Tutored Tastings and Food Talks at Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival is not just about visiting all the fantastic food and drinks stands spread out across the several market areas, though that’s a huge pleasure. A big part of the experience is attending some of the wide range of masterclasses, tutored tastings and food talks on offer during the weekend.

This year, I attended a number of tastings and talks, and wanted to share a little of the experience with you here.


Forage Ahead for Christmas by Trine Hahnemann and Liz Knight

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The key message from both Trine and Liz was to make use of the bounty around you for your Christmas gifts and your Christmas table. Some of the recipes they talked us through, and which we tasted, were from Trine’s new book, Scandinavian Christmas. Others were recipes that Liz makes and sells under her Forage Fine Foods brand, one of my favourite finds at last year’s festival.

One new idea for me was in the use of elderberries: whilst I’m familiar with the use of both elderflowers and ripe elderberries, I had never come across the use of unripe green berries pickled and preserved much like capers. This is common in Scandinavia, and a great one to try next year.

When it came to making use of rosehips, the fiddle of removing seeds and the itch-inducing hairs means it’s better to look for the larger ones, like the ones they had brought along to show us. The very next day, my friend Martine and I were quite excited to spot a bush covered in enormous rosehips in a nearby Abergavenny car park.

We talked about pickling blackberries, making rose syrup from petals and preserving cherries.

One of my favourites was a lingonberry preserve. Said Trine, “I made this myself, I really hope you can tell the difference from Ikea!”. Don’t worry, Trine, we could!


Veggiestan by Sally Butcher

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Having interacted with Sally on twitter for months, or maybe even years, I was keen to attend her Veggiestan talk and tasting. Sally and her husband Jamshid, also present for the talk, run well-loved London deli Perseopolis, specialising in Persian food and Sally is also the author of the Persia in Peckham cookbook.

For the purpose of sharing her favourite vegetarian ingredients and recipes, Sally presented a range of dishes from the fictitious land of Veggiestan, a way of covering the non-meat cookery of a region stretching from Turkey across the Middle East to Pakistan.

Some of the dishes we really liked, others left us nonplussed but all were interesting and we enjoyed Sally’s passionate presentation.


A Taste of Humble by Nature by Kate Humble and Friends

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After Kate Humble and husband Ludo bought a farm in Monmouthshire, they wanted to find a way not only to make a living from it but also to share with others what Kate had learned about rural skills and animal husbandry through some of her recent television series.

They turned to the experts, and now offer courses in food and cookery, rural crafts and working with animals.

For this talk and tasting, Kate introduced us to her charcutier Graham Waddington, Katherine Marland who runs the cookery school and Liz Knight, who teaches foraging and related cooking classes.

We had plenty of fine food to taste, from confit pig’s cheek to crabapple, bramley and fennel jelly to Japanese braised pork belly. It was an interesting session, as each of the three friends shared a number of tips with the audience.



Making Fine Chocolates Marc Demarquette

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Marc Demarquette is one of my favourite UK chocolatiers, not only because his chocolates are fantastic but also because he’s a lovely man. His commitment to supporting British producers, and small independent suppliers is something he takes very seriously, not like many brands who simply use such a stance as a marketing tool.

In this session, we first did a tasting of 4 different chocolates, whilst Marc reminded us that “it’s very important to know the provenance of the product”. He will not buy cocoa from the ivory coast of ghana but instead invests a lot of time in seeking out ethical cocoa. Those we tried were a 65% Papua New Guinea, Marc’s dark house blend of cocoa from Madagascar, Ecuador and Dominican republic, a milk chocolate from Vietnam and an 80% dark from Uganda.

After the tasting, Marc walked and talked us through how to make his caramel chocolate ganache. Delicious!



I also attended Memories of Gascony in which Pierre Koffmann talked to Matthew Fort about his life and experiences in the food industry. I’ll be writing about this talk as part of a book review of Pierre’s book of the same name.


With thanks to Abergavenny Food Festival for press pass and event tickets.

Tools For Self Reliance Cymru

Tools For Self Reliance Cymru collect old and unwanted hand tools, mostly those used by gardeners, and their volunteers clean, repair and sharpen them. They send their refurbished tool kits to grass roots community groups in Africa.

As they explain, "Tools mean work, and the chance to shape their future, just as important to a young person in Tanzania or Ghana today as it is in Britain."


