Festivals to celebrate the best British produce this Summer

There's one thing you can't take away from the Brits and that's pride in their heritage. Now more than ever we're starting to embrace the culture that's in the very foundations of our rural areas - and food seems to be at the heart of most of it.

From herring festivals in Suffolk to a watercress celebration in Hampshire, the pride in British food seems to swell with the Summer season.

So, let's get the wheel rolling and look at the events that celebrate the best of rural British produce.

Melton Mowbray Artisan Cheese Fair - May, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

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Say cheese!

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Melton Mowbray prides itself as being the rural food capital of the UK and while most know it for its infamous and geographically protected pork pie, in May it celebrates its somewhat whiffier heritage...

Stilton cheese also originates from the town and dairies such as Long Clawson and Colston Bassett have been making award-winning blue cheese for more than 100 years and are among some of the only dairies to do so due to another PDO - Protected Designation of Origin.

Fortunately, Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies go together like peas and carrots and foodies flock from all over the world to try them.

Which is why every May Melton Artisan Cheese Fair takes over the town and more than 70 artisan cheesemakers from across England and Ireland descend on rural Leicestershire.

On the website you'll find a full programme of talks, tastings and demonstrations from industry experts at this year's event on 5th and 6th May. Besides cheese, there will be wine, cakes, beer, chutneys and, of course, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies...

Entry is £5 on the day and under 16s get in for free.

Alresford Watercress Festival - May, Alresford, Hampshire

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Wonderful watercress

- Alresford Watercress Festival

On Sunday 20 May, thousands of foodies who converge on the market town of Alresford to celebrate its annual Watercress Festival.

Nestled in the heart of the beautiful South Downs near Britain’s ancient Saxon capital, Winchester, Alresford is a pretty Georgian town once famed for its wool industry. At least, until two centuries ago.

For more than 150 years the town has been famed as the ‘Capital of Watercress’ and at its peak in Victorian times, Alresford even had its own railway line which was given the pseudonym the ‘Watercress Line’, since its main purpose was to transport the handpicked bunches of watercress from the watercress beds that proliferated in the area, direct to Covent Garden Market in London.

Today, visitors to the town can arrive at the Festival using the same Watercress Line and while the acres of watercress beds are somewhat fewer, Alresford remains one of the prime watercress producing areas in the UK, still using the traditional growing methods that utilise the clear, flowing spring waters that have filtered down through the ancient chalk hills of the South Downs.

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The King and Queen

- Alresford Watercress Festival 

The Festival, now in its 14th year, is the ultimate celebration of watercress with the chance for visitors to enjoy all kinds of family fun including a range of edible watercress treats from watercress sausages, burgers, bread, fudge and ice cream to watercress beer and gin, available from more than 80 stalls that line the streets.

Local pubs and restaurants will also be serving a range of watercress infused dishes especially for the Festival, or why not take a bite out of the annual World Watercress Eating Championships. Entrance is free for anyone to try their hand at winning the title by consuming 85g of watercress in the fastest time; last year’s time to beat is 37.6 seconds.

With local arts and crafts stalls, music, children’s entertainment and fabulous food, the Alresford Watercress Festival is a great day out for all the family.

Belvoir Elderflower Harvest - May to July, Vale of Belvoir, Lincolnshire

Elderflower picking

Wait just an Elderflower picking minute

- Belvoir Fruit Farms 

Each Summer, Belvoir Fruit Farms gather 60 tonnes of elderflower to make their award-winning Elderflower Cordial (that's 3.6 million flowerheads in case you were wondering).

And so, they enlist the help of the flower fairies... or to be more specific, you and I. So, while it's not technically a festival, it's still a celebration of our foodie heritage.

All you need is a bin bag – no special equipment required – and to get picking.  It’s a great way to get close to nature and be involved in a tradition that’s been going on for more than 30 years.

The harvest is, of course weather dependent, and will probably be later than expected this year but usually lasts for six weeks from the end of May to the beginning of July and takes in half term, making it a perfect diversion for children with the incentive of some extra pocket money - they pay more than £2 per kilo.

Visit their website for updates on the harvest and find out where the weighing stations are, opening times and their terms and conditions.

Suffolk Herring Festival - October, Halesworth, Suffolk

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There's something fishy...

- Suffolk Herring Festival

In the past, October was the time of year when the shoals of herring arrived on the east coast followed by the fishing fleet which packed the local ports.

This vast industry may now be a distant memory but herring is still a great meal and its place in our heritage – and on our dinner plates – should not be forgotten.

That's why the Suffolk Herring Festival returns to The Cut in Halesworth every October celebrating this humble fish through food, drink, music, theatre and art.

There’s entertainment with a rich east coast flavour, shanties and colourful talks about fishing and its vibrant history and characters.

And there’s the fish itself –an all-day barbecue with freshly caught North Sea herring, bloaters and kippers plus Maatjesharing, fresh from Holland.

Keep an eye out for updates on this year's event.

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Have we missed any? If you know of or represent an event that celebrates rural British food heritage, please get in touch.

Megan is the owner of Rural Roots Media, specialising in rural tourism, where her passion for travel, heritage and a great visitor experience inspired her to start 'The Rural Travel Guide'.

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.