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Monday, 28 May 2012

Abergavenny Farmers Market Loyalty Card Launch

Abergavenny Farmers Market runs monthly on the 4th Thursday, and brings together some of the best producers in the area (see earlier post), but this month it has given you even more reasons to visit with the launch of the Loyalty Card.

By signing up you get email notification of the forthcoming markets, the producers who will be there and any special events or themes.

Well over 150 were snapped up on the first day and with participating stall holders guaranteeing to have one discounted item for card holders at each market you can see why. Roisin from Burren Bakery was, for example offering a 10p reduction on Cherry Scones.

Initiatives like this should encourage more people to attend, both producers and customers, encourage a bigger spend and support and develop the local economy.

By buying locally you reduce the supply chain (cut out the middle man) keep money local and support the local economy.

It is estimated that of every £1 spent with a local producer 75p stays within the locality, in a Supermarket or chain store that is reduced to 45p and online purchases have a minimal local benefit.

Not only do you support the locality but you get food at its best, when flavour and nutrition at its peak and often cheaper than Supermarkets. Add to this the reduction in food miles and carbon footprints and the case for local, seasonal shopping is so strong as to be unanswerable.

Sustaination recently revealed that if a town of 15,000 spent just £5 more per week with local traders it would be worth over £10m to the local economy. Introducing Loyalty Cards to Farmers Markets could well be a step towards achieving that aim.

Back though, to the Market and the regular producers were out in force. Local vegetables, breads, meats, chutneys and spices and pies and cakes of all varieties were on offer, not to mention the freshest of fish, cheeses and juices.

I was able to indulge my love of Pork Pies with a bag of award winning ones from Elmtree who won several categories in the National Pie Awards whilst a Brie Tart also found its way into the shopping bag. 2 kilos of butter also made it to be cut into blocks and used over the next few weeks and both Soda Bread and Brownies from Roisin.

Meanwhile Mrs K discovered that local blenders Chantler Teas had produced two new blends to add to their range of ethically sourced Black, Green and Herbally infused teas.

Abergavenny Gold was anew blend designed for discerning tea drinkers in the area and a special Jubilee Blend to mark the event that is not the Olympics this year. A trial cup of Jubilee produced a satisfied smile from Mrs K and a purchase of both new blends ensued along with some nice floral blends.

The Market marked the Jubilee celebrations with a patriotically decorated cake, made by the very talented Michelle Woolley from Penrhiwgyngi Farm (07855 71631 / 01495 370818), and customers stood in happy groups enjoying free tea and cake whilst planning the rest of their shopping. (For those of us who prefer coffee the local Friends Of The Earth group provide free tea and coffee at every market.)

The Cake also featured in the official launch of the Loyalty Card with local chef Stephen Terry – heavily involved in the Great British Menu Welsh heats, handing over a symbolic first card to a lucky shopper. Stephen was a good choice for this task as he shops in the market every Friday and champions local food both at The Hardwick, his restaurant, and on Great British Menu.

Margaret the Market Organiser was very happy with the launch of the Loyalty Card a feeling shared by both customers and stall holders.
An important initiative in supporting local producers and economies, and one which could, and should, be more widespread.

When you consider that the phenomenally successful Abergavenny Food Festival was launched to revitalise the local economy after the Foot and Mouth Outbreak of the early 2000’s Abergavenny has shown another way forward, keeping it local, seasonal and sustainable.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Second Helpings of The Meat Course

Day 2 of the Meat Course started with breakfast, Bacon, Eggs, Black Pudding, artisan Bread, and vegetarian options of home-made Yoghurt (from the milking goats), jams and preserves and lots of coffee or tea, and food for thought. If we eat meat then we should respect the animal and eat as much of it as possible. Black Pudding uses the pig to the end, of course, in Ireland Sheep blood is made into Drisheen a Cork-centric Black Pudding.

Today we would concentrate on Butchery and making maximum use of a carcass so Bacon and Black Pudding were an appropriate start.

