A FEAST of local food and drink was served up over the weekend as Herefordshire presented its first Food Festival at Hereford Racecourse.

Thousands of food-lovers, a high percentage from over the county's borders, flocked to the venue, attracted by a varied menu of talks and tastings celebrating the wealth of great food and great flavours grown, created and promoted by the people of Herefordshire.

The annual Flavours of Herefordshire awards were served as the festival's first course on Friday evening, with food writer and TV presenter Sophie Grigson announcing the county's top ten producers and promoters of local produce.

"It was a great evening," said Jane Lewis, cultural services manager at Herefordshire Council. "But it was as well the caterers were cooking with gas, as the electricity was off until 7.45pm."

Two of last year's winners fought off some stiff competition to retain their titles - Bridge House Hotel in Wilton, near Ross-on-Wye and The Wellington in Wellington remain the restaurant of the year and pub of the year respectively.

The best newcomer title for 2006 went to Court Farm in Tillington for its promotion of local fruit and vegetables grown on the farm. Other awards went to Lower Buckton Country House (breakfast of the year); The Hop Pocket Wine Company (shop/retailer of the year); Oliver's Cider and Perry (small producer of the year); Tyrrells Potato Chips (large producer of the year); Hidelow House Cottages (self-caterer of the year) and The Court Cafe at Broadfield Court (tearoom of the year). There was another award, too, for Bridge House Hotel as chef Deiniol Pritchard took the award for young chef (industry), while Rupert Davis, from Hereford College of Technology, was judged young chef (college).

An outstanding achievement award was made to Food from Here, based in Turnastone.

Among the items on the menu for Saturday's main course at the festival were inspirational sessions from celebrity chefs Sophie Grigson and John Torode, who also judged the finals of Young MasterChef 2006 with the help of two children from the audience.

Sunday's second course opened with a harvest festival, led by the Dean of Hereford Cathedral, the Very Rev Michael Tavinor, before visitors were treated to another day packed with taste explosions and inspiring demonstrations.

There was plenty to enjoy, too, from the wine list with wine tasting led by wine writer Jon Hurley. Patrick Shave, from the Hop Pocket, presented a tasting of beers from Herefordshire's small independent brewers and cider sampling was led by Peter Mitchell, of the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, while fans of Herefordshire's traditional drink had an additional treat, with the Cider Making Festival also taking place last weekend.

"The festival was a huge success," said Jane Lewis. "Sophie Grigson and John Torode were very impressed, all the exhibitors were really pleased with how it went and visitors were leaving the site loaded down with produce they'd bought.

"We're now looking forward to the next one."