March Morning Musings from Monmouthshire

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I have to admit to being a little lax over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot going on, (not all food related) however, now that the worst weather is over and Spring is, hopefully, on the horizon, I’ve come home to roost a while.

This year, I’m hoping to put together a few ‘what’s going on’, food and drink-wise in Monmouthshire and the borders pieces  – some very good things are happening locally, including the 20th anniversary of the legendary Abergavenny Food Festival in September, 2018 is defiantly a great year for food and drink lovers.

IMG_2379The beginning of the year saw butchers Neil Powell come to Monmouth to take over the, recently closed,  Le Gourmet shop. Neil Powell meat is always excellent, locally sourced (and slaughtered) and the staff are extremely knowledgeable. It’s a real pleasure to visit and often has some of the more obscure cuts to stimulate the creative thought-process when it comes to recipe development. Why not call by for some breakfast staples, the home-cured bacon is delicious and alongside some black pudding and a variety of tasty sausages, a weekend brunch becomes a real indulgence.

The Anchor, in Tintern, nestled between the River Wye and the famous abbey has been the recent subject of a rather grand scale sprucing-up. Re-opening at the end of February, The Anchor has been much extended and diner’s can now enjoy views of the abbey as they peruse the locally sourced menus – mainly traditional pub favourites, with a few twists. Perfect for family dining, there are special offers for youngsters, see the website for more details. I wish them the very best of luck!

May sees the annual Welsh Perry and Cider Festival in the splendid surroundings of Caldicot Castle which also plays host to The Monmouthshire Food Festival in June. More details on those to follow.

IMG_1129In the Forest of Dean, The Severn and Wye Smokery is still going from strength to strength following its outstanding eco-friendly rebuild last year. A great location, just off the A48 at Chaxhill, it offers delicious food and drink, a well-stocked deli (including, of course the famous smoked salmon). Look out for special tasting menu evenings and other special events, but even stopping by for a quick lunch or morning coffee is sure to inspire. The fish counter is outstanding and so fresh, you can almost feel the sea beside you. Having spoken with the owner, I can see a true passion for sustainability and a plan for the future which could be quite outstanding. Watch this space!

And finally, let’s not forget the wonderful small farmers’ markets which can be found dotted about the countryside, from St Briavels and Woolaston, to Usk and Grosmont, with many more in between  – these places are a haven for devoted food lovers, the producers are mostly small scale and totally dedicated to their art. Supporting at grass-roots level is so very important at this time of political uncertainty, and with such excellent produce around, why turn to supermarkets and mass production? – just look about you, and try to make cooking (and sourcing) a real experience from field to fork!


The Monmouthshire Food Festival – Fit for a King (or the son of one anyway!)

Last weekend, Thomas of Woodstock’s once splendid castle at Caldicot played host, for the second time this year, to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. In general the weather held and there were some moments of dazzling sunshine, as visitors were treated to two splendid days of food, drink, demonstrations and workshops.

Although not the biggest in the area, there is a quaintness to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. It’s cosily snuggles into the courtyard of Caldicot Castle, and has ample stalls to while away several hours. On offer was everything from Squirrel meat to artisanal soda, passing through cheeses, sauces, jams and all manner of alcoholic and non-alcholic drinks.

In the demonstration tent visitors were treated to a broad range of wonderfully seasonal  recipes from passionate local chefs including BBC Masterchef: The Professionals semi-finalist and former sous-chef to, amongst others, Marcus Wareing,  Liam Whittle; who IMG_0405produced an outstanding Duck dish with flavoursome Quinoa and Salmon in Asian Style Broth – needless to say, both were delicious.

There were also guided tastings; I enjoyed a beer and food pairing workshop with Brecon Brewing’s Buster Grant and Gloucestershire based Hillside Brewery’s Paul Williamson; and found myself tasting a variety of foods from The Blaenavon Cheddar Cheese Company’s Oak Smoked Cheddar through to the rather excellent chocolate of Black Mountain Gold, by way of a deliciously chewy Lavabread Salami from Cwm Farm. All the beers were good, some pipped others to the post, but generally the extremely knowledgeable brewers had it all spot on.

The street food was excellent; prize-winning Welsh street-food  purveyors, The Original Goodfilla’s Company were offering their trademark calzone style Pizza, and I was delighted to discover Hereford based The Grub Shed with their obscenely decadent Brisket Fries, and, a bottle of Somerset Elderflower Lemonade from Somerset based Hullabaloo’s was just the ticket to wash it down.

It’s always wonderful to find new local producers to add to my every-increasing dossier and this time was no exception. I tasted cured Mutton by Gwella, a Welsh delicacy which was extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and which I had even contemplated trying to produce at home due to the lack of commercial availability; amazing freezer friendly curry sauces from Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen, artisanal botanical syrups from Tast Natur (some of which took you straight back to a summer meadow), the extremely potent Eccentric Gin whose Limbeck New Western Style Gin was one of the most innovative I’ve tasted yet, and I was introduced to Lurvill’s Delight (more on that soon).

I also managed to acquire a bucket of traditionally Welsh-style loose tea from Morgan’s Brew Tea Company and a yummy Nutella Swirl from Baked on Green Street.

I really enjoyed my day at The Monmouthshire Food Festival and could easily have loaded my larder fit to burst with the sheer array of produce on offer. However, I had to draw the line somewhere,else we would have struggled back to the car!

There are plans for four Monmouthshire Food Festivals next year, including two in Monmouth’s Shire Hall (almost on my doorstep).

I think they’ll be very well received, because our county’s commitment to buying local and artisanal produce is ever-growing and we have so much to be proud of.