Trealy Farm is where Trealy Farm Charcuterie started and, though they have moved the production side to larger premises a few miles away, the original, fully fitted production unit is still on site and would be our base for the day.

Crossing the yard we entered, put on red overalls and shoe protectors and went through to the unit where we met John Standerwick the Trealy Farm Butcher. With 34 years in the trade John is highly skilled and his ability to explain clearly what he was doing really helped as most of the group had little or no experience in this area.

Whilst working John talked extensively about the craft of butchery, and how the rise of supermarket meat had led to a down skilling and many traditional butchers going out d business.

As a student at Ballymaloe Cookery School I had seen some serious knife skills from Phillip Dennhardt, a German  trained butcher, and Rory O’Connell who once apologised for taking 40 seconds to joint a Duck as he usually took less than 30, but John was even better than them.

Starting with a Sheep. John led us through the major cuts of meat and explained that the carcass was not the one we had seen slaughtered the day before as meat had to be hung to maximise the flavour. Supermarket meat tends to be killed and butchered very quickly leading to a paler, flabbier and less tasty meat. In hanging up to 30% of the weight could be lost so getting meat on display as soon as possible maximised profit. There is a trend today to say that supermarket meat has been “aged”14 days or so but this does not mean that it has been hung 14 days rather it is electronically massaged to produce the effect of hanging. The moral of the story is always buy meat from your local independent butcher, or from the farmer at a Farmers Market.

There were a few surprises for students such as Suet is the fatty surround to a kidney (usually beef suet) and that livers actually look like livers and the knowledge of the group shot up during the 20 minutes or so that John took to prepare the sheep.

Next up half a pig and again John demonstrated great skill in butchering the carcass, even taking time to demonstrate “Seam Butchery” a dying art in which each individual muscle is separated from the fat and membrane that surrounds it to leave a lean cut of meat. Once again the importance of using as much of the animal as possible was stressed, and the group were reminded of old recipes such as brawn, terrines and trotters. Interestingly trotters  or Crubeens are common in Irish butchers but rarely seen in the UK. If nothing else trotters give an amazing jelly for Pork Pie fillings, terrines or just to enhance a stock or gravy.

Demonstration over we were equipped with protective gloves and flexible knives and let loose on our own slabs of pork belly.

First up, separate the ribs from the belly meat, a few long strokes from the flexible knife and we had a lovely rack of ribs and a large piece of belly pork. The sheet I would later cut into individual ribs, poach and then roast in a home-made spicy barbecue sauce to serve with a few chips and home-made bread.

At this point enter James.

James runs the charcuterie side of Trealy Farm and is expert in fermented meats – air dried hams, salamis and sausages, puddings and peperoni and he would teach us to process meat and add value.

Carefully we weighed our pork bellies which would be converted into bacon by curing with a salt rub. 35g of salt per 1kg of meat is the magic formula and then spices and seasonings can be added to give the bacon its final taste. I chose a simple fennel and black pepper rub and massaged it in to the meat side before turning over and rubbing the skin side. Vacuum packed into a plastic bag the bacon would be spending the next five days in the bottom of my fridge, being turned daily, as the cure got to work and drew some of the moisture from the meat. Washed and dried after five days the bacon would be cut into rashers though some of mine might be given a little rest in my small smoker, and some might be further processed into Bacon Jam.

Curing done we headed for lunch, again a good selection of cured meats including air dried Lamb, Ham and Beef, sausages and salami and some miniature faggots,as always there was a good vegetarian selection available with one of the cheeses being made at the top of the hill above the Farm by Wye Valley Cheese. Again the importance of using as much of an animal as possible, should you eat meat, was stressed and the tasty array would have encouraged anyone,

As we lazed in the sunshine after lunch James lead us through the history of charcuterie and the types of preserving meat. Originally people had their own pigs, even in towns, and killed them late in the year and preserved them to last through the Winter months. The late killing also meant that the animals did not have to be fed at a time when supplies would be running low. Gradually different types of preserved meat emerged, most countries have a sausage though each varies, most countries have developed blood puddings, be they Morcilla, Boudin Noir or plain black pudding. The principles of preservation are the same, the product varies.

