ALL things culinary will be celebrated at the Mersea Island Food Festival.

A host of food producers will be on the island for the annual event which pulls in thousands of food-lovers who spend two days enjoying top quality food, drink and entertainment.

Over the past eight years it has raised around £60,000 for worthy causes and is one of very few such events which does not charge an entry fee.

Held at the Essex Outdoors Centre on Mersea in Rewsalls Lane the festival also gives wine lovers and real ale fans a treat, offering them the change to enjoy free samples and find out how to match foods with different wines and beers for maximum flavour from both plate and glass.

The festival is a celebration of the food and drink for which the area is rightly proud and has often become famous for producing.

Visitors will be encouraged to take their time wandering from stand to stand, chatting to the producers and sampling their wares, everything from smoked foods and fresh fish and meat to ice-cream, cakes and preserves.

Beverley Perkins, who has been organising the event since it began in 2009, says it has become a major date in the island’s calendar.

“We have people come back time and again year after year, both to exhibit and also to enjoy what is on offer.

“Because we don’t ask an entry fee and we also only charge a trade price for the stalls it is a really good place for businesses to try out what they have if they are just starting out.

“There are actually at least four or five shops in the town itself which started out from this festival which is just great. That means such a lot to us,” she says.

As well as new faces there are returning favourites from Colchester Oyster Fishery, Mersea Island Brewery and Fairfield Crisps to the Cheese & Pie Man, Colne Valley Tea Company and Mena’s Indian Banquet.

Mena is a regular at the festival with her authentic home-cooked punjabi food.

Visitors will this year be able to enjoy a host of delicacies including onion bhajis, paneer rolls, samosas, punjabi tikiya and naan.

She also makes curries to take home and her authentic spice packs which mean curry fans can create their own versions of her dishes at home.

“I would always hear back from customers saying they tried my recipes at home and it just wasn’t the same even though they had followed it very closely.

“And I realised it might just be the spice combinations so I began to put them together myself and the feedback was so positive.

“It is very difficult to explain to someone how to make the dishes I do, it is something I do instinctively really,” she adds.

The festival is a massive draw for families who can enjoy the live entertainment, family events and dancing.

“Not only does it give people a chance to get together and eat and drink, it also really brings the community together and really highlights what the island and north Essex has to offer,” says Beverley.

Parking is free and this year there is a new circuit route for cars to avoid its popularity causing traffic issues.

“In the past it has been so busy it has been slow getting in and out, because it is just so popular, but this year we have been allowed use of private land which is enabling us to put in a circuit for the cars coming and going.

“We are really excited about that as it will make things so much easier for people.

“It is right beside the sea too so it really gives visitors a taste of island life as well.

“Some of the performers and artists have also gone on to achieve regional and national recognition so it is obviously a really good platform for them and the fact we do not charge admission and that we are not-for-profit stands us apart from a lot of other food events too.

The food court includes local boy Tom Haward who has lived on the island his entire life and now runs a successful pop-up restaurant which will headed to the VIP enclosure at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

This year will mark his debut with his latest venture but he is no stranger to previous events, serving up fresh oysters alongside his dad Richard.

Bev explains every taste will be catered for from those with a sweet took thanks to Proper Cake and Wellbake, the soup kitchen and even every flavour of tea you can think of thanks to the Colne Valley Tea Company.

Founder Ann Latchford, who founded the company having worked for many years in the city, says she is looking forward to advising customers of the best brews.

“I will have a full selection of our loose leaf teas, around 70, including our popular black, green, white, oolong teas, herbal blends and fruit melanges that we have taken before as well as a few new blends such as herbal blend fennel honey and a lovely Kenyan black tea and various infusers available to buy.”

Ann, who will also have whole bean and pre-ground freshly roasted coffees as well as dry samples for customers to smell, will even be giving everyone the chance to buy a cup of all of their loose leaf teas ready to drink.

She says: “This is the fourth festival that I will be attending and I very much look forward to it.

“The festival itself is at a wonderful venue, facing down to the sea with lots of space for picnics and to laze while listening to the wonderful mix of music and entertainment and it is all free to enter. It is truly a family event,” adds Ann, who runs the company from her Kelvedon home.

The Mersea Island Food and Drink Festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Admission is free and parking available.