Banbury sits at the center of a robust culinary landscape. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Sure, it’s home to the largest coffee processing plant in Europe and yes, the traditional home of the famous Banbury cake. But ‘culinary landscape?’ What on earth is she on about?”
Well, you know when I said, at the end of my last post – Grabbing a Bite in Banbury – stay tuned and stay hungry? I hope you listened. There’s a lot more foodie fun to cover in Banbury and the surrounding areas. Having covered some of the new and/or worth checking out shops and eateries in Banbury itself, it’s time to talk about the other gastronomic pleasures – cookery schools, food festivals, artisan shops and food tours – found in Banbury itself or within no more than an hour’s travel time.
Cookery Schools: Cookery schools are hot, hot, hot! There’s been a veritable explosion of cookery schools across Britain in the past four or five years. The country enthralled with Great British Bake Off and an unending supply of cookery TV has shown a huge appetite for courses about baking, regional cuisines, vegetarian food, butchery, cooking for kids, on and on and on.
If you’re in the Banbury area and interested in joining the cooking throng, you are in luck. You’ve got award winning and exceedingly well established array of schools and courses to choose from.
- I’ve mentioned our local Banbury Cookery School (formerly Pudding Pie Cookery school) in the last post. They do classes from all ages and abilities as well as cooking parties, demonstrations and other cooking events. They’ll even come to you and teach you in your own home. LOVE that!
- The Cookery School at Daylesford – I’ve gone on a bit elsewhere about Daylesford’s mouth-wateringly beautiful Kingham farmshop. Don’t let the name ‘farmshop’ fool you it to thinking it’s just any farm shop. Yes, there is a farm and a shop but this is a whole complex. There’s a shop, farm, restaurant, garden, spa, holiday cottages, and – as is relevant here, the cookery school. They also host a series of organic farming courses, seasonal festivals and special events.
- The WI Cookery School – yes, that WI. Whether you are a beginner or rather more experienced, this purpose built cookery school just outside of Abingdon (a mere 40 minute drive) welcomes members and non-members of all ages.
- Dancing Trousers Cookery School – an awesome name, don’t you agree? Small yes but size isn’t the issue when it comes to food. Quality is what matters and as Dancing Trousers was a finalist in the Best Small Cookery School category of the British Cookery School Awards in 2014 (as was Daylesford), I think that settles that.
- If you really want to push the boat out, you could check out The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir. It won’t come cheap, by any means but you won’t forget the experience or the food.
- And in more specialist field – chocolate making. Barry Callebau is a global manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa. We know this. But they also run a Chocolate Academy in Banbury! Now, to be fair, it’s not really aimed at what be best described as “curious consumers” – it’s not a tour. This is full on course work for people who are quite serious about chocolate, novices interested in getting into the field or more advanced chocolatier. There are consumer focused courses at some of the other locations, just not at Banbury. Still, you never know. Demand might create supply.
Still want more? Well, as the weather is warming, you are in luck because food festival season is fast approaching.
Food Fairs and Festivals: Naturally local foodies wouldn’t dream of missing the Banbury Food Fair (Sunday Aug 9) and as it’s getting bigger and better each year, foodies from further and further afield are also making this an annual stop on the foodie event circuit. Other festivals a mere hop, skip and jump from here:
- Witney Festival Of Food And Drink – Saturday May 16th, 2015
- Blenheim Palace Food Festival 23rd – 25th May, 2015 – this is a whole new event!
- Towcester Food Festival – 6-7th June, 2015
- Abingdon Food and Drink Festival – Sunday June 7th, 2015
- Brackley Sausage and Cider Festival – Saturday August 8, 2015
- Foodies Festival – Oxford – August 29th-31st, 2015
- Great British Food Festival- Ragley Hall – 12-13th September, 2015
- Bo Peep Cider Festival – Sept 11, 2015
- Shipston Food Festival Weekend 18th- 20th September, 2015.
- Friday 18th – Shipston Beer Festival.
- Saturday 19th – The Food Festival Competitions.
- Sunday 20th – Shipston Food Festival
- Thame Food Festival Saturday 26th September 2015
Other Appetizing Links
Thirsty-quenching Tours and Tastings: You can’t do a “food and drink highlights” round up for Banbury and not include S H Jones Wines, a real star in Banbury’s food and drink firmament.
