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 Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 starts with a baaaaa….ng!

 

Last night I was delighted to attend The Abergavenny Food Festival Community Feast in the old Market Hall and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. This year’s decorations were bird themed and the air was seemingly filled with owls, chickens and chicks; the vegetable bunting was genius. IMG_7260

The Community Feast is the festival’s way of saying ‘thank-you’ for all the hard work put in behind the scenes by the community to make the festival what it is. It certainly was a ‘feast’ judging by the sheer quantity of food…..

The hall certainly looked fitting for a great harvest feast and the food, in association with Abergavenny’s own Angel Bakery was delicious. We were served organic pasture-fed Black Welsh Lamb roasted with herbs and garlic, huge platters of salad, colourful basil infused Panzanella, golden-roasted whole potatoes with rosemary, sauces and gremolata and generous slices of The Angel Bakery’s fabulous sourdough to mop up the juices;

All the cutlery, plates and serving dishes were biodegradable,  adding to Abergavenny’s eco-credentials and the atmosphere was rather akin to the great village feasts in France that I enjoy every summer; it was buzzy yet intimate and I met some very interesting people.

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Pudding was an equally spectacular effort; cloud-like, Summer Fruit  Pavlovas arrived at each table and were set upon with relish. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Welsh folk band Allan Yn Y Fan and the feast was opened (after a speech from festival CEO, Aine Morris)  with two Georgian feasting songs performed by a local choir. There was also a rather interesting short talk from the ‘Abergavenny Just Food’ group who’s current manifesto focuses upon Food Justice and campaigning for a fair, affordable and sustainable food system for Wales.

The evening finished with a traditional Twmpath dance and I think we all went home extremely full and rather merry (although that was also thanks to the rather moorish red wine which, though extremely light, was deceptively strong!)

Although I attended as a guest of the festival all views and options are my own.

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