FROM mouth-watering local produce to refreshing home-brewed beverages and eye-catching crafts, there was something to suit all tastes at Bishop Auckland Food Festival. Helen Russell reports.

The Northern Echo:
Crowds flooded into Bishop Auckland Market Place to browse the festival’s stalls

Described by many stallholders as “the friendly festival”, the two-day gastronomic extravaganza in Bishop Auckland tickled the taste buds of more than 34,000 thousand visitors who flocked from across the North-East, North Yorkshire and further afield to sample the tantalising wares on offer this weekend.

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The festival grows in size and popularity every year and this time boasted more than 160 stalls, which were packed into the town’s market place and the grounds of Auckland Castle.

Several traders reported having repeat customers from previous years, including the Cumbrian-based Carwinley Preserves, the Northumberland Sausage Company, and Lacey’s Cheese Ltd, from Richmond, in North Yorkshire.

The Northern Echo:
TV chef Simon Rimmer demonstrates some of his culinary techniques

Raising a glass to an unprecedented success was fledgling distillery company Durham Gin, which started operating in Langley Park, in January, distilling gin from a custom-built copper still using unique ingredients such as elderflower and pink peppercorns.

The popular stall was inundated with visitors and sold out of its signature gin by early afternoon on Saturday.

John Chadwick, business owner, said: “People have gone mad for it, which is brilliant.

“It has taken us by surprise. We have been overwhelmed with the response.”

Meanwhile, the award-winning Leaside Cheesemakers, from Hilton, in Teesdale, who were attending the festival for the second year-running thought there had been more visitors to the event this year.

Esme Dedman, who runs the company with her husband Brian, said: “It has been very successful. We brought our products according to the weather forecast but we have quickly sold out.”

The Northern Echo:
The Northern Echo promotion team sells papers with free Taylor’s pies during the festival

Customers buying copies of The Northern Echo and Darlington and Stockton Times at the event received a free pork or mince pie, courtesy of Taylor’s butchers, in Darlington.

TV presenter and chef Simon Rimmer drew the crowds for his cookery demonstrations, as did foraging expert and former River Cottage training centre head chef, Mark Lloyd, and broadcaster Richard Fox.

Younger visitors thoroughly enjoyed entertainment from CBeebies stars Stefan Gates and Katy Ashworth at the first-ever Bishop Auckland Food Festival’s Kids Club.

There was even something for four-legged friends, at the Barnard Castle-based Wellybix stall, which serves up homemade treats for dogs.

The Northern Echo:
David Smith, of Beamish Museum, explains bread plaiting to visitors in the grounds of Auckland Castle

Workshops also took place at Bishop Auckland College to coincide with the event.

Organised by Durham County Council in partnership with the Auckland Castle Trust and Bishop Auckland Town Council, the event provides a major boost to the local economy.

Councillor Neil Foster, the county council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “We are extremely pleased with how well this year’s festival has gone.

The Northern Echo:
Visitors sample a drink from one of the stalls which filled the market place

“Everyone seems to have had a fantastic time. Traders have reported excellent sales and the public have been as enthusiast as ever.

“The food festival is such a big occasion for Bishop Auckland and County Durham as a whole.

“Not only does it give the stallholders a fantastic chance to showcase their produce and build their reputations, it also offers traders in the town an opportunity to make the most of significantly increased footfall.”

Councillor Dave Fleming, mayor of Bishop Auckland, added: “The weather could have been kinder to us but it has been fabulous - the stallholders have had some tremendous business and the exhibitions in the castle have gone well.

The Northern Echo:
A Spanish flavour comes to the festival as paella is served

“This is a real boost to Bishop Auckland and a real incentive for the town.

“It is wonderful to see so many people going around with smiles on their faces.”