THOUSANDS of visitors will be sampling Staffordshire's finest food and drink as the county's biggest gastronomic gathering gets underway today.
The Stone Food and Drink Festival will see food fans in town from across the county and further afield.
The annual event, which is in it's ninth year and runs all weekend, promises to be bigger than ever, and will boast features including a real ale trail, farmers' market and chef demonstrations, as well as new additions to the line up.
Organisers were compelled to expand the festival site on Westbridge Park this year after more than 12,000 attended last year's event.
Festival chairman Richard Stevens said organisers are anticipating 'huge crowds'.
He said: "We were absolutely jam packed last year so we decided to move onto other areas of grass and a bit of the car park and I think this festival will be bigger than ever.
"We've also added a few new events to the line up. It looks like it's going to be a really great weekend." The festival will feature stalls from around 100 exhibitors of local and international produce and drinks.
One new addition to the line up will be the pop up Park Piano Bar and Restaurant.
Andrew Wilson from Old School Wines in Tittensor has teamed up with the Lewis Partnership to bring a touch of class to the festival in his sixth year at the event.
The 30ft by 50ft marquee on Westbridge Park will house a carpeted and heated piano bar, featuring live music performances from Staffordshire Music Centre professionals at 30 minute intervals throughout the day.
Andrew said: "We've really raised the bar this year.
"The piano bar will be positioned next to the restaurant which we are supplying wine for. We've deliberately made the prices extremely reasonable and encourage anyone to come and join us in the bar.
"Every other half hour there will be a chance for festival visitors to tickle the ivories.
"We are will also be opening our famous cocktail bar serving homemade lemonade and cola and a Prosecco and pretzel stand."
Tina Clare, owner of the new Stone Baked bakery on Stone high street will be hosting a gourmet oatcake stall as well as the Stone Baked stand.
She said: "The Stone farmers market is fantastic for business so we're anticipating a great Food and Drink Festival.
"These festivals are not only good for our business but for promoting the baking industry in general.
"In addition to selling our own baked goods we will be supporting the Lewis Partnership's pop up restaurant by providing the bread for meals, which is a real honour for us.
"And we will operating as usual on the High Street."
Bev Green, aged 61, an NHS worker, from Weston Coyney will be a first time visitor to the festival.
She said: "I am really looking forward to going along and sampling everything there on offer.
"I have never been before, but I was planning to go because it's my daughter's 29th birthday. I'm over the moon because it means I can take my daughter as well. We are really excited."
The festival runs from today until Sunday.