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Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cheese, Caws, Cais

Cheese, Caws, Cais – no matter what language you use Cheeses of all varieties and from whatever country all have something to offer and all – being living things – are different.

In case you did not know Caws and Cais are the Welsh and Gaelic words for cheese, and entirely appropriate as they all came together at the Great British Cheese Festival in Cardiff. Held in the Castle Gounds the festival really does live up to the word Great, some of the finest cheesemakers around show their wares and compete for major awards.

I have always loved cheese, but I really got into a deeper understanding at Ballymaloe Cookery School. A cheese board was an integral part of lunch everyday – indeed my innovative use of fresh Mulberry Leaves from the fruit garden as a base layer for the range of cheeses got high praise from Darina Allen

Wednesdays were Theory Days but there was always a tasting from an Artisan Cheesemaker at the start of the day. Hearing about their cheeses and their production and maturing got my interest up massively. Oh yes and we had practical demonstrations of cheese making using the milk from the farm’s Jersey cow, and the chance to make cheddar style cheese was an integral part of the course.

Inevitably I developed a passion for Irish Artisan Cheeses. and there were a great range on show at Cardiff. There were also a huge range of English and Welsh Cheeses on show though I did not notice many from Scotland. Having hit the really good cheeses in the  cheese yard at the Abergavenny Food Festival fairly hard last week I did concentrate on Ireland ,but still tasted and purchased some brilliant offerings from the UK.

I was pleased to see a large number of Unpasteurised Milk cheeses, particularly as Raw Milk is under threat, the use of unpasteurised milk really does add a depth of flavour that treated milk cannot. Though the Irish Government is planning to end the sale of raw milk to the public they claim that its use in Cheese will not be affected. Over here the Food Safety Agency are also lobbying for a change but it is a lot less clear whether cheesemakers will be exempt.

Anyhoo, as I tasted my way around the main pavilion my bag began to fill with great Sparkenhoe,a Raw Milk Red Leicester just milk, rennet annatto (natural colouring) and a little salt. Made on the farm, Sparkenhoe is definitely the best Red Leicester I have tasted. The farm also makes a blue cheese which they cannot call Stilton as they are just outside the geographic area for DOP.

A Winterdale Shaw unpasteurised, cloth wrapped, cellar matured strong hard cheese from Kent followed rapidly as the rich taste teased my taste buds and awoke my underlying craving for strong cheese.

The brilliant Hafod, a strong West Wales cheese dear to Darina’s heart followed and a Smelly Teifi (think Stinking Bishop but with attitude) concluded my initial purchases.

At that point Mrs K reminded me that we were due in the “House of Commons Tent” for a tasting of Irish Artisan Cheeses so shopping ceased and education took over.

The session for about 20 of us was led by Jane Murphy of Ardsallagh Cheeses, an East Cork producer of Goat Cheese. I first came across Jane at Ballymaloe where she did one of the Wednesday sessions and gave us a tasting of her fresh and aged cheeses, two of which were on the tasting plate today. Jane also told us how she got started when; in a random act of kindness a travelling insurance salesman gave her an in-kid goat as the milk would help her children’s eczema.

Jane now milks about 1,000 goats from 3 farms and has most of her family working in the family business. Not bad for someone who was only given a goat for medicinal purposes.

Before Jane’s fresh and matured cheeses we tried a Killeen goat with fenugreek seeds. This had been voted the supreme champion cheese and tasting it you could see why. To accompany these cheeses we had a light Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon which showed why cheese and wine are natural partners.

The on to the washed rind tasters – accompanied by a Gwynt y Ddraig Cider. The first was a Milleens, the cheese which started the whole Irish Artisan revival. Milleens is recognised as the first entirely unique cheese type in Europe for over 200 years. Quite soft, with an extra taste delivered by the rind, the combination with cider again seemed natural.

The second was a Durrus again made in County Cork, probably the second cheese I fell in love with in Ireland. Again washed rind, again the rind gives a second flavour that rounds the cheese.

A discussion about rind washing ensued did producers use brine, wine, mead; vinegar etc. to create the mould that formed the rind over time?

This led us to discuss Gubbeen made by Giana Ferguson in Schull County Cork. (The Fergusons use the whey from their chesses to feed the pigs that become the excellent Gubbeen charcuterie.)

Giana doesn’t make cheese in January but was so worried that the spore that makes the distinctive rind might die during the layoff that she sent a sample for analysis so that, should the worst happen, she could locate a new supply of spore. Eventually the reply came that the spore had been analysed and was totally unique to Gubbeen. In fact it has now been named “Gubbeenensis”. As Jane joked “make cheese and name it yourself, and have a mould named after you as a bonus”.

