LANCASHIRE can become a ‘must visit destination’ especially for food and drink, delegates heard at the first Taste Lancashire Food & Drink conference.
THE conference held at Holmes Mill, Ribble Valley, Clitheroe, brought together food and drink entrepreneurs, retail bosses, agricultural leaders, and international trade experts from the hospitality industry.
Northern Restaurant and Bar Show chief executive officer Thom Hetherington said on a panel chaired by food critic Jay Rayner: “Lancashire already dominates the top 50 Gastropub awards with five pubs centred around Clitheroe – 10% of Britain’s top foodie pubs.
“These pubs push authenticity, promote Lancashire produce and are the gatekeepers to encourage tourism,” he said.
Michelin-starred chef Nigel Haworth, chef patron of Northcote (Hotel of the Year 2017 by Visit England and the AA), said currently the majority of his customers are from within a 50 mile radius and that it is a challenge to attract visitors from outside this radius and internationally.
“But the regional offer is vitally important to tourists and dishes such as Lancashire Hot Pot are on par with international dishes such as Coq au Vin. It is a dish we can cherish.” He cited the success Switzerland has had in championing its regional food and drink to tourists.
But he acknowledged that chefs needed to serve the traditional dishes with a modern twist to please all palates.
“Oysters were a big part of the Lancashire Hot Pot. I do it as a fritter on top. There are too many people who are squeamish about it.”
Export opportunities for Lancashire food & drink and the county’s ambition to become a ‘must visit food destination’ were also discussed on the day with Brexit proving challenging and potentially adversely affecting the food, drink and hospitality industry in terms of access to market and labour.
“Around 90% of the workforce in abattoirs is foreign,” said Rayner. “Brexit affects the whole chain.”
“We also do not have enough salmon, lamb or beef to export.”
Panellists asked to find positives around Brexit cited the current weak pound was attracting long haul international tourists to the UK and a tongue-in-cheek “opportunities to create more tonic water” to support the current explosion of gin producers. Lancashire cheese was also well received on the international stage including recognition from France.
However, issues may arise with exporting cheese, seafood and meat further than the EU and the ability to maintain quality.
Panellists debated whether regional food and food heritage was “a bit made up,” citing the use of supermarkets to market produce from sometimes made up farms to market regionality.
Ruth Connor Marketing Lancashire chief executive said: “Lancashire food and drink is amongst the best in the world, one of the county’s key strengths and an important contributor to the local economy and Lancashire story.
“We all benefit from Lancashire’s increased profile on the world stage; whether that’s the spotlight it places on our quality producers and hospitality offer or our award-wining pubs, restaurants and hotels.
“This gives a huge boost to our annual 67 million visitors whose spend contributes over £3.8billion to the local economy, helping create jobs and grow businesses.”
In addition to case studies, expert panels and debates there was a Taste Exchange producers market, showcasing some of Lancashire’s new and export-interested food businesses.