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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cooperation in Abergavenny

It’s always good to see cooperation in food, small producers are not engaged in the ultra- competitive wars of the big supermarkets, they are not responsible to shareholders and have a love of the product not a commitment to profit. Of course without profit they would not remain in business but artisan production is a calling not a means to global brand domination.

So I was very pleased to be told of a small event hosted by Sugarloaf Catering at their base in Abergavenny. Just a few local producers, getting together to show, and sell their wares. The degree of cooperation showed there was extremely impressive, each was incorporating each others produce in their own offerings.

Sugarloaf is owned by Mark & Claire Coulton and has traded since March 2005. Mark has over 20 years experience as a chef and met Claire in the early 1990's while working for Franco Taruschio at the celebrated Walnut Tree Inn. So a good local connection there for a start and an indication of the quality of the food that they make.

Their food philosophy is encouraging “We support the local economy where possible so if we can't buy a product from a local producer we will buy it from an independent local retailer” said Mark.

In addition to catering for functions and events Sugarloaf make ready meals of quality for people who want to eat well but are pushed for time through their Chef in a Freezer function. Certainly the Smoked Haddock Fishcake – made with Black Mountain Smokery’s fish, was extremely good and the Roast Salmon variety is an award winner.

They also run Supper Clubs with a themed basis and I am looking forward to the next on with a Murder Mystery theme to be held in the newly refurbished Old Sessions House in Usk. Is there a better setting for a murder theme than an old court house?

So, mulled Apple Juice in hand I headed into the main hall.

Immediately I met Roisin from Burren Bakery. I had enjoyed her Porter Cake at the Abergavenny Farmers Market and was keen to renew my acquaintance with it, as was Mrs K who had lost out last time. The cake uses Stout made by Tudor Brewery who were on the next stall.

Tudor is very much a family business, a microbrewery set up in Abergavenny, continuing a century old tradition of local beer making. The Tudor name is taken from Tudor Gate, the medieval town entrance.

The beers are all named after local mountains, Sugarloaf, Skirrid and Blorenge with each bottle having a silhouette of the mountain on the label.
Sugarloaf is a dark beer with a smokey base whilst Skirrid is a medium strength (4.2%) session beer. Blorenge is lager like but with a citrus taste that makes it clear that it is a pale beer and definitely not a lager.

Black Mountain is the stout used in the Porter Cake and a very good drop it is. Taste wise somewhere between Guinness and Beamish, not as metallic as a Guinness and with some of the flowery hint in a Beamish. I had to sample all of the beers and bought a pack of the Black Mountain for both culinary and drinking purposes. Again there is a silhouette of mountains on the label but, as we approach Christmas, a small Santa and Sleigh can be seen flying over the mountains.

I carried my last drops of Blorenge to Nicholas Snell’s stall. Nicholas is a Private Chef who also acts as a Master of Ceremonies and Professional Butler, so get Sugarloaf Catering to provide for your event and Nicholas to manage it, stress free!!

Nicholas had a small selection for tasting some rather fine Vanilla Shortbread, in which the vanilla was subtle and the thin, crispy crumbly shortbread melted in the mouth.

He had also made some Cheese biscuits, again crumbly and with a good cheesiness, certainly Cheddar and Parmesan featured though other ingredients remained a secret despite rigorous questioning!
These were teamed with cheeses and both Roisin’s Soda Bread and Usk River’s pickles. Clearly Nicholas can partner food which suggests a very professional approach.

Rhian from Usk River had a full range of pickles for sale including the award winning Pearlilli my current favourite. Deciding that a serious pickle tasting was in order I managed to test them with biscuits, Soda Bread and some hastily snaffled fishcakes. I can report that they went well and the Tomatorama came close to usurping Pearlilli in my affections.

Held the day after the Royal Welsh Christmas show the get together suffered slightly as some of the intended exhibitors had sold out of product in Builth Wells and were unable to attend, though those on show were very good and a number of purchases were made by visitors.

It is really pleasing to see producers actively cooperating and supporting each other, with initiatives such as these the local food scene can only strengthen.

If you missed out make sure you get to the Abergavenny Christmas Fair on 11th December where most will be exhibiting along with the cream of artisan producers.

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