Abergavenny celebrates top tastes of Welsh food

5 October 2001

Abergavenny celebrates top tastes of Welsh food

More than 10,000 people

attended the third, three-

day Abergavenny Food

Festival recently.

Wales correspondent

Robert Davies joins them

FARMER Chris Wardle, the chair of the festivals board, said the whole event would be a failure if it were not an unashamed celebration of the farm products of Wales and the Welsh Marches. And the lip-smacking smiles on the faces of those sampling the many and varied products indicated that the organisers had succeeded.

People – some from as far away as London, the midlands and north Wales – formed long queues to pay £2 to visit the Market Hall and outdoor farmers market. Here they found, among other products, cheese, wine, organic pork sausages, apple juice, cider, farm-made icecream, venison and emu burgers,

Top chef Raymond Blanc, however, told the audience for Any Culinary Questions that too many British consumers still failed to appreciate the superb quality of home-produced food.

A host of other international and local chefs tried to redress the situation by demonstrating how produce – ranging from lamb and beef fed on the "green, green grass of Wales" to speciality cheeses – could become mouth-watering simple or cordon bleu dishes.

Franco Taruschio and his wife Ann, who made the Walnut Tree Inn at nearby Llanddewi Skirrid a gourmet mecca, were among the festivals directors, so it was small wonder that it attracted top food sector names to talk and give cooking demonstrations.

But on the front line in the campaign were the 60 or so standholders. Mr Wardle, who produces beef and lamb at Upper Pant, Abergavenny, said the event built bridges between consumers and primary producers. If people were made aware that superb quality, fully traceable home-produced food was coming off farms, they would demand that supermarkets stocked it. "But for foot-and-mouth we would also be arranging farm walks to encourage food consumers to talk to farmers," he added.

Rosemary and Gordon Tudge, who produce outdoor-reared organic pork and free-range poultry at Richards Castle, Ludlow, could sell more if they had more land and could get hold of more rare breed weaners to finish. "Once people have tasted the products many are ready to pay a premium price for them," claimed Mr Tudge.

On the next stall Colin and Daphne Gardiner were convincing buyers that it was worth paying extra to drink pure apple juices made from specific varieties, rather than the bland supermarket products.

For Kevin and Julie Betts, who produce ostrich, emu and rhea meat at Five Trees, Trellech, the challenge was to overcome consumer conservatism. "It is happening, and there is an opportunity for other people like us who have a small amount of land to supply a growing market for exotic meats."

Philip and Mary Watkins were making their first foray into the direct marketing of organic potatoes and making a reasonable margin despite charging around one-third of the supermarket price.

However, a stall selling nothing attracted some of the largest crowds. Here, Paul Head, a born showman, demonstrated mech-anical apple peelers and corers, and then gave away the prepared fruit.

This allowed him to persuade people to taste and enjoy the fulsome flavour and crispness of British varieties that make some modern commercial apples seem like cotton wool.

Representing the educational charity Bees and Trees which celebrates the countryside and its wholesome products, Mr Heads efforts dovetailed neatly into the ethos of the festival.

Core business… Paul Head demonstrates a mechanical apple peeler and corer.

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