Stonyhurst college in the Ribble Valley was host to The Great British Food Festival at the weekend. Producers and artisans came from all over Lancashire and across the country to the picturesque campus to showcase their food, drink and ingredients. The event also featured live music, professional talks, food challenges and a series of demonstrations by food personalities and some of the region’s best chefs and restauranteurs.
The Cartford Inn was also there. Featuring in a line-up that included Masterchef’s Luke Owen, Great British Bake Off finalist Luis Troyano and outstanding regional chefs including Maurizio Bocchi of La Locanda, Patrick and development chef Chris Bury spoke about the creative processes involved in conceptualising several dishes from our new Spring menu. They prepared a couple of these in front of a full audience of enthusiastic foodies - a couple of whom got to dine at the chef’s table.
Chris first prepared a salad of heritage tomatoes, avocado, roast sweet potato and Leagram’s goat’s curd cheese; the first of two recipes celebrating the host of first-rate Lancashire cheesemakers in proximity to The Cartford Inn including Mrs. Kirkham's, Dewlay, Tim Procter and Sandham's. Several flavourful varieties of colourful tomatoes in different shapes and sizes are cut up and arranged with pieces of earthy, ripe avocado. A grapefruit dressing has a sweetness to compliment the tomatoes, whilst adding a lifting acidity. The light, creamy goat’s curd cheese is broken into pieces and placed carefully amongst the tomatoes before micro-herbs are scattered over to finish.
Meanwhile, homemade bread crackers and rustic dips are served to anticipating audience members sat at the chef’s table. Visitors to The Cartford will recognise these tall crackers served in earthenware made by Pilling Pottery accompanied by a trio of dips that change seasonally. On the Spring menu these are: burnt onion, roast garlic, butter bean and rosemary; sun-blush tomato and harissa hummus and peppered mackerel with créme fraîche, lemon and dill.
The second demonstration was making a smoked Lancashire cheese and cider fondue with a smoked bacon sourdough pretzel. Again wishing to showcase great Lancashire produce wherever possible, this dish makes the most of excellent smoked Lancashire cheese from J. J Sandham Ltd of Barton. The cider also hails from the Ribble Valley, the apples coming from Dove Syke Nurseries near Clitheroe. Cider seems to accentuate the umami richness of the cheese more so than the more typical use of white wine. The smoked bacon pretzel is the perfect vehicle for hot cheese.
The pretzel dough is made on stage. To flour is added salt, yeast and some honey. Chris then adds his beloved sourdough starter to the mix. He’s made this simply by mixing flour and water together. Naturally occurring yeasts and lactic acid bacteria present in the flour and the air feed on sugars in the flour, they reproduce over days and the yeast produces carbon dioxide (natural leavening the dough) and lactic acid (present in yoghurt), giving sourdough its characteristic twang and complex flavour. Chris ‘feeds’ this culture daily with more flour and water and is strangely protective of it. To this mix is added enough water to make a firm dough and it’s kneaded until all the ingredients are mixed and the gluten has developed its elasticity. The mix is left to prove (ideally overnight) until it’s doubled in size.
The proved dough is kneaded again before cooked lardons of local smoked bacon are mixed through. It’s now ready to be shaped into the familiar pretzel shape. Chris demonstrates this once before inviting a member of the audience to have a go. A man eagerly volunteers and after rolling the pretzel dough into a long sausage shape twists the dough seemingly effortlessly into a perfect pretzel. The shaped pretzels are frozen on a baking tray. Before baking they will be dipped in a boiling solution of bicarbonate of soda and water and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. This gives them an even, dark colour when in the oven.
The fondue must now be made. Chris opens the local cider and pours a third of it into a cup - he says he must first taste it to check it’s suitable for cooking purposes. We are dubious. The rest is poured into a pan and heated. When hot, a mix of grated smoked Lancashire and Gruyere cheeses together with flour and seasonings including mustard and Worcestershire sauce are added in stages. It’s whisked until smooth and velvety. Some freshly diced apple is added for contrasting freshness.
Hot fondue is poured into two miniature black cast-iron saucepans and savoury pretzels are served alongside atop wooden boards. These are served to the two audience members who volunteered to be seated at the chef’s table. Luckily for the rest of the audience there are some spare pretzels and surplus fondue for tasters.
If you'd like to try either of these recipes, they are available to download, here: