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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Print


Offally Good for the Autumn

I think, on this cold and damp autumn day, that I should spend a few minutes extolling the virtues of offal. Once very much on the British menu it became a no go area due to health scares and the increasing availability of cheap prime cuts, from intensively farmed animals. Now there is a little bit of a revival with gastro-pubs and on-trend restaurants offering an ever more offal based menu.

I believe that you should choose the best pasture raised or/and organic meat possible, there is a wonderful density to proper meat; almost as if its very molecular structure is more solid than its over-farmed, overbred counterparts. But, yes, it is expensive, however it doesn’t need to be so when you consider offal. Admittedly I am not a kidney fan but am happy to cook with pretty much any other part, sweetbreads are a particular favourite along with liver, heart and head (although not sure that’s strictly offal).

I, for one, would indubitably  prefer to eat offal from a good source rather than chance fillet from a bad. It is also ‘offally’ good for you, packed with iron and minerals in which many of us are depleted. Telling children to “Eat up your liver” is rarely heard today in our low-fat, diabetic, obese society and it is a shame. You can always hide liver in faggots or cottage pie, fresh liver doesn’t taste too strong and lamb’s liver is naturally much milder than Pig’s.  Sweetbreads are delicious floured and fried and no, they aren’t anything to do with a Lamb’s genitalia as many think, they are in fact  the thymus gland, located in the neck, or the pancreas. Heart benefits from stuffing and slow cooking and tastes dense and meaty, it was very much favoured during my grandmother’s childhood when the First World War, followed by the depression,  made meat relatively hard to come by and heart was considered a treat.

Last week, as Autumn drove its claws into the country properly for the first time I made a simple liver and bacon dish with a kale colcannon mash and a port gravy. The liver was lamb and very fresh. Do not be put off by the leathery  liver offered by your primary school – which was a world away from the pink, juicy and smooth textured liver from a fresh Lamb. I use proper dry cured smoked bacon, thickly cut and pan fried until crisp and glistening with fat. Set aside to keep warm – in goes the liver, lightly coated in seasoned flour; it takes minutes – no more that two per side, it should rest as steak but not for too long for then it takes on the leathery quality all too familiar to us seventies and eighties children. I deglaze the pan with a little port, add a spoonful of flour to make a paste, throw in some caramelised red onions (first cooked very slowly in a generous amount of butter), whisk in my homemade lamb stock, then a dash of gravy browning and finally some seasoning. Bubble for a few minutes over a low heat. My colcannon is made with local white potatoes, double cream and some sautéed Kale which is just in season. Kale is considered a superfood and it’s irony taste can be overwhelming for some, however, alongside the liver it works splendidly. Serve the colcannon in generous dollops topped with a spoon of salted butter to melt in. The liver should be meltingly yielding, the bacon crisp and the gravy rich. Perfect for a cold October night.