Anyone spot the similarity with Sourdough bread where the yeasts in the air make each culture unique?

Finally with a citrus flavoured beer as the accompaniment we moved on to two iconic Irish Artisan Cheeses. Coolea, a rich Gouda style cheese “We can’t call it Gouda as our milk is too rich” which was at the forefront of the cheesemaking revival and Cashel Blue – possibly the best rounded blue cheese of all. Think young gorgonzola, but with a buttery creaminess and you are on the way. I love to bake a tart with Cashel Blue, Walnuts and sweated shallots!!

Tasting over back to the main pavilion to buy the cheeses that we had tasted and some others as well such as Crozier Blue, made by the cousins of the Grubb family who make Cashel but ewes milk instead and the absolutely outstanding Cais Dubh (black cheese named for its wax coating) from Fermoy. Only a little of this cheese is made each year so to find it in Cardiff was wonderful and a couple of hundred grams found its way into my bag. My only regret was that the superb hard cheeses Gabriel and Desmond (kind of Irish Parmesan) were not available at the show. Oh well, another reason to go back to Ireland.

The bag caused great hilarity to Jane and Siobhan Murphy when I bought from them. We have loads of sustainable shopping bags at home and randomly Mrs K had selected a Hurley's of Midleton bag. Jane sells in the Farmers Market outside Hurley's every Saturday and huge blow up photos of her can be found both inside and outside the store.

Eventually with arms extended several inches by the weight of cheese filling my shopper I left to plan menus and ensure that the cheeses would be used to their greatest advantage.

You understand why it is the GREAT British Cheese Festival when you go and I think it a shame that there are another 363 days before next year’s.

(Thanks to Janet for some of the photos)

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Saturday, 24 September 2011

New Voices in Food

New Voices in Food is a series of books published by Quadrille and featuring the up and coming writers of the moment.

At Abergavenny they had a master class featuring Niamh Shields who blogs as eatlikeagirl and James Ramsden founder of the Secret Supper Club.

Both were cooking from their new books Comfort and Spice by Niamh, and Small Adventures in Cooking by James.

I have an interest in both chefs; Niamh is a blogger that I follow whilst James is a Ballymaloe graduate, interestingly in the same class as Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Spices.

So, Sunday Morning saw me heading to the Ballroom of the Angel Hotel for the aforementioned master class.

Food and Wine go together naturally so it was a pleasure, and also a surprise, to find a glass of red being handed out on entry.

Both Chefs had already been busy, James running a pop-up restaurant in the Dewsall Yurt Village and Niamh baking for hours to ensure that we all had tasters!

The enthusiasm and infection of both is clear in their books, background pieces before recipes and short articles before sections lead you into not only the dish but the reason it is there. And so it was with the demo.

James started with Lamb Neck Fillets with a Chickpea and Harissa salad, which Mrs K said was delicious but, sadly, my allergy to Lamb meant that I could not taste. Using cheaper cuts of meat is one of James’ trademarks you get amazing value from his food. This particular recipe is “pretty speedy stuff” but you have to remember to remove the lamb from the fridge half an hour before cooking to ensure that your lamb is pink and soft not cold and tough!

Whilst James cooked this dish Niamh talked about the Blaa a roll from her native Waterford and one for which Protected Domain of Origin is being sought which will put them on a par with Parma Ham and Arbroath Smokies.

I have always liked these rolls and they are a highlight of breakfast once you have left the ferry at Rosslare, well breakfast in Waterford City is our norm before heading further west. They contain both butter and sugar because as Niamh said” we Irish like our butter and we are suckers for sweet stuff as well”. This doesn’t mean that Blaas are sweet; the sugar just helps activate the yeast. It was Blaas that had Niamh in the kitchen early and baking for us.

Whilst the Blaas went into the oven to bake James started his second speedy dish- Skate Cheeks with Pea Puree and Pea Shoots.

A speedy starter this can become a main course with the addition of a few potatoes. A good stock is made and then the Skate Cheeks are dropped in to quickly poach. Actually we had Cod Cheeks as there weren’t any Skate available but both work well and both are cheap – indeed if you can get fish heads from a fishmonger they are nearly or actually free. The pea puree is minted and spooned onto a plate before the fish is laid on top and a few pea shoots garnish the dish. Matthew Fort may not see the point of Pea Shoots, but I find them packed full of flavour and even easier than cooking peas!

Meanwhile Niamh had turned to making butter to accompany the Blaas. Simply churning double cream will bring out the buttery solids and leave buttermilk whey behind. Whilst churning may have taken hours of effort in the past a few minutes in a food mixer does the job these days. The butter is squeezed in fine muslin or cheesecloth to remove any additional moisture (and increase the time that you can use it) and a little salt added if desired. Niamh used the amazing Halen Mon Vanilla Salt which made a great accompaniment for the still steaming Blaas.

As we sat to taste/devour the foods on offer a second glass of wine arrived and a brief description from the suppliers and sponsors.

A great demo/master class and a brilliant advert for the relevant books from which the recipes were taken. Niamh and James may be ‘new voices in food’ but they will be around for a long time based on this event.

Demos, Demos, Demos

Chef Demonstrations are a key element in a food festival and Abergavenny has lots, too many in fact to get to them all.

Some free events in the Market Hall and some ticketed events as well.

This year you could have seen Angela Hartnett, Bryn Williams, Valentine Warner, Henry Harris, Bill Granger, and a host of others, had you possessed some kind of Tardis and were on the world’s strictest diet – no time to eat.

I concentrated on the Market Hall, not because it was free but because the chefs there were Local and Great.

I only managed two demos because the weekend just offers too much but what demos I did manage.

First up James Sommerin, the Michelin Starred Chef from the Crown at Whitebrook and the Crown at Celtic Manor. Just one of our Monmouthshire Star chefs.

James was a whizz with Lobster which just happens to be my favourite food of all time. Not for James the Rory O’Connell approach of gently heating the crustacean from cold in a pot of salted water so it “goes to sleep thinking it is in a rock pool on a particularly warm day”. Rory argues that the lobster slips into a coma and by the time the water is 40c (a shower temperature for you and I) it has died and can then be cooked off in boiling water.

James’ approach is faster and more dramatic. Straight in to the boiling water and a lid on to stop any attempt at escape!

Boiled to just done the lobster is broken apart and the meat extracted – save the shell for bisque.

Fried off again in a MaĆ®tre D butter then  plated with the bisque and some fresh leaves and served simply this is a dish for everyone and second only to my favourite method by equally starred Italian chef Alfonso Iaccarino who does his in tempura batter.

The other local chef that I wanted to see was Wes Harris (see earlier blog ‘Steer a course to the Charthouse’). Wes has run his own restaurant in the past and worked with most of our local stars before setting up at the Charthouse.

The dish he demonstrated was currently on the menu and used extremely local ingredients – a Venison Wellington. This used Roe Deer, local wild Mushrooms, a Chocolate Mustard and Kale. The venison was brushed with the mustard and placed on puff pastry with the Mushrooms (now converted to a duxelle with Butter, Thyme, Rosemary and Garlic) being placed on top before the blanched and shredded Kale was added. Wrapped in the pastry the Wellington went into the oven for 14 minutes and then rested 6 before being served.

Voted a huge hit by the audience, who scrambled for a tasting, Wes showed not only his considerable talents but also the terrific ingredients we have in Monmouthshire.

Two local chefs, two totally different dishes but a common link in quality.

Reason and Rants

One of the great things about Abergavenny, and something that sets it apart from other food festivals is the discussion that takes place throughout the weekend. Luckily this year I managed to get to two discussion sessions. One formal, the other decidedly not!

The formal session came at the end of Saturday in the Market Hall and was chaired by Sheila Dillon of Radio 4’s The Food Programme (Sunday 12:30) and was on Fear of Food. Why are we now so frightened of food? Why do we throw so much away because it has passed its ‘best before’ date? Are fats actually bad for you? Why can’t we get Raw Milk in shops?

The panel was Stephen Hook (organic Farmer and Raw Milk supplier) Roger Mortlock (Deputy Director of the Soil Association) Zoe Harcombe (writer) and Dr Victor Kurl (lecturer in food quality) who made opening speeches before the floor was opened to comment and question.

Apart from the interesting subject matter and contributions two things made this a must for me, firstly the opportunity to sit down for a while and secondly the free beer provided by Otley Brewers, which was refreshed regularly.

Some of the exhibitors were in the audience and asking pertinent questions such as “why are naturally fermented products seen as dangerous when they have been the traditional means of preserving for hundreds of years?” “Will a ban on Raw Milk mean the end of some cheese production?” Interestingly though the Irish Government intends banning sales of Raw Milk they have said that Raw Milk Cheese production will be safe!

My own minor contribution was a question about falling quality of food due to the dislocation of food production from locality as agro-business and multi-national retailing demanded bland product of uniform size and shape with a lengthy shelf life. This rated a “Good Question” from Shelia Dillon and some impassioned responses from the panel.

