This year, the Bishop Auckland Food Festival will begin with a blessing by the Rt Rev’d Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, on Saturday 1 April.

The Bishop will be joined by Cllr Neil Foster, Durham County Council Cabinet member for economic regeneration and culture, to welcome patrons and traders to the festival, which attracts thousands of foodies and families each year and runs across the weekend.

Among the many stalls and masterclasses running this year, a new event is also being held in St Anne’s church in the market place – a celebration of Holy Feasts.

Food and feasts hold special significance in Christian heritage dating back to biblical times and the traditions of breads, wine and oils will be on offer alongside displays of Passover and Seder meal, the last supper, holy communions, Good Friday and Easter foods.

The event will also feature a ‘Feasts for the Hungry stall’, selling Fairtrade products, taking donations for a food bank, and providing information on how to combat food waste.

Bishop Paul said: “Food is something which unites us in many ways and the sharing of food and hospitality is a tradition that as Christians we honour to this day. I am therefore delighted to be opening the Bishop Auckland Food Festival, which draws thousands of people each year to celebrate food in all its glory.

“Christian heritage is synonymous with the history of Bishop Auckland, so it is lovely to see elements of those traditions brought together with this contemporary celebration of food through the market and masterclasses that BAFF is so renowned for.”

Cllr Foster added: “This is a fantastic addition to the festival, which attracts thousands every year and is always popular with food lovers and families. There is always a buzz in Bishop Auckland during BAFF.

“In particular, this new event brings a keen sense of social conscience; providing information on reducing food waste, donating to foodbanks and celebrating the communities of County Durham.”

This year, the Bishop Auckland Food Festival will feature lots of familiar faces as well as some exciting new additions, with an expanded food and artisan drinks quarter.

Foodies will be able to eat their way around the world from America to Greece and Thailand to Mexico, as well as sample some of the region’s finest cuisine, courtesy of the North’s foremost producers.

Young foodies can also try their hand at a range of culinary techniques at the Children’s Cookery School running in the Newgate Centre with classes ranging from bread to pizza making, scones to fizzy cocktail concoctions!

Entertainment is plentiful across the weekend with bands from Durham’s BRASS festival performing in ‘The Bish and Hop’ – a Bavarian-style Bier Keller being installed in an empty shop on Newgate Street. Comedy fans are also in for a treat with a stand-up comedy night, The Big Comedy Feast, which takes place at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on Saturday 1 April at 7.30pm.

Further information about the festival and tickets for the masterclasses and comedy gig can be found at www.bishopaucklandfoodfestival.co.uk.