Christmas Markets and Making Merry – All the fun of the festive fair!

This week heralds the beginning of the Christmas Market season and we are spoilt for IMG_5471choice in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I really enjoy visiting Christmas food festivals, they help get over the post Bonfire Night hump and provide the ideal excuse for a cheeky mulled wine or two, not to mention huge present shopping potential .

I have chosen five of my favourite (most) local festivals to take you through to the big day; already we have seen a couple of frosty mornings so here’s to winter and all it throws at us. These are not purely food festivals, many offer local crafts, musical entertainments and great street food; everything you need to get you into the festive spirit.

Abergavenny Christmas Fair  10th December 

IMG_7449The largest local Christmas Fair, Abergavenny Food Festival always holds the banner high when championing regional and artisanal produce. Two weeks before Christmas Day will find the Market Hall, and surroundings, packed with delectable festive delicacies, an excellent time to stock up on foodie gifts, drinks for those  Christmas Parties or nibbles for surprise guests. As always, expect the best of the best; it’s a great place to stock up on Christmas Sprits whilst putting you in the Christmas Spirit. There are several workshops and feasts taking place too, so please see the website for more details.

The Forest Showcase Christmas Food Festival 26th November 

This year’s Forest Showcase Christmas Festival is to be held at Beechenhurst Lodge in the IMG_7709heart of The Forest of Dean, a fairytale setting for any Christmassy event. There will be stalls, demonstrations, workshops, live music and children’s activities. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2 for children, family tickets are also available. Expect local cider, festive bakes, local meats and cheeses and a plethora of yuletide goodies.

The Hereford Food and Advent Market Hereford Racecourse 2nd and 3rd December 

“The Hereford Food and Advent market will be a fun festive day out for all the family. Held at Hereford Racecourse on the 2nd and 3rd December 2017 from 10 am – 4pm. Cost £2 entry for adults and £1 for children . FREE parking.
We have a huge variety of food and drink suppliers and live music, where you can have lunch under a covered marquee area, and enjoy the German Christmas market atmosphere.
You can browse and purchase all sorts of Christmas gifts and visit Santa in his grotto. ( extra charge of £5 will apply )
Also available will be free craft workshops for adults and children, included in the entry price.
In addition we have a children’s creative workshop, run by The Creation Station where they can have fun with plate art, and Christmas baubles . Please visit the website and Facebook for details of The Christmas Keepsake Workshop.
Also available are fabulous Christmas wreath making workshops with Debbie from the Hibiscus rooms.”

Gloucester Quays Victorian Markets 16th-26th November, daily until 7pm

Gloucester Quays is a prime example of thoughtful regeneration. The docks, once one of fullsizeoutput_41athe busiest in England, went through a period of decay until being reborn as a fabulous tourist attraction offering everything from pubs, restaurants and bars through to designer shopping and even canal boat hire. The Victorian Christmas market is very beautiful, the little wooden booths offering gifts, regional foods, mulled wine, arts and crafts. It’s a lovely place to visit as dusk falls, when the Christmas lights reflect off the calm waters of the dock and, with a glass of mulled cider in hand you can explore this, most historic, of sites.

Taurus Crafts Christmas Markets  2,3,9,10,16,17th December Free Entry 

Taurus Crafts, near Lydney in Gloucestershire is part of The Camphill Village Trust, a charity which offers support and a community environment to people who may struggle with everyday challenges. Founded in Scotland, in 1939, the charity aims to help all, regardless of disability and its Taurus Crafts based community is a testament to its success. The Christmas Fair offers a holistic festive approach; food, drink, gifts, crafts and Christmas trees can all be found alongside music, choirs and activities. Full of little workshops and unusual, quirky stalls, Taurus Crafts is a really lovely place to pass a few hours being at one with Christmas, sipping hot chocolate and tucking into one of their delicious homemade cakes.


Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

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Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!


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.


This little piggy went to market….then into the freezer…..and it was yum!

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This weekend I’ve gone a little bit pork mad. On Friday I took delivery of 1/2 a free-range, rare breed pig from Martha Roberts’ The Decent Company. I was very impressed by the obvious bond she has with her pigs and (so far) I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of the meat.  Rare Breed Pork is quite a bit darker than your usual ‘supermarket’ pork, the fat is creamy and generous and the skin crackles beautifully, the flavour is richer and more old fashioned from when meat tasted like meat.