Only one audience contribution failed to get support from the panel, the suggestion that we should all adopt a vegan lifestyle to reduce carbon emissions and maximise efficiency of production.

The second session that I attended was one of the Rude Health Rants.

These are informal sessions in the grounds of the Castle where exhibitors and journalists, bloggers and food professionals are able to rant for five minutes on a subject of their choice.

Usually these are highly entertaining as well as having a serious core. Though I could not make the Saturday Session the one on Sunday lived up to its billing as great entertainment.

From the Director of Abergavenny Food Festival ranting about Food Festivals that are actually just big Markets to Why you should only use quality Gin when making Sloe Gin the combatants were opinionated and witty.

I am sorry that I missed Richard Berthinet on bread on Saturday but, having attended his bread making classes, I can imagine his Gallic rant about supermarket bread and the British obsession with freezing everything including bread.

Three of my favourite rants were by Arun Kapil on Spices, Cyrus Todiwallah on Curry and Niamh Shields (but more of her in another blog post).

Unintentional entertainment was provided by several “mature” men who lost their footing on a 60 degree slope leading to the bar and the audience was warmed by free samples of Sloe Gin.

Finally a rant that attacked everything, mums who have “never taken young Tristan to McDonalds” restaurants that apply a 10% service charge to large parties when they should offer a discount for bringing so many customers and er… foodies.

The serious and light hearted sides of the food world in one place, and one of the things that sets Abergavenny apart from the other food festivals.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Spice of Life

Saturday afternoon meant Arun Kapil’s demo and tutored tasting on Spices again in Trinity Hall. Arun is a spice guru who has appeared on Richard Corrigan’s Cookery School TV series and supplies top chefs like Richard and Mark Hix with bespoke spice blends though his main outlet is Farmer’s Markets.

We made sure that we were there early and well seated, just as well as the hall rapidly filled with a big and enthusiastic audience. Arun is very interactive and questions fired to the audience brought rewards of packs of spice for correct answers!

Arun gave us all an overview of spices and, like any other ingredient he stressed the importance of freshness to obtain the best results.  Large bags of aromatic spices were passed around and had everyone’s mouths watering and this before anything had been cooked, if the raw ingredients have that effect imagine the finished article.

OK, spices are by their very nature difficult to source locally but he goes direct to the farmer and imports only in useable quantities – little and often - to ensure prime condition. Compare this with the big commercial suppliers who buy when the market is favourable then import and warehouse until the seller’s market suits. Arun's commitment to supporting local business and marketing model have just won Green Saffron a sustainablility award!

Once released by the wholesalers the spices are packaged and again warehoused until the market or season makes them most profitable and then they sit on supermarket shelves. Those “fresh” spices with which you cook could be three years old by the time you buy them and positively geriatric by the time you use them.

Green Saffron Spices on the other hand are often only eight weeks from farm to use.

We also learned about spice combinations and the additional two tastes in Ayurvedic cooking, (Pungent and Astringent) and the importance of achieving a balance of elements in a dish.

Then on to the cooking! First up some Garam Masala cookies combining traditional western styles with an Indian twist. These were amazing and would probably work well with a supermarket spice blend though Arun’s made them something else! These were served with a Mulled Wine using his unique blend. Actually the Mulled Wine Mix is brilliant with Apple Juice as a non-alcoholic winter warmer so get some made up for Halloween and Fireworks night.

Then a soup - or more accurately, two soups in one. The bottom a warm potato soup, the top a courgette and green Cardamom, served chilled to give a contrast of hot and cold with a creamy richness and contrasting lively fresh taste

This is just one of the 10 recipes that have just been featured In Food and Wine Magazine in Ireland where Green Saffron are based. Arun has also been asked to submit on a regular basis.

Then on to the meats and whilst Arun did a rapid run through a Korma in real time the assistants handed Murgh Oudhi  (buttered Chicken) round  - the dish that he had the semi-finalists in Cookery School making. The Korma followed as soon as it was cooked and was devoured by all.

A question and answer session rounded the demo and such was the enthusiasm of the audience that the hall staff were asking us politely to leave so that the next  event could be set up. For those of you who missed the show and Arun’s spices GOOD NEWS he will be back for the Christmas show!!
if you cannot wait, and who can you can access Green Saffron's website and mail order business on line at  Youll also find a wealth of information about individual spices on the site so if you are serious about spice get there now.

