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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tastes of things to Come

So what does a food blogger do in the run-up to the Abergavenny Food Festival? Obvious, he goes out to meet and interview some of the undoubted stars of the weekend, and they’re all local and all great.

Linking up with Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council’s Communication Team ensured that the resultant interviews would be aired on the Council website and using Helen’s immense range of Twitter followers the word would go far and wide.

Helen even added to the package by inviting another food blogger Rhian Jacobs to come with us and blog our foodie road trip. Now the only problem with Helen is a total lack of a sense of direction so the meandering through some of the quieter lanes of the very rural Monmouthshire would be a challenge to rival that of Livingstone or Magellan.

Four local heroes agreed to be guinea pigs for our first attempt at video blogging so, with a couple of camcorders and iPhones as backup we set off.

A lack of clear signage meant a minor detour before arriving at Trealy Farm Charcuterie’s production facility in Goytre.

 Despite an early morning email from James Swift advising us that the power was likely to be off all day, as the result of planned maintenance by SWALEC, we arrived to find that power had been restored after a very short outage. A cup of coffee allowed us time to sort a suitable background and set up the cameras before starting the interview.

When I say interview it was not exactly Paxman, more a chat covering a wide range of subjects, all related to Trealy Farm products. Amongst other things we covered the forthcoming Great taste Awards – congratulations yet again the Air Dried Hogget was another unique taste and success, Outstanding in the Field holding their only UK dinner on the farm, the advantages of producing in Monmouthshire and James’ forthcoming appearance at the food festival with Jose Pizzaro the Sherry and Cava guru to discuss tapas and accompaniments.

Armed with supplies of bacon, chorizo and boudin noir, all of which would be used in the cooking part of the blog, and stuffed with samples of charcuterie we moved on.

Navigational challenges were not an issue as we shot off to Ty Mawr Organics producers of great vegetables, if you are at the food festival they have a big stand in the main street – buy some of the freshest and tastiest veg around.

Our challenge was more physical than intellectual as we were greeted by a huge Rottweiler! “You get out and knock the door, I’ve got bare legs” is the strangest excuse for inaction I have ever heard, if a Rottweiler fancied your leg for lunch a light covering of denim was hardly going to put it off. Fortunately Phillip heard our arrival and sent the magnificently named Odin to lie down. “Don’t worry about him; it’s the Jack Russell that’ll have your ankles”.

With my colleagues anxiously looking around for stealth canines we made our way to the polytunnels and an array of tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and the seedlings of the winter crops and salads. Tasting the freshest young leaves, warm and powerful tomatoes set the gastric juices running again and the interview with Phillip was as entertaining as it was informative.

Next he piled us all into an old Range Rover and we bounced across fields to admire potatoes, cauliflower, beet and chard and to dig the freshest carrots, wipe them and eat raw to get carroty heavenly tastes.

Having taken up an hour or so of his time we thanked Phillip and left laden down with fresh veg that would be part of the cooking segments – If the film/blog crew hadn’t finished them with great smacking of lips and appreciative noises.

Obviously Rhian and Helen were ravenous and exposure to great food, even in its raw state, was sharpening their appetites so off to look for lunch.

We settled on the food hall in the Tithe Barn, one of the Food Festival venues and an important part of the fringe events in the run up. I have to recommend the locally sourced club sandwich and the smoked salmon and mushrooms on toast eagerly hogged down by my colleagues were obviously good as well.

Helen identified Richard the General Manager so an impromptu shoot ensued showcasing the amazing tapestry woven/knitted (?) by local enthusiasts and the role of the Tithe Barn in feeding the monks from the adjacent church. We also met the Church Warden who is also a director of the Food Festival and got some bonus footage of the interior of the church and its links to food. The Priory Centre is the venue for the Fish stalls and demos this year and the courtyard outside will host eating experiences for all piscatorial addicts.

Chef Wesley Harris at the Charthouse had agreed to an interview between services so we rocked up just as he cleared down after a busy lunch and before prepping the evening menu.

Wes has been there just over a year and has already been shortlisted as a Start Up business of the year as well as making waves on the food scene. Wes was one of the chefs who demoed in the Tithe Barn and will be in the Market Hall venue on Sunday at the food fest, having recently done a demo in the True taste Kitchen at the St Fagans Food Festival.

We discussed the importance of local and seasonal ingredients, keeping the menu manageable and relevant – he changes every six weeks or so and how to stand out in an area blessed with chefs such as Sean Hill, Steven Terry, James Summerin and Matt Tebbutt. To find the answer you’ll have to watch the video.

Finally we moved on to Llansantffraed Court a local hotel which this year was nominated in the Great Taste Awards – usually it is restaurants rather than Hotels which get this accolade.

Mike Morgan has run the hotel for 25 years and is a great supporter of local producers and businesses using some 70 or so to deliver a first class hotel experience. I attended a wedding there a couple of years ago and left very happy!

Mike led us to his pride and joy, a Walled Garden that they are just bringing back into life. Though only in its first season - Potatoes, Leeks, Sweetcorn, Chard, Courgettes and massive Squash were all on view. The walls were covered with Apple trees that will be cordoned and a small greenhouse was full of tomatoes. I dug fresh potatoes and Leeks and cut Sweetcorn all of which rapidly became a very seasonal Sweetcorn Soup.

The video interview was illuminating and I am hoping that the bit where I stood backwards onto an Asparagus plant (thus reducing the crop from 100 to 99) goes missing in the final edit!

Overall a truly great day out; with good and supportive colleagues and local food heroes who gave most generously of their time and knowledge. They really did show why Monmouthshire is a Food Destination. Many thanks to them and I hope that their enthusiasm shines through in the filming which will appear here soon.

For the blogger's eye view of the day visit   Thanks for the link Rhian

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