Martha’s Monmouthshire based smallholding is enchantingly described on her lovely postcards as being high in the hills, and the pictures of her happy sounder (love that word) of swine are a testament to their very ‘decent’ upbringing. I chose 1/2 a pig which is a little over 20 kgs in weight, and costs £160, which when you consider the variety of cuts, is very reasonable. The Pork arrived packed in neat, insulated boxes with lovely little branded cards stashed neatly in a zip lock bag. Within minutes my son had set upon one of the ten packets of sausages and within twenty minutes were sampling some of the nicest sausages I’ve tasted in a long while. They were perfectly seasoned and my 106 year old grandmother, who is staying with us for the week, declared them to, “taste like sausages used to”, which is quite an accolade.

There was an excellent variety of joints, ribs, belly (more on that later), a lovely hock from which I am going to make a pressed parsley terrine, chops not much smaller than my son’s head….the list goes on. We stashed most of it in the freezer, admittedly it does take up most of the freezer….and it’s very likely that within a few weeks we’ll all have grown a curly tail!  Pork is such a versatile meat and you could easily cook a different dish every day for a month and still have dozens of options.

I  have always been a great supporter of the Welsh pig industry. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day at Humble by Nature in Monmouthshire, in conjunction with Porc Wales and I learned a great deal about a meat which was very much used in Welsh kitchens. To read more about my experience, click here.

So, this morning, after panicking that I had no bread in the house I knocked up a quick Soda Hedgehog Bread and oven-roasted a few sausages. IMG_0131Served with Tracklement’s Sweet Mustard Ketchup and Proper Tomato Ketchup they went down a treat for Saturday Brunch.

My husband has also decided that now is the time to begin his foray into bacon making and having worked his way through the curing sections of my extensive cookery book library he finally decided to ‘wing it’ a little. The result, which is curing in the refrigerator, is a cider and honey cure with sea salt.

We elected not to use nitrates so we will probably slice and freeze the bacon soon after curing. It is a great ambition of mine to have a proper inglenook fire so that I can hang bacon and hams inside and let the sweet woodsmoke flavour the meat. One day…I keep telling myself. We also made a great slab of crackling with the discarded rind,  which I’ll probably serve alongside bowls of homemade brandied apple sauce with drinks before dinner.

Tomorrow we have guests for Sunday Lunch so I very much looking to sharing this lovely leg joint with them, with all the trimmings of course, and I’m quite sure they’ll all enjoy it as much as I will!

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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness…A little taster of the project I’m currently working on…

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The Forest of Dean is at its best in the Autumn months, when the great oaks, once famed the country over for their strength and height, and used in shipbuilding, are burnished in the golden light of an Indian summer. The forest’s leaves encompass all shades from tawny yellow, to ruby-red and dark earthy brown. Coaches drive through these wild woods, their occupants’ cameras poised for the perfect shot, whilst those who live there barely notice the beauty as they drive, eyes front, through this, most ancient of royal forests. The law of the Freeminer and the word of the Verderer still hold here. Any person who works for a year and a day in one of the few mines still in existence is awarded the status of Freeminer allowing mining rights anywhere within the forest. The Verderer’s court, held in the Stately Speech House, a building with more than a hint of Judge Jeffries about it, talk of the free roaming sheep shepherded by the Badgers, or the wild boar.

Ancient legends speak of the Wild Hunt, a fairy army waiting in the forest’s depths to carry you off. Wise women were consulted as doctors were few and far between; tinctures from foraged plants cured all manners of ailments, even into the middle of the twentieth century. Public houses were prolific; breweries filled the village air with the scent of warm malt and hops. Here, rooting out fabulous local foods becomes a pleasure, from the game of the Lydney Park Estate to the fine meat, dairy and chaucuterie of Severnside. Many restaurants have taken up the flag of local and homemade seems to be ‘de rigour’. The Wye Valley, the gateway to the Forest for many, is aristocratically confident in its seasonal changes. Sheltered as it is, autumn arrives a little later and without the violence of the more exposed Forest. Here, the Kingstone Brewery’s experienced brewers produce exemplary real ale, the Tintern Parva vineyards, their vines elegantly placed overlooking the famous abbey and village, produce excellent wines and mead, a legacy of the Cistercian monks who once made this village with its breathtaking abbey a prime example of total self-sufficiency. To stop at one of the many inns between Chepstow and Monmouth, in the autumn is a great treat and, local drink in hand, whiles away many pleasant afternoons.

