RESTAURANT critic and MasterChef judge William Sitwell has laid down the gauntlet for what he calls the Food Battle of Britain.
In a challenge to regions across the country, Sitwell argues that his home county of Northamptonshire has a greater combination of ingredients, producers and food businesses. The sum total, he says, is that 'Northamptonshire is Britain's most foodie county'.
"Cornwall has great pasties, Lincolnshire has sausages and Yorkshire has rhubarb," he explained, adding: "Derbyshire boasts its Bakewell Tart, there are Melton Mowbray pies in Leicestershire and great cheeses in Somerset, while counties like Kent and Hampshire produce wonderful wines. Across Britain we are becoming a fabulous nation of food and drink. But when you analyse the output of the food and drink sector of Northamptonshire - from the 3.5 billion biscuits made each year by Weetabix to the fact that 95 per cent of British householders own a product containing a herb or spice from British Pepper & Spice - not to mention hundreds of great pubs, restaurants, small producers and drinks firms in between - you can see that Northamptonshire wins the Food Battle of Britain."
William made his comments last month at the launch of Northamptonshire Year of Food and Drink at Rockingham Castle and backed up his claims of the county's food dominance, by revealing that:
* Northamptonshire has twice the national average of producers and manufacturers, whose food output was worth over £600m in 2016 (Source ONS)
* Weetabix makes 70 million biscuits a week at its Burton Latimer factory - that's more than 3.5 billion every year - with one box sold every second
* Warner's, the internationally award-winning craft gin distillers founded in 2012, started on the family farm in Harrington with just one gin and now proudly produces eight flavours - including its famous Rhubarb Gin which kick-started the pink gin craze - and now employs over 40 people
* 95 per cent of British householders owns a product containing a herb or spice from Northampton's British Pepper & Spice
* Whitworth Bros Ltd, based in Wellingborough, processes 1.65 million tonnes of wheat every year, making it the third largest flour miller in Europe
* Northamptonshire farming produces over 687 million loaves of bread, 32 million litres of vegetable oil, 300 million eggs and employs over 4,000 people (Source NFU)
* Between 1997 and 2016, output from food and drink manufactures rose on average by 57 per cent across Northamptonshire (Source ONS)
* Guests at The Ritz and The Savoy tuck into chocolates made in Brackley by Belflair Chocolates
* Based in Hannington, Hamm Tun Fine Foods' multi award-winning Cobbler's Nibble was Northamptonshire's first commercially-produced cheese since Roman times and is regularly on the menu at Silverstone Circuit, enjoyed by the world's top racing drivers - and their fans.
* Northamptonshire boasts over 20 quality food and drink festivals and fairs throughout the year - attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the county from across the country
The Northamptonshire Year of Food and Drink is part of the Northamptonshire, Britain's Best Surprise campaign and was staged at Rockingham Castle by the Lord Lieutenant for Northamptonshire, David Laing, and hosted by the then High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, James Saunders Watson.
The launch also saw the unveiling of a new web campaign dedicated to the culinary year, not only promoting dining venues and producers but also a host of food festivals and events for all foodies to enjoy.
A new loyalty card scheme is also being introduced which will enable supporters of local food and drink to take advantage of discounts at participating venues.
These new initiatives are proudly sponsored by British Pepper & Spice and Howes Percival LLP.
For more details on the Northamptonshire Year of Food and Drink, including registering for the loyalty card, visit www.northamptonshiresurprise.com
To support the campaign contact firstname.lastname@example.org and to list your food and drink business on the Northamptonshire Surprise tourism website, please contact email@example.com
Meanwhile you can also follow the campaign on Facebook at @NNBestSurprise and on Twitter at @NN_BestSurprise