Gluten Freedom EXPO Oct 2015 – a great success!

The 2015 Norfolk Gluten-freedom Expo

By Samantha Mattocks

The inaugural Norfolk Gluten Freedom Expo took place on Sunday 25 October at The Norwich Forum, making an instant impression on all that visited. The organising team had high hopes that the event would be a success. However, no one could have foreseen crowds over 3,000+ turning up and clearing many out the well-prepared trade stalls of fresh produce within an hour of opening!

The Expo was created to raise awareness for the vast number of people that are gluten-free across the region. Sara Matthews, one of the organisers, told me: “The aim of the Expo was to showcase the very best that we have here in Norfolk in terms of ‘free from’ foods. I also really wanted trade people to come along and see that there is a huge need for gluten-free options to be available in pubs and restaurants across the county and beyond. We have some wonderful ‘free from’ industries across East Anglia and to be able to showcase them all together, in an educational environment, was an amazing thing.�?

Running central to the day was an educational programme, for while the Expo was a great chance for people to be inspired and fill up their larders, the aim was to unite food business and also provide support for allergy awareness. The Norfolk & Norwich Coeliac Support Group had a strong presence, offering a wealth of information to those newly diagnosed or wanting to find out more about how to eat this way. There were also a series of free lectures, each lasting 30 minutes. These were: Andrea Carroll Langan from health embrace, talking about Eating for Energy on a Gluten-free Diet ; Sarah Daniels from The Red Cat Partnership, talking about food allergy compliance; Glebe Farm Foods looked at Gluten-free Oats – how to keep them pure from farm to fork ; and the Align Chiropractic Team who shared the video, Hungry for Change a FoodMatters production.

There were also a number of cookery demonstrations taking place throughout the day. The first of these was from Steve Thorpe, Head of School at Norwich City College, and Charlie Hodson, Executive Chef for The Great Hospital in Norwich and a Norfolk Food and Drink Festival champion. In a highly entertaining demo, they made gluten-free flatbread as well as offering many hints and tips on how to cook the gluten-free way. Later, Charlie assisted Vanessa Scott, from Stratton’s Hotel and Restaurant in Swaffham, as she made a delicious gluten-free brownie that used beetroot among other ingredients. Mention must be made to the lovely Dom, aka The Bhaji Man , whose wonderful way with Indian spices is not to be missed.

Of the stall holders, both Kind Foods and The Norfolk Gluten Free Company were cleared out of fresh supplies in a matter of minutes, underlining the huge need that there is for good products. Indeed, Kind Foods brought three days’ of produce with them, ranging from breads to cakes, quiches and tarts. By 11am, they had sold out of all but a few items, resulting in a mad dash back home to make some more! At 3pm, scones and tarts were back on their stall and the queues began all over again!

Voakes Free From range is highly popular and they do weekly deliveries from Yorkshire to both The Norfolk Gluten Free Company in Norwich and Earsham Street Delicatessen in Bungay. Their range of pork pies is excellent and, like many stallholders, the Voakes team were amazed at how quickly their stock sold, having brought a vast supply for the day.

All the way from Oxford came Casa das Bolitas. Katia sells these absolutely delicious gluten, wheat and yeast-free cheese balls. Bolitas are a popular Brazilian snack, best served cooked from frozen, and a wide range was offered at the Expo. Meltingly delicious, Casa das Bolitas was one of the true hits of the day.

It is worth noting that the best produce all came from those that have to cook in the gluten-free way, not from those doing so as a way to make money. The empty stalls all around were evidence of that, and I shudder to think of how many days and nights of baking went into providing so much food for the hungry hoards.

It was also wonderful to be able to go and buy something to eat and not have to worry! Everything on site was naturally gluten-free and there was no need to panic or second guess. Pepperell’s Meats and Fruit Pig had a steady stream of customers all day, as did Pickle-O-Coffee Co with their coconut milk hot drink options.

The next Expos are on 8 May and 2 October 2016. I will see you there!

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