Early in autumn, as August comes to a close the air is heady with fruit. The lane, to the front of the farmhouse, is shaded by low hanging boughs of ripening orchard fruits, the tiny cherry plums, not seen in the supermarkets spill onto the cool tarmac. We pick these with relish, to be turned into crumbles and jams to fortify the larder throughout the winter. Some are deep red, some buttery yellow, yet none is bigger than a fifty pence piece. They pop satisfyingly in the heavy cast iron pan before cooling and sieving, the ruby juice is returned to the pan with an equal volume of preserving sugar. The ancient, roadside hedgerows are also home to glistening, bulbous blackberries, more of which make it to the stomach than the jam pot, especially if my son is with us. High above, the elderberries wait their turn, their tiny dark berries will be made into a cordial to ward off coughs and colds, also to provide a simple sauce for a rare grilled duck breast. IMG_7742
Apples of all varieties abound, the larger ‘cooking’ apples are peeled, cored, sliced and cooked until they yield their juice before being bagged, labelled and frozen for winter crumbles and pies. Some are made into chutney, enhanced with a dash of cider and left to mature in the deep dark cupboard alongside the fireplace. The desert apples are stored between straw in the old dairy; the darkness preventing their rotting. We bake these, stuffed with a medieval mixture of dried fruit, herbs, spices and honey. They are grated into cake mixtures; we have even experimented with apple and cinnamon Welsh Cakes.

Late autumn picnics make the most of the fine weather, simple fayre a Gloucestershire Squab Pie (Bacon, onions and apples in a short crust pastry) satisfies most appetites, whilst a Plum Upside-down cake provides a sweet finish, throw in some crusty bread, good cheese, chutney, ham and some hard-boiled free range eggs and you have a splendid banquet. As we drive across towards the Severn the Pheasant dash out in front of us providing sport for the distant guns. A brace of Pheasant is modestly priced and will provide an elegant dinner for four people. Drawn, plucked and halved, anointed liberally with goose fat or lard, as Pheasant has a tendency to dry, and roasted, it is simple and delicious. Cold roasted pheasant can be turned in the decadent old French dish Salmagundi; a combination of minced pheasant or other game, wine and rich spices. Roast Pheasant needs Game chips on the side, a spiced red cabbage, and perhaps a light jus flavoured with a little Hedgerow Jelly. We make Hedgerow Jelly as the fruit season is drawing to a close, following a final, desperate scramble to pick anything left. The fruit is boiled, strained through muslin and returned to the pan 500g of sugar to 600ml of juice. It keeps beautifully and adds a deeper, darker dimension to many savoury dishes.
In the Forest the wild boar are on the rampage, barely a week goes by without someone or other ‘cheating death’ when a Boar entered their garden. They leave furrows in the ground, there are official advice sheets on what to do when confronted by one. They are, however, extremely tasty as my Wild Boar Terrine will testify. In France wild boar is often cooked slowly with plenty of red wine, garlic and herbs; a Beef Bourguignon for those made of harder stuff. The flavour is dark; the texture takes you back to the halls of Medieval Europe. It is a perfect delight.