In addition to sending tools to Africa, TFSR Cymru also buy tools and items made by blacksmiths in Africa, those they have supported in the past, and bring them back to the UK for sale.

TSFR Cymru also sell a large number of tools that they receive for refurbishment but which are not required by their African partners, either because they are easily made locally or are not needed there. These tools are also cleaned and sharpened, fitted with new handles where necessary and often have much more character than modern tools.


We encountered TSFR Cymru at this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival when their box of rakes, hoes, cultivators, dibbers caught our eye. When we saw how reasonable the prices were, Pete could not resist purchasing a cultivator, which shall be put to good work in the garden and allotment in coming months.

There were also some smaller gardening and other tools available which would be ideal for gardeners, or as gifts for gardening friends.


Tools For Self Reliance Cymru are an independent registered charity based in Crickhowell in South Wales, and they collect tools from across Wales.

For those outside Wales, if you have friends and family closer to TFSR Cymru  or are planning a holiday, do look at whether you are able to contribute any old and unwanted tools for them to refurbish. TSFR Cymru have four groups in Wales as well as a network of collectors who also help them gather suitable tools.


(There is also a separate UK Tools for Self Reliance organisation which does similar work and may have centres near you).


With thanks to Abergavenny Food Festival for press passes to attend the festival.

Abergavenny Food Festival 2012

Last year was my first year at Abergavenny Food Festival and I loved it! I had a great time this year too!

Hundreds of food and drink producers spread out in several different areas around the town centre, a packed agenda of talks, tutored tastings and masterclasses to attend and a lot of eating and shopping opportunities!

Two things stand out about Abergavenny compared to other food festivals and, especially, the big food shows.

  • The quality of the food and drinks on offer is excellent. Some shows seem to accept any retailer as long as they’ll pay for a space. Abergavenny invites producers to submit an application, and then invite them to participate only if they feel the quality is excellent. The aim is to showcase local and regional Welsh products first and then products from rest of the UK. And another criteria is to achieve a good mix of categories so there’s a wide range of different items for visitors to discover.
  • This must surely be the friendliest food show in the UK? I’ve made many friends in the industry over the last few years, and all tell me the same thing – they go to Abergavenny first and foremost because it’s such a joyful weekend. Fellow exhibitors are friendly; customers are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and keen to learn more; they enjoy touring the festival too. That happiness on the part of the exhibitors is very evident to visitors too: it’s great to be able to visit stalls and be met by a smile, helpful explanations and courteous service. Even visitors, complete strangers, often get chatting.

This year, I attended a number of talks, tastings and masterclasses, which I’ll be writing about soon.

In the meantime, here are some photos of some of the exhibitors and products I enjoyed this year. (Click to view a larger sized image).


Pictured: Black Mountains Smokery, Forage Fine Foods, Forest Pig Charcuterie, Halen Mon Anglesey Sea Salt, Homewood Cheeses, Hook & Son Raw Organic Milk, La Cave a Fromage, Lahloo Tea, Peppers by Post, Riverford Organic, Simply Welsh Cakes, Taste Of Persia, The Dorset Blueberry Company, The Garlic Farm, The Tracklements Company, Trealy Farm Charcuterie, Womersley Fruit & Herb Vinegars


With thanks to Abergavenny Food Festival for press pass and event tickets.

Abergavenny Food Festival 2011

For some years now, I’ve heard fellow food lovers proclaim Abergavenny as the most enjoyable food festival in the UK. And for almost as long as I’ve been hearing that, I’ve intended to find out for myself.

This year I finally did.

And they were right!

I absolutely loved the festival and can completely understand how it captivates my friends.

