September 20, 2014
Abergavenny (Y Fenni) is a beautiful Welsh market town about 7 miles from the English border (as the crow flies). There are remains of a Roman fort west of Abergavenny Castle and it’s thought that the town predates the Roman occupation of Britain.
The Abergavenny Food Festival takes place annually in September and was founded in 1999 by two farmers, Chris Wardle and Martin Orbach to promote local food after the BSE crisis. The event has grown to become a highlight on the British food calendar and this year had over 200 food and drink exhibitors. As usual celebrity guests, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Thomasina Miers, Jay Rayner, Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala took part in culinary demonstrations, debates and radio broadcasts.
Tim and I entered the festival in Cross Street, by the Angel Hotel, where we’d had drinks the day before. The town had been transformed in 24 hours, from quiet to buzzing – it reminded me of St. Ives on a sunny August Bank Holiday.
The hotel had it’s own food stall on the street selling traditional Welsh Cakes, which, fittingly, was the first stall we saw.
We met up with Tim’s best friend (also named Tim Davies, confusingly) at the King’s Arms to discuss where to go first. Tim (the best friend) works for Vin Sullivan (a local food wholesaler) and he suggested we avoid the indoor Market House today (as it would be very busy) and concentrate on the food stalls outside. You can see from the above picture that even the outdoor sections were lively.
We started with cheese, at Trethowan’s Dairy, who produce
This has a rich, buttery, nutty flavour which gives my favourite cheddar (Montgomery) a very good run for it’s money.
The Dorstone is a raw ashed goat’s cheese with a sharp, creamy, taste. I know this well and have bought it a few times from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Godminster cheese is made in Somerset from organic raw milk.
The vintage cheddar has a creamy, rich, full flavour and is wrapped in wax. Note the patriotic packaging.
White Lake Cheeses produce a range of cheese, the majority using goat’s milk.
Rachel (above left) is a washed rind goat’s milk cheese which is sweet and slightly nutty. This cheese won a Gold Award in the British Cheese Awards (2007). Two of the above cheeses, Farleigh Wallop and Goddess are made for Alex James.
Caws Teifi Cheese produce a range of cheeses from raw milk. The company was established by Dutch Cheese makers John and Patricia Savage-Onstwedder and Paula van Werkhoven in 1982, when they relocated from the Netherlands to Glynhynod Farm near Llandysul.
Their Teifi range are Gouda style, multi award winning cheeses, some flavoured with laver (seaweed), nettle, cumin, garlic and onion, etc.
The Teifi Blue is described as a continental creamy blue cheese, but I’d liken it very favourably to Stilton.
I tried unsuccessfully to get a closeup of Tracklements accompaniments stall, but at that point it time it was mobbed, so they must be good! Since I’m not a big fan of chutneys I moved on…
After years spent building up vineyards, British wine is now winning big awards and gaining international respect. Frome Valley Vineyard showcased their wines here
along with English Brandy and British Cassis. I can’t say I’m hopeful, but it would be nice if the government considered lovering the duty on these home produced gems, to give them a better chance of competing with international brands in UK shops.
Butford Organics moved to Hereforshire in 1999 to produce
natural and sustainable cider, perry and preserves. I tasted all their bottled cider and had to have a pint of draft to keep myself hydrated.
The Wessex Wild Plum Company make a range of plum infusions.
I particularly like to try other peoples’ sloe gin, since I often make it myself. I was surprised by how strong this one tasted, since it’s only 23% vol. It was sharp, but not too sweet, so I’d quite happily drink it, sitting by an open fire on a cold winter evening. Tasters noted that some of the infusions seemed stronger than others and I concur. I’d have to suppose that it relates to the sharpness of the plum variety, since they all have the same ABV.
As I’d climbed a mountain this morning, Welsh Mountain Cider sounded like just the job for me.
I was intrigued to hear one of the ciders described as a breakfast cider. I wonder if that’s because it’s a good hangover cure, or if it’s because it has a light clean taste?
I didn’t spend much time at the Parsnipship vegetarian stall, but it’s worth noting that it was busy and they’d sold out of several products.
I thought Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn would be too sweet for my taste buds,
but the Gin and Tonic flavour tasted just right and I see they do some other unusual varieties, such as Blue Cheese with Walnut & Celery, Cheddar & Smoked Paprika, Goats Cheese & Black Pepper and Madras Curry with Black Onion Seed & Lime, alongside the traditional Caramel!
Bellota are an Essex based company specialising in the finest gourmet foods from Spain.
The charcuterie selection was all delicious – I particularly liked the cured Morcilla.
They produce a range of chilli chocolates, jams, oils and sauces. I tasted the above, moving from the centre to the right – medium to hot. Even the hottest was only a moderate hot, but it did allow me to appreciate the flavour of the chilli as opposed to a numb throat and endorphin rush.
Pierogi not Pasties surprised me somewhat. I’ve often thought that Cornish Pasties and Spanish Empanadas might have some connection, since the tip of Cornwall faces Galicia across the Bay of Biscay, but I hadn’t previously thought of a Polish connection.
I’ve eaten quite a few pierogis in my time, but only small ones cooked more like dumplings – filled, folded, boiled and then fried, not large filled and baked ones. I suspect there may be some poetic licence involved here, since my ex wife is half Cornish half Polish and she’s never mentioned it. Regardless, they have a unique selling point and I find it interesting that pierogi ends with ogi – ogi or oggy (from hoggan) is Cornish for pasty! There’s also a possible Welsh pasty connection here.
Leaving the ticketed market area, in need of a sit down and liquid refreshment in the Kings Arms, we walked through the town, where more stall holders were selling food.
Sam’s Rare Breeds were cooking a mountain of venison and wild boar burgers.
Onion sellers from Roscoff had come from France to sell onions, shallots and garlic.
By the look of things they might have cycled…
After a few beers, we went back to Tim’s house (Tim of Vin Sullivan), for a few hours before the party later at Abergavenny Castle, promising an evening of music and food.
Fireworks provided a high point to the party and festival,
along with excellent music, firstly from The Brass Funkeys, a New Orleans style marching band, complete with sousaphone and based in London. Secondly we saw Baila la Cumbia (picture above), a Cumbia and Latin band from Bristol. Baila la Cumbia really endeared themselves to the audience during a 10 minute power cut – they continued playing throughout, getting down off the stage and dancing through the crowd.
The castle party ended at about 11pm and around midnight we were back at best friend Tim’s house for some more drinks and wholesome food, along with about 8 other guests. I was in my element when asked to help with the cooking (above).
Somehow the talking eating and drinking went on until 5am. We did make several attempts to call cabs, but ended up walking a mile or two back to the Mardy (Y Maerdy) before dawn. It was quite an adventure in itself, going up tiny overgrown footpaths where I could barely see my hand in front of my face and across fields fresh with dew. The very large glass of Zubrowka, in my hand, helped – I can’t imagine where that came from…