So here it was at last. Weeks of waiting, planning and hoping were about to end. Set up as a response to Foot and Mouth the 13th Abergavenny Food Festival was about to start.
The day began early with coffee for Arun Kapil the boss of the wonderful Green Saffron Spices who had travelled overnight from Ireland and who would be staying with us. Once he had revived his caffeine levels and dropped his bag in the room we set off for the festival.
The advantage of being a Speaker is reserved parking - but the most scary sort of security lay in wait at the entrance to the car park. Forget big burly goons with attitude we are speaking even worse - a 13 year old with a walkie-talkie and a mission. The kind of grilling that usually only happens in Thai Prisons to pharmaceutical entrepreneurs, and production of sufficient ID to enter GCHQ eventually allowed us to park.
Janet had gone before us and, entertainingly rang to ask where we were whilst standing at the bottom of a staircase which we had just climbed and were standing at the top.
Reunited with JT we went our separate ways, Arun to the Green room to prepare for his demo and ourselves to hurry to our first event.
The theme for the Market Hall this year was Fish and Kitchen Utensils and these hung from the rafters, not as spectacular as the chickens or flying chefs but a real statement of intent.
Our first stop was not, however the Market Hall but the Trinity Centre to take part in the world’s first blind tasting of Raw Milk.
There is a lot of controversy around Raw Milk at the moment with the Irish Government seeking to ban its sale and the Food Safety Agency in the UK looking to follow suit. The health benefits of drinking unpasteurised milk are well documented but the agribusiness interests are claiming it is as dangerous as bubonic plague or Ebola fever and seeking a ban. Apart from the impact on ordinary people the effect on the cheese industry would be devastating.
So here we were some 40 odd people including Valentine Warner and his toddler daughter about to sample a substance allegedly more dangerous than cocaine and without even a team of highly skilled epidemiologists or paramedics in place!!
First though a number of pasteurised milks to sample. Of these the un-homogenised milks proved far and away the most popular, having a genuinely richer taste and colour whilst the ultra-filtered Cravendale was soundly relegated to last place by the tasters.
Then Raw Milk time and we set about our samples with gusto.
Immediately the difference was clear. The milk was richer, creamier and just tasted good. A taste test revealed that everyone preferred the raw product to the pasteurised and/or homogenised stuff. The difference between a food and a product was clear.
To find out more abouth the benefits of Raw Milk follow this link http://slowfood.com/rawmilk/eng/17/Benefits
Then on to butter, and a blind tasting of three butters. The Anchor came last and was bland in colour and taste compared with the yellow, rich and unctuous organic butters from Wales. We were asked to choose our favourite between the two organics and the results were incredibly close. The difference between them? One was salted and the other unsalted. But both were from Calon Wen a collective of 25 Welsh Farmers who have just set up their own dairy on the old Dairy Crest plant site in Whitland. This means that their Welsh Milk will be processed and bottled in Wales as opposed to all the other “Welsh Milks” which go to Solihull or the West Country for bottling before coming back and adding an unnecessary 400+ food miles.
Finally two creams to taste!! Valentine Warner’s toddler was happily sticking her finger into the pots and smiling at the taste so clearly her growth and development had not been affected by her exposure to the highly suspect raw milk, and she was still happy the following day as she toured the festival in style ensconced in her stroller.
A really difficult task to separate these two products. I love cream and these two offerings were at the peak of the cream maker’s art. One slightly thicker than the other, and almost a clotted cream consistency, but both to die for. Again the audience was hard pressed to tell them apart but one was slightly favoured. Turned out we preferred Jersey Cows to Guernseys.
So a good session where we learned about the benefits of raw milk consumption, how big business makes money by homogenising and filtering milk – to use the cream content for other products and to extend shelf life – and how Anchor butter does not even come direct from New Zealand to the UK but goes via Scandinavia, and how to buy truly Welsh milk and dairy products.
Not a bad start to the weekend at all.