Some years we take a weekend away, most recently to Llantony Priory, a hamlet dominated by its once magnificent abbey in the heart of the Black Mountains. The car packed with the staples needed, children, dogs and kites included, we spend a couple of nights amongst friends, no television or wi-fi to disturb us here. The evenings are filled with good-humoured banter, discussions and confessions. We’ve made a thick, spiced apple cordial from the more weather-beaten of our fruit. It’s adds warmth and sweetness to rough local cider and alone proves a perfect alcohol-free tonic, diluted with warm water or apple juice for ‘I’m not tired’ children. In the morning we become a breakfast station. As a great believer in the traditional British breakfast there is no shortage of crispy dry cured bacon, sizzling chipolatas, stewed baked beans, eggs all ways, mushrooms, potato fritters and piles and piles of golden toast. The teapot is full, the mugs stand to attention. There is a strange formality about the British breakfast; without intention we are drawn to it at times when comfort is needed, curing the heavy head, setting oneself up for the day. Not for our Wild Welsh Weekends, the muesli and low-fat yoghurt brigade. We take tray bakes or slab cakes, robust enough to travel; scones ready to be decked with their thick clotted cream and homemade jam blankets. A walk works up an appetite; the communal meals of the evenings a showcase of hearty fayre. In the morning there will be jugs of cocoa for the children, who for a moment, put down their gadgets and communicate with each other.


The Abergavenny Food Festival Part 2: The Producers #AFF2017

 

 

PrintAs I mentioned in my earlier post, the stars of Abergavenny Food Festival are without doubt the producers. Whether nestling between the little booths or creating fine displays in the prestigious Market Hall,  the producers have an infallible passion for food and drink which is infectious and wonderful. Most are happy to chat and I unreservedly apologise, to those who are behind me in queues, for holding them up. I am a questioner; I want to know about the product, the sourcing, origin and inspiration. I’ve been privy to some wonderful tales from lost family recipe books, to accidental discoveries, to lifelong ambition; as well as meeting those farmers whose forebears have farmed for generations through difficult times; inherently believing in their crop or herd – families for whom the ‘organic’ and ‘buy local’ campaigns are finally paying off.

 

 

IMG_7331I love that there is always something new to be learnt. Food is an ever evolving subject and the little  things gleaned at such festivals can often form the basis for longer articles, recipes or books. I do feel a little guilty though, because were I to buy from every stall I taste (and enjoy) I would be empty of pocket and overly full of larder; however that is not to say that I can’t take my new found knowledge and share the products at a later date and so many companies offer internet shops or mail order these days. I always rather fantasised about those great hampers ordered from Fortnum and Mason and arriving in the Highlands, at grand houses, after spending the night as freight on those wonderful steam trains – I suppose I seek nostalgia – and having seen the creative thought which goes into much of the artisanal packaging these days I feel a return to these glory days are on the horizon, and it warms my heart!

I also get great pleasure from passing a stall with a hand-drawn ‘Sold Out, see you next year’ sign; whilst it is obviously a great accolade for the producer (who are no doubt cursing themselves for not having made enough, even though many were working on very little sleep and far too much coffee in the weeks leading up to the festival) it also demonstrates a belief in future success.

The diverse and  rich varieties of food and drink related produce to be found at festivals are a testament to the British public’s return to real, local and artisanal foods, whether it be sauces, whose recipes come from as far away as Borneo wth Sorai; delicately flavoured gin with autumnal botanicals from Sibling Distillery or a jar of Forage Fine Foods herb rub bursting with the smells and tastes of a summer meadow, there is a story and a demand – rubbed into a leg of Welsh lamb and then slowly roasted, the herb rub is absolutely exquisite.

As I wander through the markets the smells which waft about are all too tempting; from the jars of Joe and Seph’s Willy Wonkaesque popcorn, to the elegant displays of cakes, pasties, real breads and finely sliced charcuterie. The cheese market is difficult to pass through without adding at least another four cheeses to my already overladen refrigerator. This years haul, (chick in tow, who is possibly even more of a cheese lover than me) added mature yet smooth unpasteurised cheddar from Batch Farm; IMG_7492award winning firm Somerset goat’s cheese, creamy and surprisingly mild, and charmingly named ‘Rachel’ from White Lake Cheese ; the Bath Soft Cheese Company’s Wyfe of Bath, an organic Gouda inspired cheese (although there was much debate over whether to also buy their rather marvellous Bath Blue); and  finally a donation to Macmillan (sponsors M & S’ chosen charity) secured us two packets of classic soft and milky Abergavenny goat’s cheese, a fitting final choice given the location. Soft goat’s cheese is something I always have in the refrigerator, it’s my go-to topping for oatcakes, toasted sourdough or even to add  a surprising savoury lift to cheese cake.