  • Entry pricing is reasonable; one doesn’t feel that one is being fleeced just to gain access, given that one is spending again at the various classes and stands inside.
  • There are fantastic talks, demonstrations and master classes throughout the festival and these are all very reasonably priced. The calendar is packed and the quality and variety of the schedule is amazing. I enjoyed every single event I attended and would happily have attended a third day of festival if it had given me the chance to squeeze in a few more.
  • The quality of the exhibitors is excellent; virtually every stand was of interest to me. That’s the complete opposite of many large food shows I’ve attended in recent years. Stalls aren’t given to any old business that has scant connection with food, just to sell the requisite number of stalls. There is a focus on a quality experience for exhibitors and visitors alike.
  • The stands are spread out across the town centre, giving exhibitors and visitors plenty of space. Even on Saturday, it never felt like the normal food show conveyor belt, shuffling slowly through the crowds from stand to stand, eventually reaching another only to be faced with a stall holder so busy that he or she is unable to spend any time interacting with customers or explaining much about the products.
  • I had some enthusiastic, eye-opening and delightful conversations with many exhibitors; they had a readiness not only to sell but to interact with visitors (and fellow exhibitors) and share a joint passion for great food and drink.
  • It was such a pleasure meeting up with friends over the weekend. I hadn’t realised quite how many wonderful friends I’ve made in the food industry, and it was wonderful to see so many of them at the festival whether they were exhibitors, speakers or fellow visitors. It made an already welcoming festival feel even more so.
  • I did a Rudehealth rant! I was hugely nervous to stand up and rant in front of so many people, especially following Rufus Carter, who’s a superb speaker and really engaged with the crowd. I sped through my rant, and cut it short a little here and there, convinced I was boring the audience. But in the end it went OK and I’m glad to have done it!


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Marc Demarquette, The Ethicurian, The Bath Pig, Forage Fine Foods, Simply Welsh Cakes, Halen Mon, H J Edwards, Hand Made Scotch Eggs, Womersley, The Tomato Stall, Holly And The Ivy

Of course, we also visited many other stalls that I failed to photograph and had wonderful conversations with so many exhibitors.

Master Classes and Tutored Tastings

Entente Cordiale between Richard Bertinet and Henry Harris – confit duck toasted sandwich and scones with cream and jam (sorry it’s out of focus, my camera focus isn’t working properly)

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The Nordic Terroir with Signe Johansen and Trina Hahnemann – smoked fish with pickled plums, apple and beetroot salad, baked celeriac and many more

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José Pizarro and James Swift Making the Most of Charcuterie – a veritable feast of dishes was served

Again, we also attended a number of other events including a cookery demonstration and interview with Angela Hartnett and a surreal beer chat by Paul Ewen, Ian Marchant and Pete Brown.

Ranting for Rude Health

And, lastly, despite the fact it makes me grimace with embarrassment at my strange voice and odd mannerisms, here’s the rant I did for Rude Health on why supplements on fixed price menus attract my ire.

Mini Restaurant Reviews: Cardiff, Wales

Pete and I spent a weekend in Cardiff recently, to attend the Cheese Festival and to celebrate my birthday.

Here are reviews of the following:
Dinner and Breakfasts at Ty Rosa B&B
Coffee & Cake at Craft in the Bay
Lunch at Madame Fromage
Woods Brasserie

Dinner and Breakfasts at Ty Rosa B&B
This is where we stayed during our visit. I’d booked dinner at the B&B in advance, thinking we might not feel up to heading out on our first night, especially as I’d not been sure what time we’d arrive when I first booked the trip.

Whilst I’d already learned that Stuart had been a professional chef in a previous life, I hadn’t expected quite such an excellent meal. Pete had a French onion soup that was deeply flavoured from the heavily caramelised onions, thick and brown and served with one cheese toast floating on top and an extra two on the side. He’s rather fussy about his French onion soup but had nothing but good words to say about Stuart’s. I was equally delighted with my homemade crab, cockle and laverbread cakes served with salad and a generous pot of mayo. One would have been plenty as a starter but I greedily munched my way through both! For our main we had both chosen the sausage, mash and giant Yorkshire pudding though were caught out by the huge size of the portion. Three locally-made pork and apple sausages on a vast mound of homemade mash which itself sat inside a plate-sized Yorkshire pudding, the whole lot topped with onion gravy! Very good indeed, though I couldn’t eat even half my mash! Pete ate nearly all of his and consequently started making close-to-bursting moaning noises!

I decided against pudding and Pete delayed his decision for a while as decamped to the kitchen and chatted to Paul and Stuart. Stuart and I got into a discussion on cheese at which point Stuart dug out their cheese box and had me taste a number of cheeses!

Pete decided to squeeze in a dessert and Paul made up a red cherry crumble. He used a vast tub of ready-made cherry filling and some frozen ready-made crumble topping, which resulted in a surprisingly acceptable crumble served with good quality ready-made custard. Of course, Pete was so full of soup, sausage and mash he managed less than half the crumble though I did assist by finishing off his custard!

