St Fagans is part of the National Museum of Wales – so free admission then, only parking to pay for. More accurately it is the museum of Welsh Life and consists of a large campus around an old fortified mansion and has buildings from all over Wales lovingly dismantled and rebuilt in their new home.
Where could be better? From a reproduction Iron Age village through a Woollen Mill, School, terraced houses with interiors showing developments over a couple of hundred years to a bakery and traditional long houses St Fagans is a living social history of Wales. For my Irish readers think Bunratty but larger and less commercial.
Of course, just a week before Abergavenny, St Fagans is going to be smaller but many exhibitors will do both and some of the smaller will not be there so this is a good outlet for them and many were proudly showing their newly acquired Great Taste Award 2011 status.
Naturally there are lots of eating opportunities, from traditional Welsh meats to Samosas and Persian food, and pleasant seating areas, some like village greens to sit and chew over the day.
The main exhibition areas were in two large marquees with probably 30 to 40 stalls in each.
Cheeses featured high on the agenda with Blaenafon Cheddar serving up a storm and their Abergavenny Goats Cheese doing very well and the newly introduced flavoured goat cheese offering some intriguing new takes on an old favourite. Not sure about the Lavender but others, including the honey infused, were a revelation.
Merlin Cheeses from Pontrhydygroes near Aberystwyth had an intriguing range of flavoured cheddars, often going one step beyond such as Garlic and Coriander using whole seeds. My only concern was that they were named after Arthurian characters such as Lancelot which is, well, a bit cheesy. None the less the three ages of maturity in the straight cheddars really demonstrated how the cheese develops with age. They were also presenting Llangloffan (Carmarthenshire) smoked cheese and the delectable Hafod. Merlin also do a range of Goat and Buffalo cheeses all available by mail order.
Now, as I said in an earlier post “The perfect Ploughman’s” you can’t have cheese without really good chutney or pickle and I found some very good ones. A surprising Mediterranean Chutney with Aubergine, Garlic, Paprika and a hint of Cayenne gave a fruity taste but with a little spike of heat – ideal for a mature Cheddar.
The purveyors of these fine chutneys? Welsh Special Treats a Gower based artisan producer who have just won Great Taste Gold Awards for their Extra Lemon Marmalade and Raspberry and Melon Jam. As a lover of Raspberry Jam I had to buy one and marmalade to compare and contrast with my home-made Seville or Blood Orange efforts.
Then total revelation Alan Coxon’s vinegars. But these are not vinegars as we would recognise them. First up Ale-Gar. Based on a C15 recipe it is Ale not wine that is fermented into vinegar that has the look of Balsamic, and as a reduction gives a silky syrupy taste packed with spices. Advertised as an alternative to Balsamic, Ale-Gar would add a strong blast of umami to stews, casseroles and marinades or would give a great dip for fresh breads.
Roman Vinaigre is based on the recipe used by the Romans. We know from Pliny and Epicurus that Romans loved good flavour in their food and this vinegar provides it. Use it instead of white wine vinegar in sauces, especially Hollandaise or Béarnaise or dressings, add to poaching liquid etc.
Finally Ancient Greek Vinaigre, a brew developed from classical recipes. Good as a reduction for Ice Creams or equally to perk up Pork Crackling it combines sweet and sour so would be equally good as a glaze for ribs. It’s not often that I find a new ingredient that really excites me and has me planning meals and menus based around it but this could just be the one.
But enough of ingredients and suppliers, there are a lot of demonstrations in the True Taste Kitchen, showcasing the great produce of Wales. On Sunday Wesley Harris of the Charthouse (see earlier blogs) took to the stage and Gilli Davies promoted her new book Flavours of Wales. Gilli is not quite the Darina Allen of Wales but is quite close and collaborated with Darina and some other great cooks in Celtic Cuisine a book taking the best of the Celtic nations and bringing them together in one volume.
So overall impressions of St Fagans Food Festival? A good start and as a warm up for Abergavenny well worth a visit to get your culinary juices flowing. Hopefully it will get bigger and better in years to come but get it in your diary for 2012.