The street food stalls at Abergavenny do encourage gluttony, however when you’re presented with everything from Taiwanese Bao Buns to the South West’s (and that’s Bristol not the U S of A, whatever image the logo may inspire) now legendary The Pickled Brisket and their outstanding salt-beef stuffed brioche rolls; chocolate dipped authentic Churros or The Guardian’s 2017 number one choice for Pizza, our own Cardiff based  The Dusty Knuckle Pizza Company.  There was hog roast, Aberaeron honey ice-cream, Legges of Bromyard’s traditional British pies, Welsh venison and even Ghanaian street food – you could have easily taken all your main meals for a fortnight and still not covered everything. Abergavenny Food Festival champions all good food, yes a lot of it is classically British, but also a lot of it stems from other cultures; many of these chefs and producers, although British born and bred, have carried with them a great passion for their ancestral cuisine and it’s rather lucky for us, that they have. DSCN0635

I could quite easily write a whole book about just one year’s festival in Abergavenny, there is so much to see and do and taste; but alas, I am forced to be content with rifling through my collection of cards, leaflets and recipes until I can match taste to name and put in my online orders. I have also been know to drive Mr D rather mad on weekend breaks when I’ve insisted on searching the lanes of some rural county (inevitably without a sat-nav signal) for a farm shop selling something of which I only half remember the name, but found absolutely delicious at Abergavenny.

Of course, I obviously am looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary celebration but may well have to consider some sort of abstemious routine in the early days of September!

Whilst I attended the Abergavenny Food Festival as a guest, all opinions are my own as are the images.

 

 


A weekend of Munching in Monmouthshire: Meeting The Sponsors @Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

Last weekend my sleepy little corner of South Wales saw over 35,000 visitors enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of good food and excellent drink. I always feel very proud of Monmouthshire when I’m walking through the stalls, battling the crowds and tasting my way through dozens of local supplier’s goodies. This year was no exception and I have to say, it was possibly the best yet!

 

In fact, I had only intended on visiting on Saturday but time ran away with me and I discovered, by 4.30, that I’d not managed to get around half of it…so a quick shifty of plans and I was back on Sunday, Little Chick in tow, to cover all bases.

When blogging about the festival, it’s very difficult to know just what to focus on. The speakers and demonstrations were all excellent; the feasts were magnificent…however, the real stars of the show were the producers; those who make a living day to day, year to year,  from their products. Abergavenny is their way of showcasing their individual, artisanal and unique produce and to introduce some of the more unfamiliar items to a wider audience, helping them thrive within an ever challenging political climate. DSCN0641.JPG

 

Politics, of course,  rarely fail to infiltrate anything ‘country’ related and this years festival was no exception. There seems to be a bit of fear (major panic) on the wind of the British Farming industry, the uncertainty of Brexit being one of the main concerns. In the Farming Matters zone of the festival there were many passionate speakers on all aspects of farming and the various interlinked industries; without doubt this will make a post on its own and (with a little more research) I hope to share my ‘take’ on the British farming industry with you all shortly.

But, back to the event itself; and where to begin?

I was extremely lucky to be invited on a short tour to meet with some of the main festival sponsors – this year’s sponsors included Riverford Organic Farmers, Belazu Ingredient Company and the  Chase Distillery.

For the first year ever the festival utilised Abergavenny’s Linda Vista Garden as a ‘wristband free’ venue – opening up more of the festival for free and allowing all visitors to share in the essence of Abergavenny Food Festival. The garden played host to our tour and proved to be a lovely, vibrant yet relaxing area and a credit to the festival.

I was extremely delighted to meet with Riverford founder Guy Watson and to discuss with him, not only Riverford’s origins but also its future as an employee run company – and of course its eco-credentials.

 

Guy is a man really passionate about veg as befits the pioneer of the organic veg box delivery system and the Riverford yurt was offering free vegetable themed cookery workshops throughout the weekend and the samples we were given were absolutely scrummy – and obviously really good for you too! Affordable, pesticide-free fruit and veg should be readily available to all and although still a little of the expensive side I hope that with greater future demand organic will become the norm, allowing our health to reap the benefits.

