Tonight marks the start of the biggest event in my home town’s calendar – the Abergavenny Food Festival.
More than 30,000 visitors are set to snack their way through our streets, buy Monmouthshire produce, and sample the best of our hospitality.
If you’re coming, you will be met with a feast of a festival, but there’s so much on offer you might miss out on a few things which we locals benefit from all year round.
That’s why I’m going to tell you how to eat like an Abergavenny local, and show you a few foodie gems. I’ll also give you a few ideas on what to do to see the best of our town between sampling the delights of the food festival.
Abergavenny is the home of the coffee shop. There are dozens of them, along the main streets and tucked away in side streets and lanes. You will find the perfect latte or mocha for you. One of my favourites is For The Love Of Cake at 59a Frogmore Street. There is a vintage vibe, and one of its main selling points is the fact it serves Clam’s Handmade Cakes, which are a great local favourite. The cake business grew out of Clam’s coffee house which was established in Abergavenny in 1981. Now from its base outside the town, it has a team of 20 people making hand-made cakes.
The taste of the woodland, pasture, and heath land in Monmouthshire is the essence of the attraction of Skirrid Honey. Makers Les and Jill Chirnside, who are based near the slopes of the Skirrid mountain, have hives around Monmouthshire, and have been making honey for the past 25 years.
Honey is also available on the comb, hand cut from the hive and the by-products are used in candle making and polishes. The couple are also interested in supporting and encouraging beekeepers in developing countries; they do this by giving charitable talks and demonstrations to local groups to raise funds.
Look out for Ty Bryn Cider and apple juice made in the village of Grosmont at Upper House Farm, a working farm which has been farmed by three generations of the Watkins family. The cider is produced from apples grown in grazed orchards.
The juice, from many varieties of apples, some old like ‘Tom Putt’ and some more modern varieties like Dabinett, is pressed on the farm, where it is matured in traditional oak barrels. These are stored in a stone cellar that was built for storing cider back in the 1700’s.
Over the past few years their perry and ciders have won several awards including four consecutive gold awards for the sweetened sparkling bottled cider at the Welsh Championships.
Those looking for Welsh lamb should try Pen-y-Wyrlod lamb which comes from a flock of organic, slow-matured, pedigree black Welsh mountain sheep raised on a 20 hectare upland farm in the shadow of the Skirrid mountain. The lambs are born at the end of March and are fed almost exclusively on herb-rich organic grass until they reach full weight at around 9 to 12 months old.
Llanfoist is home to Sorai sauces, dipping sauces which use chilli to make sauces in a variety of strengths, from mild to hot. And Llanvetherine’s White Castle Vineyard, run by Robb and Nicola Merchant, has wines which are perfect to complement local produce.
The five acre vineyard was planted in two phases, May 2009 and May 2010, with six varieties, with a total of 4500 vines. The varieties are Pinot Noir, Regent, Rondo, Seyval Blanc, Phoenix and Siegerrebe.
If you are a tea aficionado, make sure you try Chantler Teas.
The Abergavenny company offers a wide range of high quality loose leaf and herbal teas from around the world. These include well known and occasional rare varieties of teas, such as oolong and white for the discerning tea drinker. Chantler stocks over 40 different types of loose leaf tea including green, white, Oolong and black teas.
Find out about more produce local to our area at madeinmonmouthshire.com.
Take a step back from the crowds and walk from Homes of Elegance around the base of the castle towards the Castle Meadows. Along the way, you’ll discover the Abergavenny Community Orchard.
Abergavenny Area Community Orchards and Gardens CIC was established in September 2011, to take forward community fruit and vegetable growing projects in the area. The group’s long term vision is to establish a series of community gardens, orchards and allotment sites, throughout Abergavenny and its neighbouring areas, serving each neighbourhood and providing people with the opportunity to grow their own food, with all the benefits of exercise, enjoyment and personal sustainability that brings.
If you walk along Tudor Street, which runs parallel to the main street, outside the police station you’ll also see a vegetable bed grown by the Incredible Edible Abergavenny group. The community organisation is an initiative which aims to plant fruit and vegetables in public places for anyone to help themselves. Find out more here https://www.facebook.com/incredibleedibleaber/info?tab=page_info
If you’re looking to walk off the treats from the festival, and get some fantastic views, take the Blorenge mountain road and park near Keeper’s Pond, or further up the mountain at the Foxhunter car park. From either of those, you could walk to the trig point on top of the Blorenge, and look back down over Abergavenny for some excellent views in good weather.