Armed with this additional knowledge we went back to the unit to make sausages. Meats were minced and mixed in the industrial mincer, the setting on coarse. Some breadcrumbs were added and the mixture went back into the machine to mix and be minced again. Once the, now visibly,  sausage meat emerged we each received a kilo and a chart indicating the types of flavourings available. I chose to mix Tomato Powder, Garlic and Oregano to make an Italian style sausage that would equally well break down into meatballs that could be rolled in polenta, fried and then added to a tomato sauce for a pasta dish.

Working in pairs we put the mix through a hand-cranked sausage filler and into natural casings, any unused meat being quickly fried off so that we could have a taster of our chosen blend.

Meanwhile James had mixed and minced some offal and we were given a free hand in making faggots. Rolling small balls and wrapping them in caul fat was remarkably therapeutic, and my half dozen will make a good supper with rich onion gravy, champ and the last of the purple sprouting broccoli.

At this point the practical side of the course was over but an early dinner, as usual with good meat and vegetarian selections on offer, and debrief followed before we went our separate ways.

What did I get out of the course? A greater knowledge of farming and raising meat, a reinforcement of my belief that small low impact farming is much better than agri-business, confirmation that local abattoirs are much preferable to giant industrial plants reached only after considerable travel, that local butchers do a better job than supermarkets and that older breeds give more taste than modern commercial ones. The major thing for me was that we need to eat less meat but better meat to improve both our diets and animal welfare and protect our environment.

The Meat Course answered many questions but to me the mark of a good course is that it asks even more, this one certainly did! I can only say that you should do it yourself.

Contact The Meat Course by email or visit the website 

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Meat Course Part 1

The Meat Course, run by Ruth Tudor on Trealy Farm near Monmouth offers a chance to get to grips with all things meat. I don’t mean just identifying cuts and how to cook them but gaining an understanding of farming, animal welfare, farming methods and challenges, the social and environmental impact of farming, butchery and using meats.

A two day course leads you through these areas in an enjoyable way, challenging some of your beliefs and understandings, offering an opportunity to learn and grow and develop a more rounded view of the process from field to fork.

As the course website puts it “Connecting with the reality of farming animals for meat”.

Having attended I am sure that this course is valuable, or even essential for cooks, writers consumers and anyone who just wants to find out more about the food on our plates. I was in a group of seven, one male attendee had to drop out at the last minute with a case of Mumps – not a condition to be envied in an adult male.

We ranged in age and experience or involvement from the 20 somethings who ran a café and Supperclub in Bristol through to the retired ex Reuters journalist who runs a community woodland and included a vegetarian and someone who just wanted to be able to buy meat from a butcher rather than a Supermarket without feeling intimidated by their lack of knowledge.

Meeting up on the 140 acre organic farm perched on the hillside below Trellech, Ruth introduced the course over coffee in the newly built cabana with panoramic views over the valley below and as far away as the Blorenge and Sugarloaf mountains. The daughter of a North Walian hill farmer and vet, Ruth has worked as a teacher and still runs the North Wales farm, as well as Trealy, and is passionate about teaching and sharing information and experience. Local schools have been regular visitors to the farm and a highlight of the Abergavenny Food Festival has been the Sausage design and making competition for children, run on and from the farm.

Having discussed both the group’s and Ruth’s aims and aspirations we donned green overalls and set off to meet animals. Trealy Farm keep sheep, pigs, goats, cattle, horses and rabbits, many rare breeds all grass fed with minimal “input “ or intervention, and a small number had been brought into the barn overnight.

Entering we lowered voices to maintain an atmosphere of calm for the animals and Ruth and James – who runs the charcuterie side of the operation – talked us through the types of animal, their husbandry and about the advantages of low input, grass fed sustainable farming. Then we were asked to choose an animal or animals and to observe them and get into the pens – the exception to this being the Dexter Cattle, grandmother, mother and calf, as they would be highly protective of the calf.