Next we met with one of Mediterranean deli product purveyors Belazu‘s founders,  and were given a little insight into the company which began as an olive import business over 25 years ago – Belazu has always featured in my larder. Their Rose Harissa is used in our household on a weekly basis so I was very interested to discover the lengths they go to to connect with suppliers and ensure that only the very best quality produce ends up with their Belazu branding – the demonstration by their in-house development chef was extremely interesting and the lettuce cups filled with Sea Bass tartare were not only delicious but beautiful to look at too – after all we do eat mostly with out eyes. My ancestors were very successful merchants in Georgian Bath, they sold virtually identical products to Belazu so perhaps my heart is with them on that front too!

Finally, the  Chase Distillery tasting was particularly welcome, especially as a little pick-me-up mid afternoon and I can now confirm that their Expresso Vodka is as I imagined, quite a revelation. I must visit the distillery soon and write an extended post (note to self; take a driver) but I managed to work my way through most of their current offerings and can report that the standard is still as high as ever. One of my favourite Gins of all time is the Chase Grapefruit  which can always introduce itself, through its citrus filled burst, from the other side of a crowded room – I also tried their signature Marmalade Mule, a blend of Marmalade Vodka, ginger ale and Angostura bitters; it was, as expected, sensational and something I’m definitely going to replicate at home. It always amuses me that the Single Estate Vodkas and Gins are made from Single Estate Potatoes, it seems to be the epitome of glamour and economy!

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Whilst I attended as a guest of Abergavenny Food Festival; all opinions are my own as are the images used above.

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The Pheasant Philosophises Part 1

I spent last Saturday on a bit of a foodie mission. I tried to prove that my theory about city folk having better access to organic and artisanal producers than we country folk (who make and farm said produce), was wrong. I have to admit that I was, in many ways, right.

I think that inherently the produce is there, but the accessibility isn’t. I started by trying to find organic vegetables. I know that Monmouth itself has one organic grower, and there are market gardens throughout the county, but how was I to get the produce, and in decent quantities. Farmer’s markets are all very well, but buying once a week or once a month, in many cases, just doesn’t offer the freshness. When I am at my house in France I can go out every day to a market and buy fruit and vegetables harvested from the fields that morning; often these are organic; sometimes they are misshapen, pesticide free and just as delicious but without the certification. This is something Britain also needs to address. Where is the middle ground produce? I know how difficult it is to get organic certification in the UK but I also think that pesticide free, naturally farmed foods should be more available; striking a balance between health and pocket.

If I wanted to do a weekly shop I would need to travel somewhere in the region of 30 miles round-and-about to collect my local meat, bread, fruit, veg and dairy. You can see why supermarkets have become so dominant in our society; it’s convenience. I believe that we supporters of local produce should rise up and demand centralised cooperatives in smaller towns, where we can buy everything under one roof,  everything being local. It would encourage new food businesses, help boost older ones and offer a choice between regional and ‘big corporation’, and support our Farming industry which is being threatened by the darkening doors of Brexit. If we choose to eat seasonally and regionally it should be available to us. I find it so disappointing that if I lived in London I could nip out to one market, Borough, for example, buy great produce and know where it comes from, whereas here, in the centre of our rural, farming industries I struggle.

People complain that ‘out of town’ stores cause small businesses to close; even Monmouth is currently campaigning against the development of land near the A40 Dixon roundabout. I agree that we don’t need Monmouth branded with international money grabbing chains. So, why not throw away the plans for chain restaurants or pet’s supermarkets and build a glorious local food centre –  a tribute to Monmouthshire and its agriculture and fill it with all the great foods from around us; if our produce is good enough to be served in top British restaurants why can’t we share it easily? Somewhere where we can find all we need with great credentials under one roof – we are, after all known as Wales’ foodie capitol – so lets capitalise!


Personal Picks for Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 #AFF2017

 

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I am so proud to champion Abergavenny Food Festival. Abergavenny is just under half an hour’s drive from my home in Monmouth and (perhaps I am a little biased) but I absolutely love it. It’s an international festival with a wonderfully local feel; I adore the crowds, the sites, smells and of course the tastes.

Having attended for the past few years and having built up a rather encyclopaedic knowledge of my local producers, possibly through simple gluttony;  I thought it would be rather nice to share some of my favourites with you.

