakers

Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, International Guild of Cheesemakers, cheese awards, Nantwich, Cheshire

One of the quirkiest aspects of the day is the sight of a crowd of people walking into the marquee wearing unusual robes, sashes and hats.

They belong to the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers and each year they induct new members into their Guild at the International Cheese Awards.

After the induction come the speeches from the Chair of Nantwich Show and other dignitaries and then the all important awards to individual cheesemakers and retailers.

See here fore a piece Cheshire Life magazine wrote about last year’s awards.

It’s Showtime in Nantwich!

Nantwich Show, agricultural, one day show, CheshireThe following day is Show Day when the showground is open to the public. Nantwich Show is the largest one-day agricultural show in the country, and wWhat an amazing spectacle it is! The cheese marquee’s crowd has been transformed from a sea of white coats to a rainbow of colours as the show-goers go from stand to stand, sampling the different cheeses.

Outside almost 500 exhibitors sell everything from crafts to tractors, whilst every local business from solicitors and banks to accountants and charities have stands and activities.

A visit to the RedShift Community Garden is a must: there are bands and singers playing there all day long with a free to use chill-out area where weary visitors can rest their legs for a while. This area is a hive of activity with numerous community organisations in attendance such as South Cheshire College, Guinness Housing (previously Wulvern), Crewe & Nantwich Churches Together, NHS South Cheshire CCG, Waterbabies who are offering a baby change service, Tropic with Clare Emerton, Independent Carers, Function Event Hire and The Nantwich App.

Action, Animals, Cake and Flowers!

The Main Ring is where all the action happens: see over 100 Heavy Horses, watch Jason Smyth perform breathtaking stunts on his quad bike, take a look at the vintage cars and tractors, meet the Cheshire Hounds and Beagles, marvel at the skills of the Dog Protection Services and cheer on the riders in the Pony Club Relay.

Aside from all of this is the serious business of farmers showing their prized animals. There is every breed of cattle and sheep plus poultry and pigeons, plus a dog show. And in the Countryside Pursuits area you’ll find the the Horticultural Section, the Floral Art and Honey Sections and the Home Produce and Arts & Crafts Sections. It’s always worth a wander around to see who’s Victoria Sponge has come out on top or have a chat to local honey bee producers.

Chef Stars in Attendance at Nantwich Show

Nantwich, show, chefs, James Martin, Sean Wilson, Will Holland, demos, demonstrations, cooking, cheeseFinally, a little about the stars attending the show this year. I’m lucky enough to be in charge of the Chef’s Demonstration Area this year where James Martin, Sean Wilson and Will Holland will be showing off their skills. I helped out last year and remember what a complete scrum it was when James Martin’s two shows were on … people were queuing an hour before to get ringside seats!! James’ demo is the only one that’s charged for (£5) and you can buy your tickets when you buy your show tickets.

See you at the show next week!


Continue Reading