Whilst others entered pens to meet  goats and sheep, I opted for the pigs the incredible Hungarian Mangalitzas. Are they Pigs or Sheep? Their gingery, curly coats are pretty much unique and their ancient heritage shines through. They are quite dog like in attitude and behaviour, nuzzling up to you as you enter the pen and looking for a pat or stroke. They get even more doglike if you give them a good scratch, eventually rolling onto their sides for a tummy tickle and uttering little grunts of pleasure.

Animal interaction over we regrouped to describe our experiences and, with the promise of returning later we went for lunch and continued chat and discussion over a superb meal with – obviously – great charcuterie, local breads and cheeses and seasonal quiches and a real treat Raw Milk for teas or coffees with Goat Milk for those who didn’t wish to avail of the raw product.

Lunch over we climbed the hill at the back of the farm to look out across the valley and identify the different farms and farming methods from organic to intensely farmed dairy with high additional input, arable through mixed to livestock only and, in the distance the low sheds of a chicken farm.

Discussion was very wide ranging - types of farming, impact on the land, sustainability, amount of artificial fertilisation needed in varying methods, badgers and TB – Ruth confirmed that they had a number of badgers on the farm but were TB free, and even CAP and subsidy. This was a no holds barred discussion and we were impressed by Ruth’s openness when discussing subsidy and how best to use it.

Returning back down the hill we went into the barn again to get up close and personal with sheep carefully lifting lambs of different breeds to see how the more commercial modern breeds put on weight much faster than the rare breed ones even though their age was the same. The demand for “fat bottomed girls” from supermarkets was changing the nature of sheep farming and even the organisations representing farmers were promoting a move away from traditional breeds and methods and into business friendly modern methods and breeds irrespective of the impact upon taste, sustainability and environment.

The return to the sheep was the precursor to the most challenging part of the course but set it in context.

As we broke for tea and coffee Ruth introduced the difficult part, one of the sheep from the farm would be slaughtered.

Ruth explained what would happen and how the sheep would be kept as calm as possible and killed swiftly and humanely. Ruth described her own feelings about slaughter and that, whilst a necessary part of meat farming, slaughter should be humane, done with respect for the animal and as stress free for both human and animal as possible.

The sheep, a one year old (sheep of this age are usually called Hoggets), brought down from the North Wales farm and onto better grazing pasture for finishing was taken into a pen with several other animals to minimise stress and then the others released back to the field. The killing was very swift. A captive bolt gun rendered the animal unconscious and then the throat was cut and within a few seconds the Hogget had bled out.

Straight away the sheep was skinned, hung and the offal removed.

Though this part of the course was optional everyone attended and afterwards all felt that it was an important experience. No one particularly wanted to see an animal die BUT done with care and compassion and not a little emotional input from Ruth, it was an important step for us all. We need to understand the cycle of life and death on a farm and that slaughter on site or in small local abattoirs as opposed to huge industrial plants on production lines has to be the best method.

After the slaughter we broke for a debrief and supper, a chance to reflect upon the afternoon, discuss our feelings and prepare for the second day.

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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Wild Garlic and The Ethical Chef

One of the reasons I like Farmers Markets is that they change with the seasons in a way not reflected by Supemarkets and that there is often something new to be explored. And so it was on Sunday when we made one of our regular visits to Riverside in Cardiff.

Some stalls will always be on the agenda, If we missed out on Usk or Undy then Riverside will have Phillip Beaven and Ty Mawr Organics for vegetables, Teifi Cheeses and Cig Lodor for meat, but it is the others, some new, that can absolutely make the trip and often my day.

May is often heralded as Asparagus Month, and I love the delicate spears and make as much use of them as I can during their all-too-brief 6 week season and the months of waiting for them to come around makes the treat even better. Not for me the airlifted Peruvian or Kenyan produce available in the depths of Winter, keeping seasonal and local means a reduction in carbon footprint, air miles and a much better taste than geo-crops, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “ripped untimely from the womb”. (Bet that’s the first time Macbeth has appeared in a food blog unless it's a tortured reference to unwanted guests at the banquet).

