Friday, 20th October saw movers and shakers of the Staffordshire culinary scene attend a glittering ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral to mark the NFU Mutual Taste of Staffordshire Good Food Awards 2017.
Staffordshire’s biggest gastronomic gathering, the Stone Food & Drink Festival has, over the past decade, become a real ‘red letter day’ in the foodie calendar.
A non-profit organisation, founded in 2004 to bring the community together to celebrate the very best of local produce, the festival has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Stone High Street; attracting in excess of 20,000 visitors and attended by artisan food producers from as far afield as Aberdeen and Cornwall. Local businesses, pubs and producers also recognise the festival as an excellent platform to promote their food and drink and actively take part as exhibitors and by hosting events and special offers throughout festival week.
Since 2009, the Stone Food & Drink Festival has been supported by ‘Taste of Staffordshire’ which has enabled additional investment into events and demonstrations; ensuring the festival gets bigger and better year on year.
The festival is managed by a Community Interest Company (CIC) and, without the tireless work of a team of dedicated volunteers months before, during and after the event it simply couldn’t take place – if you are interested in joining the volunteer force email email@example.com. All profits from the Stone Food & Drink Festival are ploughed directly back into the event with the aim of making the following year’s event even bigger and better than the last.
Stone is a charming market town located between the county town of Stafford, to the south, and Stoke-on-Trent to the north. The rich architectural mix visible on its high street, with its numerous historic inns, is testament to the town’s rich history; and one that is entwined with food and drink. When you add the fact that the modern town enjoys an eclectic mix of restaurants – indeed far more eateries per head that one may expect in a town of its size – it’s easy to see why Stone is such a natural base for Staffordshire’s biggest festival of food and drink.
There’s so much to see and do in and around Stone that it’s well worth considering extending your Food & Drink Festival experience and spend a few days exploring the local area – we hope the information in this section will prove useful in planning your visit...
It’s no accident that Stone has become the foodie heart of Staffordshire – the town’s history is entwined with food & drink production – here’s our ‘potted’ version...
As far back as the 12th century Stone was famed for the qualities of the ales brewed by the canons at Stone Priory. This tradition was carried on by various brewers over the centuries – however it was the 1785 arrival of one Francis Joule that saw the town’s most famous brewery founded.
Francis took over an established town brewery rumoured to be located on – or near – the site of the old Monastic brewhouse and the newly formed brewery adopted the monks’ custom of marking their casks with "the sign of the cross" in its distinctive red cross trademark; which the brewery still carries to this day. As well as supplying the home market, John Joules & Son exported beers to Australia, New Zealand and California and also had a superb reputation for the quality of its wine cellar.
Joules was taken over by Bass Charrington who closed the brewery in 1972 and the site is now occupied by the Co-op supermarket and the old Joules wine shop still exists a few doors down the High Street. However, this is not where the Joules story ends - the brewery was resurrected in 2001, at premises in Market Drayton on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border - and has since built a portfolio of pubs throughout Staffordshire and Shropshire.
Located in the north of the town, this brewery was originally founded by a Mr Montgomery from Liverpool, attracted to Stone by the quality of its brewing water. The brewery eventually taken over by Bents, another Liverpool brewer, with beer taken to Liverpool by train from the nearby railway station. Brewing continued until 1967 when the company was acquired by Bass Charrington.
After a gap of several decades, brewing returned to Stone in 2008! Ian Bradford, (former head brewer at Titanic Brewery) formed Lymestone Brewery and now produces real ales from the old Bents Brewery site on Mount Road. Their ales – all of which contain the word ‘Stone’ in their name –are a common sight in pubs and artisan food shops across the county. The brewery even has its own bee hive on the roof; producing honey for the popular ‘Stone Brood’ honey ale. Now that’s what you call local produce!
Gooseberries – you either love them or hate them – but believe it or not Stone was once well known for its annual gooseberry shows; from 1860 to 1901 it even hosted the ‘All England Gooseberry Growing Competition’! The world's biggest gooseberry was grown in Stone in 1842 by John Flower and weighed 37 pennyweights and seven grains. That record remained unbroken for just over a hundred years. The scales, used to weigh the gooseberries, is now in the County Museum at Shugborough.
Damsons were another fruit widely grown in and around Stone – but not for eating! Vast quantities of damsons were transported by canal from the Crown Street Wharf to the dye factories in the North West where they were used to produce the purple dye so popular with Victorians.
Cheese fairs where held in Stone from the mid-19th century – again a legacy of the canal network, which transported cheese from the town to other parts of the country.
Perhaps the town's greatest ‘foodie’ claim to fame starts with the birth of one Richard ‘Stoney' Smith at Stone Mill in 1836. He developed a bread snappily called 'Smith's Patent Germ Bread' which was set to revolutionise breadmaking. By perfecting a method of steam cooking Smith invented a genuinely new brown flour which was rich in vitamins and nutrients. After a nationwide competition to find a marketing name Smith's bread became Hovis® - taken from the latin 'hominis vis' which means 'strength of man'. Its success was (and remains!) overwhelming – by 1895, Hovis® sales had reached 1 million loaves per week!
Thanks to local historian Phillip Leason for his contribution to this section.
There’s plenty to explore in Staffordshire – history buffs will relish the industrial heritage of the Potteries in the North and the grand mansion houses dotted throughout the glorious countryside; the extensive canal network winds its way through towns and villages; rest and relaxation is the order of the day at local spas and retreats, while for those who crave action and adventure theme parks and the glorious outdoor playground that is Cannock Chase offer endless possibilities. For further information on things to see and do in Staffordshire, visit www.enjoystaffordshire.com