For our first breakfast we started as we meant to go on, with a fabulous home-cooked offering. The menu is extensive and I eventually settled on eggs benedict and Pete for a cooked breakfast, choosing various items from the a la carte menu. Before that we helped ourselves to juice from the buffet (which also offered cereals, yoghurt and fresh fruit) and some nice hot toast too.

For our next breakfast Pete had the “Persian eggs” (eggs fried in lots of butter with cheese and paprika) and I had pancakes with sausages with maple syrup. Very naughty but very enjoyable!

Our last breaky was eggs benedict for me with mushrooms on the side and a lovely fluffy omelette for Pete.

Coffee & Cake at Craft in the Bay
A BBC Food Chat board friend had recommended the cafe in Craft in the Bay, a gallery and shop showcasing and selling contemporary Welsh art and crafts. The building itself is a combination of a refurbished shed and modern extension and very light and airy. Although I liked some of the crafts on display there was little I’d want to purchase though I admired the skills more than I loved the finished pieces. However, our main reason for popping in was to visit the coffee shop, which had been recommended as a potential lunch stop. Not hungry enough for lunch after our huge breakfast we ordered cakes and coffee instead. I can definitely vouch for the quality of their coffee and walnut cake, very light and moist and more generous with walnuts than most examples I’ve eaten. Pete enjoyed the chocolate and raspberry cake he chose too. I particularly liked the single white dahlia flower on each table, which had been coloured like a rainbow by drawing inks up into the petals via the stem.

Lunch at Madame Fromage
Stuart at the B&B had recommended a deli called Madame Fromage, located in one of the pretty arcades in the town centre. There hadn’t been any free tables when we first visited, hoping to stop for coffee but we returned on another day and had a really wonderful lunch there. The deli is in one unit and has tables inside and out but they have also taken the unit opposite and filled it with extra tables, which is where we sat. Pete quickly chose a croque monsieur with salad and a local beer. I was thrilled to find my favourite Ecusson doux French cider in stock but couldn’t decide what to order so I popped up to the deli counter and noticed a wonderful looking pastry. The male owner explained that it was a fougasse filled with Emmental, black forest ham, rosemary and olives which sounded good to me! When it arrived it was a much larger portion than I expected and came with a lovely side salad and some rather marvellous homemade chutney. The owner popped over to our table later to check everything was OK and I asked about the chutney, telling him it was particularly good. Later, when I went back into the main deli to pay, the owner looked slightly shy as he thrust a carrier bag at me and said gruffly that it contained a gift for me (I hadn’t mentioned anything about it being a celebratory weekend). Inside was a portion of that wonderful chutney! Our bill was £20, which was well worth the quality of our meal and drinks.

Woods Brasserie
We’d originally booked for the previous night but a migraine on my part had put paid to that plan. We did call in to cancel the booking before heading home and they were very gracious in squeezing us the next night instead, even though they were full. It meant we were seated upstairs by a large group table, though they weren’t too loud or disruptive and we had a view out over the bay from the window. During our meal we were looked after by friendly and professional staff who checked regularly that we were OK for drinks etc. My starter of scallops, confit of pork belly and cauliflower puree was absolutely out of this world. Pete even asked me if they’d given me a vibrating chair, so rapturous was my response! The scallop was sweet and soft, the generous piece of pork belly was so soft it melted in the mouth but was topped by skin that was at the same time crunch and chewy; just perfect. I could have eaten the same thing as starter, main and dessert but as I’d already ordered a salmon dish it was too late to switch! My main was a fillet of salmon on top of wilted spinach within a pool of shellfish chowder. Clams, mussels and root vegetables sat in a thin white soup. On top of the salmon was a langoustine, it’s beady eyes watching me as I ate! Pete had a spiced carrot and coriander soup followed by a very nice battered fish and chips with a subtly minted pea puree. Yes, Harry Ramsden’s was just next-door but I’ll bet this was far, far nicer. For dessert I had a fabulous Eton Mess, very good cream with robustly flavoured strawberries and raspberries and crunchy meringue. Pete had a rhubarb crème brulee which he deemed excellent. Both the service and food were excellent and I’d happily recommend Woods to anyone looking for good brasserie cuisine in an elegant venue.