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.

 

 


#sourdoughseptember

IMG_1442

So, it’s now officially #sourdoughseptember and a perfect excuse to indulge in proper bread. I first discovered sourdough some years ago in France – its French name is Pain au Levin. It seemed only to be sold in artisanal bakeries and I often wondered what exactly gave this wonderfully flavoursome bread its flavour – fast forward X number of years later and I bought my first sourdough loaf from the then fledgeling Hay-on-Wye based baker, Alex Gooch. Immediately I was taken straight back to France, it was an almost Proustian moment. Over the ensuing years I have made it my business to find out more about this delicious bread; have attempted (and failed) to make it, researched its health benefits and sought out the best in my local area, and a little further afield.

Back to basics

Sourdough gets its intense and slightly acidic flavour from natural yeasts which are created through the fermentation process. Not be confused with moulds, yeasts only have single-celled growth habits. The final taste of the bread very much relays upon the atmosphere in which the starter grows; in fact bakers have noticed distinct changes in flavour when a starter is moved from one part of the country to another; we all have invisible good bacteria surrounded us and this makes or breaks the flavour of the final product. I won’t go into exactly how to make Sourdough but a #sourdoughseptember on twitter will bring about all sorts of baking advice. However,  I do recommend the legendary Bread Matters book which is my bible of baking and has several sourdough recipes to choose from, including gluten free.

The World’s Most Famous Bread

The fashion for sourdough in the UK predominantly stems from the opening of Paris’ legendary Poilane bakery in London, producing what was, at the time, Britiain’s most expensive bread. I have occasionally picked up a loaf or two in Harrods and it is good but there are now many contenders out there which equal, if not outshine it.

I often wonder if we are more inclined to enjoy the flavour of a sourdough from our local area because the local yeast flavours are somehow more familiar to us? Perhaps there should be a study of it!

IMG_6386

In 2007 Bath was introduced to Richard Bertinet, whose outstanding bread is now available mail order across the country (as is Polaine). Richard now has five books to his name, and several shops. I was introduced to his bread, rather unusually at the fabulous Gloucester Services on the M5 and a soft boiled egg with a slice of buttered Bertinet  are things dreams are made of! However, I am not often in Bath or on the M5 and the annual subscription is a little over my budget so I have had to look far closer to home. Interestingly, Bertinet is also famous for producing the first authentic sourdough tin loaf; a feat which took years to perfect and is now sold at selected stockists.

I was so delighted when my local Waitrose store started stocking Alex Gooch’s bread; it makes sourdough readily available to a much wider audience and with no compromise on quality. DO NOT buy the Sourdough Flavoured breads offered in the Speciality sections of Supermarkets, most of these have added sourdough powder for flavour which is actually quite revolting.

IMG_5554

So for a while it was just me, the toaster and Alex’s bread but then I discovered The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny; different flavours again and just as delicious.  Sadly, its just a little too far away for regular consumption.

 

 

 

IMG_6059 Then, one day earlier this year, I was taking a shortcut through one of the little squares off Monmouth’s high street and I spotted Madeleine’s – a great big, handwritten blackboard in the window announced fresh sourdough, made with three ingredients; flour, water and salt. It was as if my prayers had been answered. However, there is one problem….if you don’t get their early it sells out!

I don’t often eat bread per se but when I do I want perfection, and now I realise how much of my life has been wasted consuming mounds of the Chorleywood-method bread, cheap and cheerful overly processed white. Originally, bread was unleavened, ancient cultures then realised that yeasts, created through fermentation, would lighten the bread, thus evolved the yeasted bread of today.

Healthy Choice

Real sourdough actually heals the gut and there have even been groundbreaking tests which have show that some celiacs can tolerate small amounts of sourdough (I wouldn’t recommend it if you are a Celiac but do google the research). Good bacteria plays a big role in our overall health; Sourdough can reduce bloating, helps keep blood sugar levels regulated – it keeps well too, a good sourdough loaf can be toasted for up to a week, there is no mould growth – it just goes stale.

I do hope that sourdough bread is not going to be one of the food fads, popular for a few years and then off into obscurity only to resurface in ‘alternative’ cookery books twenty years hence. Sourdough deserves to be a British staple; bread has been at the forefront of the western diet for centuries; its had its bad times but now, hopefully the good times are here to stay.

For more information: https://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/