What makes it so? Well, there’s the fact that it’s been here since 1848 (one of the oldest continually operating businesses in town and in one of the oldest buildings – which I’ve touched on elsewhere) and it’s been run by the same family since 1886. Talk about staying power and commitment 🙂 The other reason you can’t leave it out is the wine tastings. Speaking of which, I hear there might be a cheese and wine tasting there quite soon involving one of my recent fab foodie discoveries, Curds and Whey. That’s where I got the amazing black truffle cheese that led to the most amazing black truffle risotto. More on that another time.
Moving further afield, there’s the Hook Norton Brewery tour. The folks at Hook Norton conduct two tours of their dramatic brewery building every day but Sunday and yes, there are samples at the end. If you’re still thirsty, you can check out the Wychwood Brewery Tours in Witney which is open for public tours every weekend. For true brew aficianados, there are another couple of brewery tours on the edge of my 1 hour range that offer the public a chance to have a supervised poke around – the Tring Brewery and the Chiltern Brewery near Wendover (this is the oldest independent brewery in the Chilterns). Beer not your thing? More of a wine person? Oxford Chelt Wine School run wine tastings and wine courses in Oxford, a quick 20 minute train ride from Banbury.
The Sweet Spot: Belflair Chocolates is a lovely little shop on Church Lane (next to Sugar Rush where I get my root beer when I am feeling homesick for the US) that produces some top notch treats for chocolate lovers. That would be reason enough to list them but here’s the bonus chocolate lovers! They have an atelier in Brackley and you can book one of the “courses in chocolate appreciation” – an opportunity to watch the resident chocolatier at work, learns about the process and sample some of the goodies. If you’re looking to focus on the sampling – why not try the Chocolate Tour of Oxford – 2 hours of chocolate? Yes, PLEASE! And it’s a walking tour so you can convince yourself you are balancing it all out with some exercise.
Local Goods and Groovy Gadgets: Looking for a special or seasonal ingredient, something outside the normal reach of your grocers’ shelves? Goodness knows the area is awash in Farmers’ markets – and that’s worth a post on it’s own. But you don’t have to wait for market day. You can peruse the offerings at:
- The Italian Larder – chock full of regional specialties from across the continent, some well know and some you won’t find anywhere else.
- Steve Betts Butchers – what they don’t know about meat isn’t worth knowing and they are happy to chat with you about what you’re cooking and suggest the best options.
- Banbury Self Pick – which is pretty much what it says on the tin -seasonal self-picking so go grab yourself some strawberries, raspberries, black currants, red currants, apples etc. Or pick up some of the ready picked produce. Self pick is a great thing to do with the kids – so if you’re looking to enthuse the kids about fruit this summer, this is the place to go.
- There’s nothing like cooking with fresh herbs and they’re so easy to grow! You could pick some up at the grocers or the local garden centre but if you really want choice and variety along with expert input and advice, check out the National Herb Centre. 10 kinds of basil, countless thymes, rosemaries and the like along with nature trails and kids play areas.
- Planning on breaking bread? Literally? Well, we’ve gone on and on about Bakergirl (and quite likely will again) so definitely check it out if you want real bread, freshly made with local flours and seasonal ingredients.
Should you need to stock up on tins for day of baking or grab a few new implements for an weekend of culinary activities, you don’t want to miss checking out Abraxas Cookshop. Not only have they got every gadget or tool you could need but the staff really know what they are talking about and can offer first-hand info on much of the store’s stock. We bought a spice grinder there last year, after a very enjoyable helpful discussion with the obviously knowledgeable women at the counter. It’s one the hardest working gadget in our already hardworking kitchen.
Once again, this has gotten much longer than I intended and I haven’t even addressed the vast and varied farmer’s markets and shops in the area. That’ll be another day. But I hope this list and the other posts on Banbury (below) have given you some idea of why the foodies of TransAtlantic Towers feel we definitely landed in the right spot.
- Spring has Sprung in Banbury! (April 12th, 2015): According to Tennyson, ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’ – and that’s as may be but come Spring, this girl’s fancy turns to long walks, farmer’s markets, the garden and cheese.
- Festive, Foodie Banbury (December 6th, 2014): It’s holiday time and a whole SLEW of new eateries have opened up in Banbury to keep everyone’s energy levels up for the last push to Christmas
- Banbury’s Foodie Landscape (Nov 16 2014): One of the things we most love doing here in TransAtlantic Towers (as I always did back in NYC), is a bit of culinary exploring…
- Grabbing a Bite in Banbury (April 14, 2015): In Banbury, a store front showing signs of activity is quite likely to be – well just about anything food related.
- Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury: Today’s culinary jaunt was to Bakergirl, an artisan bakehouse just outside Banbury.