For me though the true taste of Spring is Wild Garlic, the softer yet still strongly Allium taste of this herb is a pleasure and it combines well with the Asparagus as well as being a great ingredient in its own right.

The Cardiff Herb Company had a great basket of Wild Garlic, picked that morning at CHC headquarters in Cowbridge, and drew my immediate attention, not just the broad leaved, starry flowered variety – known as Ransoms in Ireland - but also the Three Cornered Leek so easily mistaken for Harebells and known as Snowbells in Ireland.

Victoria Welles started the Cardiff Herb Company last year and has a range of herbs and herbal teas on sale as well as some of the most robust potted herbs that I have seen. In addition to two big bunches of Wild Garlic I managed to buy a small Vietnamese Coriander plant, essential for Asian dishes later in the year and an intriguing Chocolate Mint that should add an additional depth to a Chocolate Mousse.

The robust nature of the plants was no surprise as for the last three years Victoria has run growing, unsurprisingly vegetables and herbs in plugs to get gardeners started.

Though the Mint and Coriander offered promises for the future the Wild Garlic offered almost immediate gratification.

Whenever I have Wild Garlic, my mind turns to Denis Cotter the driving force behind Café Paradiso in Cork – possibly the best vegetarian restaurant in the world -  who uses it well and indeed named one of his books (Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me) after it. Denis uses the very seasonal ingredient sensitively such as, for example in a Tomato and Wild Garlic Concasse, or a Roasted Cherry Tomato and Wild Garlic Risotto with Lemon Braised Artichokes.

Just across from Cardiff Herb Company was The Ethical Chef. Deri Reed is a vegetarian chef who runs his stall, caters for Weddings and other events and also runs a Supper Club. Deri always reserves a place at his Supper Clubs  for Food Bloggers and is well in tune with the blogiverse, having his own but also challenging other bloggers to work with him on the stall. Cardiff Bloggers were recently challenged and, on June 3rd Cardiffbites (aka Nicki) will be joining him to cook a recipe of her choice that will be available to the market public. As Cardiff Bloggers are holding their Big Eat Picnic just up the road in Bute Park that day so a number of vegetarian dishes can be expected to be on view. I may have signed up to the challenge but, as they say, things are at an early stage.

Anyhoo, back to the real business, Deri trained and worked with Denis Cotter at Café Paradiso and a Denis inspired recipe Wild Garlic and Brazil Nut Pesto - Denis actually uses Walnuts - was flying off the stall along with a vegetarian sushi, a Welsh Rarebit of the Pesto with Perl Las Organic Cheese, and a Beet Boost which combined Beetroot, Apple Juice , Lemons, Ginger and Oranges.

One of the key ingredients of the Pesto was a Blodyn Aur (Gold Flower) Welsh Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil and I bought  a bottle as it not only gives a clean tasting oil but 5 teaspoons added to a bread dough gives a better rise and a crumblier texture.

By this time the seductive smell of the Wild Garlic was driving me to distraction and we headed home to get cooking, first a simple Wild Garlic Soup  I use Rory O’Connell’s recipe – you could substitute young Nettle Leaves for the Wild Garlic.

Serves 4-6

6oz 175 g Potatoes in 1/2 inch dice
6oz 15g Onions diced
2oz  50gButter
2 Garlic Cloves finely chopped
2 pints 1,2 l Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock for a meat free soup
Salt and Pepper

1 pint 600 mls Wild Garlic Leaves tightly packed into a measuring jug and chopped into 1" pieces
8 fl oz 225ml Wild Garlic Flowers

Melt the butter and sweat the potato, onion and garlic for about 10 minutes in a heavy based pan with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper disc on top to retain the steam.

Add the stock and bring just to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes with the lid off then add the Wild Garlic leaves and allow to just wilt.  Adjust the seasoning  Sprinkle in the flowers and serve immediately.

An alternative is to add cream when the Wild Garlic goes in and liquidise.

Ah Spring!

Some pictures are from the Ethical Chef website. All others are mine.

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