For those who like to do their walking on the flat, drive to the nearby Goytre Wharf (south of Abergavenny on the A4042) where you can stroll along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal as barges and boats drift past. There’s also a little peace to be had away from the crowds in Linda Vista Gardens, also on Tudor Road.
What’s on at the festival:
Tom Kerridge, the Hemsley sisters and Olia Hercules, will be joined by over fifty foodies who will share their culinary passion and expertise, demonstrating everything from baking to foraging, tea tasting to cooking up cultural delicacies.
Raymond Blanc will be appearing in his capacity as President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. In conversation with Sheila Dillon from BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming programme, Raymond will explore the roots of his passion for produce, dread of waste and respect for the land. He will reveal how early lessons learned from Maman Blanc have guided him throughout his career as chef and restaurateur – and how only by understanding that food connects with every part of our lives, can we truly secure a future for our food.
Be amongst the first to get your hands on the much-lauded new book by celebrated chef and author, Yotam Ottolenghi. NOPI: The Cookbook. Yotam, alongside his head chef, Ramael Scully, will bring the inventive NOPI ethos to the festival, pushing culinary boundaries.
The Festival line up also boasts Bake-Off champion Frances Quinn guiding you through her unique style of baking; exciting new London trio, The Groundnut Boys demonstrating recipes from their African Heritage with a contemporary twist and Festival favourite Cyrus Todiwala who has been changing perceptions of Indian cuisine since his arrival in the UK from Goa in 1991.
Alongside household names are some demonstrations with a difference; Jon Old from the Wasabi Company will talk visitors through how, from a secret location in the UK, they grow one of the world’s most expensive crops and Mitch Tonks, renowned for his radical career change from accountancy to fishmongering, will be demonstrating recipes from his book The Seahorse, inspired by Italy and the South West of England.
In addition to food, the festival boasts a number of cocktail, foraging and alcohol master classes. James Chase from Chase Distillery will expertly guide you through spirits, wines and ciders, while author and forager by day, Andy Hamilton presents ‘Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails’ showing you how you can make delicious cocktails from a hedgerow near you.
Heather Myers, Chief Executive of the Festival said: “This year’s line-up is our biggest and best to date and definitely the most varied.
“Whether you want to come along and explore the market, sample produce from over 220 hand-picked stallholders, or watch demonstrations from some of the finest chefs and food adventurers today, there really is something for everyone.”
Local success story Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn from Hang Fire Smokehouse came to the Festival last year as stallholders and return this year on the bill, since winning BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming award for Best Street Food 2015.
Sam said: “It’s incredible that just one year on from our first appearance at Abergavenny Food Festival, and just two years since starting this business, we will be standing where our inspirations from the food industry have stood. We’re looking forward to both feeding the Festival goers our brand of Welsh slow and low BBQ and being a part of the Festival over the weekend.”
Shauna added: “This Festival is the highlight of the foodie event calendar and we’re delighted to be included in all aspects of the programme, for the first time, as we share the alchemy of meat smoking.”
Alongside the bursting programme, Festival favourites return including the Night Market, transforming the Lower Brewery Yard into a magical place to eat, drink and hangout. New for 2015, the Festival will introduce the Meat Market, where you’ll find a selection of the best meats and butcher demonstrations Wales has to offer. The new Craft Brewery will create a relaxing area to sample some of Wales’ best-loved craft brews and ciders.
With parties on both tonight (Swing Time at the Castle) and tomorrow (Party at the Castle) evenings, visitors can experience music, dancing and food in the enchanted atmosphere of Abergavenny’s ancient castle.
The Artisan Kitchen School gives a unique opportunity to receive expert tuition first hand, taking your creations home with you. Children can show off their culinary talents at the Food Academy with a weekend of free hands on workshops for over 320 children and activities to tempt the most budding mini-master chef.
Fast becoming an institution of the Festival, Rude Health Rants are back for their seventh year in a row. The team, led by co-founder and chief ranter Nick, are a proudly outspoken gang who aren’t afraid of standing up for real, honest food.