My Top Five Local Producers @ Abergavenny Food Festival (in no particular order!)

  1. Green and Jenks (www.greenandjenks.com) Traditional Italian Gelato; based in Monnow Street, Monmouth. This exquisite Italian-Style Gelato in made on site in the cellars of their flagship shop. The owners’ family  were the proprietors of a rather well know dairy in Cardiff in the early 20th century and, having learnt the art directly from Italian Gelato masters in Italy, the owner decided to continue the dairy tradition by opening an ice-cream parlour. The flavours are seasonal; local ingredients are a priority; the Fig and Marscapone is sensational.
  2. Blaenavon Cheddar Company (www.chunkofcheese.co.uk). Several varieties, my favourite being the cheddar aged in the Big Pit mine in the industrial World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, which nestles high in the hills above Abergavenny. All the cheeses would prove excellent additions to any cheese-board, so taste your way to your favourites. The Pwll Mawr (Big Pit) cheddar cheese is also available smoked over oak chips.IMG_4981
  3. Chase Distillery (www.chasedistillery.co.uk) Festival sponsors and internationally renowned makers of Single Estate spirits; one of my absolute favourite Gins is their Pink Grapefruit; but all their spirits provide an elegant base for any cocktail, and there are one or two rather surprising flavours too.
  4. Trealy Farm (www.trealyfarm.com). Monmouthshire based Trealy Farm Charcuterie has made rather a name for itself over the past few years – it can be found on the most distinguished of Charcuterie boards at some of Britain’s finest restaurants. The salami and saucisson are traditionally made from high welfare, free-range, rare breed meat; the flavours immediately transport you back to the France and Italy of summer holidays. Their Boudin Noir is almost too good to merely grace a Full English; I serve it with scallops and bacon for a simple yet delicious first course or light lunch dish.
  5. The Preservation Society (www.thepreservationsociety.co.uk). Chepstow, Monmouthshire, based company specialising in preserves, jams, chutneys and sauces. Perfect to serve alongside any the above. Very local produce oriented; I always return from food festivals with bags of sauces and preserves; they keep so well and make excellent Christmas gifts. Look out for their Blackberry Bramble Sirop which, added to Chase Vodka, is autumn in a glass – or their delicious ‘Not Just for Christmas Chutney’ which partners very well with Pwll Mawr cheese.

 


A few thoughts on foodie fashion….

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As a food writer by profession (for more years than I care to remember), I have been fully immersed in the revival of the British food industry. I’ve always found it interesting to observe fashion and food fashion is no exception. Over the past decade we have seen quite a swing in the direction of ethical, local food; small producers and cottage industries had popped up all over the place. Television programs, such as The Great British Bake Off have encouraged us back to our cookery roots and it’s difficult to attend a dinner party these days where the origin of the ingredients aren’t discussed for the greater part of the evening. I think all this is wonderful! We should be proud of our heritage and our brand of British cuisine. We should be promoting our farmers and those taking up the reins of the great brewers, bakers, cheesemakers and butchers of old. These days a recipe ‘discovered’ in an old, well used cookery book is a great an accolade; ten years ago it was pesto and goats cheese tartlets; today ham hock terrine and piccalilli.

Buying local is far easier now than it ever has been; seasonality is a delight and companies promoting both (as well as ethical production) have a golden ticket. For the past six years I have written a monthly ‘foodie’ column in which I have tried to promote my ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ food and drink; it has been a privilege to research and I have discovered so many little gems. From my previous posts, you will see some of my favourites are still businesses thriving today and I continue to champion British food on a daily basis.

So….Lets hope this isn’t just a fashion, that’s its here for the duration and not tied up with the current ‘hip’ penchant for tweed and gin and beards (lovely as those trends are). If we really considered the quality and sourcing of our foodstuffs we would be healthier – for years our British staples have been messed around with by large corporations until they are genetically virtually unrecognisable – wheat being one
the main victims. Our daily bread is not the daily bread of old (but no doubt more on that in the future) – we are a society of allergies and intolerances, of cancers, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, not to mention type 2 diabetes. Can this be changed by diet alone? I, for one, believe it can.