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Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Perfect Ploughman's

In September Monmouthshire will host the All Wales Ploughing Championship near Shirenewton.

That means there will be a lot of hungry ploughmen in attendance and got me thinking about the Perfect Ploughman's Lunch. No I don't mean the old joke about a plate of fish fingers and tomato sauce - that's what Old Ted,our local ploughman has, but really good locally sourced ingredients for a tasty nutritious lunch.

Monmouthshire and the area around has some of the UK's best produce and combining them into a simple but classic meal gives real pleasure.

At the heart has to be bread, the major source of carbohydrates, and I do not mean that pappy cotton-wool supermarket stuff but some real honest bread with taste and texture. Something you can really get your teeth into - in a good way.

Monmouthshire has good bakers, including the excellent Wigmores of Monmouth who still use traditional methods of baking, one of the last bakeries in Wales to do so. They use high quality British flour with locally sourced and traceable produce.  Available through their shops and cafe and also in Farmers Markets and Farm Shops their bread is really good with the superb Cobber Cob being my favourite. No matter how I try and use proper Cobber Flour I cannot match it but I guess that's what 100 years of baking experience does!

Roisin at Burren Bakery makes seriously good bread too. Soda Bread from her native Ireland is all that a good soda should be. Soft and well textured with a great crispy chewy crust it is good before she makes it even better with additions of Walnut and Honey, Raisins or Herbs. This is definitely what an Irish ploughman would be having for lunch.

So a good start with the breads, now for the cheese!

Though I cannot track down a specific Monmouthshire Cheese maker much of the Blaeafon World Heritage site lies in Monmouthshire and is home to the Blaenafon Cheddar Company. Susan Fiandr-Woodhouse makes an exciting range of cheeses including an award winning Goats cheese. She also combines local produce such as the excellent Reverend James Ale into her flavoured cheeses. One of my favourites is Pwll Mawr which is aged underground at the bottom Of Big Pit a former coal mine and now part of the National Museum of Wales, and I am a huge fan of the Smoked Cheese which is treated by Black Mountain Smokery in Crickhowell just over the border in Powys.

Of course over the border the other way ids Gloucestershire and the home of both Single and Double Gloucester cheese. Diana Smart makes both and they are regularly available in Usk Farmers Market. The cheeses, which are made from very old recipes, are equally lovingly cared for, from the mild smooth Single
Gloucester, which is made from the evening milk, which is skimmed and added to the mornings whole milk, (and for which they have the PDO) to the mature full flavoured whole milk Double Gloucester, and the strong hard Harefield, which can be used as an excellent substitute for Parmesan.

So a good selection of local cheeses to go with the breads for an excellent locally sourced Ploughman's.

Of course you need really good butter and I source mine from Abergavenny Market -  local farmhouse butter.

What's a Ploughman's without Pickle? A cheese sandwich! So local pickles are an essential.

Rhian Short runs Usk River, a pickle company also used by chef Wes Harris at the Charthouse restaurant. Where possible ingredients are sourced locally and all recipes are rich in ingredients prepared by hand from scratch with no bulking ingredients, ready made or artificial additives. Ingredients which are not available locally are sourced for their quality and food miles are taken into consideration when choosing suppliers. Quality red and white wine vinegars, sugars and whole spices are used.

Ham is often key to a good ploughman's and I will be including it in my bumper feast. Again the thin flaccid over pink tasteless supermarket hams should be avoided to get true taste. Trealy Farm do a great Air Dried Ham but for everyday use it is hard to beat Abergavenny butchers HJ Edwards. Whether it is the sliced ham or the really good Ham Hocks that they sell it will be ham that tastes like ham should and has texture. Another favourite is NS James in Raglan where again the quality is superb.

Some vegetable accompaniment is essential so what about really great tomatoes from Ty Mawr Organics or Whitebrook Organic Growers?

and an apple or two for a healthy dessert?  Breakwell’s Seedling, Frederick, Monmouthshire Beauty and St Cecilia are all Monmouthshire heritage apples with great taste.

Obviously with that fruit growing heritage the ploughman's has to be washed down with a Cider, or indeed a Perry. Wern Ddu Wines and Perry offer a good range of Ciders, Wines and Perry's though other local vineyards include Sugar Loaf, Parva and Ancre Hill.

All in all local producers can provide the Perfect Ploughman's Lunch and can more than satisfy the appetites of all those competing in the ploughing match.

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