The White Stuff

So here it was at last. Weeks of waiting, planning and hoping were about to end. Set up as a response to Foot and Mouth the 13th Abergavenny Food Festival was about to start.

The day began early with coffee for Arun Kapil the boss of the wonderful Green Saffron Spices who had travelled overnight from Ireland and who would be staying with us. Once he had revived his caffeine levels and dropped his bag in the room we set off for the festival.

The advantage of being a Speaker is reserved parking - but the most scary sort of security lay in wait at the entrance to the car park. Forget big burly goons with attitude we are speaking even worse - a 13 year old with a walkie-talkie and a mission. The kind of grilling that usually only happens in Thai Prisons to pharmaceutical entrepreneurs, and production of sufficient ID to enter GCHQ eventually allowed us to park.

Janet had gone before us and, entertainingly rang to ask where we were whilst standing at the bottom of a staircase which we had just climbed and were standing at the top.

Reunited with JT we went our separate ways, Arun to the Green room to prepare for his demo and ourselves to hurry to our first event.

The theme for the Market Hall this year was Fish and Kitchen Utensils and these hung from the rafters, not as spectacular as the chickens or flying chefs but a real statement of intent.

Our first stop was not, however the Market Hall but the Trinity Centre to take part in the world’s first blind tasting of Raw Milk.
There is a lot of controversy around Raw Milk at the moment with the Irish Government seeking to ban its sale and the Food Safety Agency in the UK looking to follow suit. The health benefits of drinking unpasteurised milk are well documented but the agribusiness interests are claiming it is as dangerous as bubonic plague or Ebola fever and seeking a ban. Apart from the impact on ordinary people the effect on the cheese industry would be devastating.
So here we were some 40 odd people including Valentine Warner and his toddler daughter about to sample a substance allegedly more dangerous than cocaine and without even a team of highly skilled epidemiologists or paramedics in place!!
First though a number of pasteurised milks to sample. Of these the un-homogenised milks proved far and away the most popular, having a genuinely richer taste and colour whilst the ultra-filtered Cravendale was soundly relegated to last place by the tasters.

Then Raw Milk time and we set about our samples with gusto.
Immediately the difference was clear. The milk was richer, creamier and just tasted good. A taste test revealed that everyone preferred the raw product to the pasteurised and/or homogenised stuff. The difference between a food and a product was clear.

To find out more abouth the benefits of Raw Milk follow this link  
Then on to butter, and a blind tasting of three butters. The Anchor came last and was bland in colour and taste compared with the yellow, rich and unctuous organic butters from Wales. We were asked to choose our favourite between the two organics and the results were incredibly close. The difference between them? One was salted and the other unsalted. But both were from Calon Wen a collective of 25 Welsh Farmers who have just set up their own dairy on the old Dairy Crest plant site in Whitland. This means that their Welsh Milk will be processed and bottled in Wales as opposed to all the other “Welsh Milks” which go to Solihull or the West Country for bottling before coming back and adding an unnecessary 400+ food miles.
Finally two creams to taste!! Valentine Warner’s toddler was happily sticking her finger into the pots and smiling at the taste so clearly her growth and development had not been affected by her exposure to the highly suspect raw milk, and she was still happy the following day as she toured the festival in style ensconced in her stroller.
A really difficult task to separate these two products. I love cream and these two offerings were at the peak of the cream maker’s art. One slightly thicker than the other, and almost a clotted cream consistency, but both to die for. Again the audience was hard pressed to tell them apart but one was slightly favoured. Turned out we preferred Jersey Cows to Guernseys.
So a good session where we learned about the benefits of raw milk consumption, how big business makes  money by homogenising and filtering milk – to use the cream content for other products and to extend shelf life – and how Anchor butter does not even come direct from New Zealand to the UK but goes via Scandinavia, and how to buy truly Welsh milk and dairy products.

Not a bad start to the weekend at all.

Friday, 16 September 2011

That film released

As of last night the film is out.

Monmouthshire county Council released edited highlights of the Foodie Road Trip on their corporate website and also on You Tube.

See it here
This is just a taster at around 9 minutes though the individual interviews at around 15 minutes each will be released later.
Interestingly Odin ,the Rottweiler, makes an appearnace in the Ty Mawr Organics Section - in audio only.
At present best heard on headphones but the techies are working on a better audio for speakers.
Many thanks to Helen Reynolds for her filming and editing skills and to all the local food heroes who contributed to the film. They gave their time for free and hopefully we have captired some of their enthusiasm on film.
Enjoy the video and see why Monmouthshire is a Food Destination.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tastes of things to Come

So what does a food blogger do in the run-up to the Abergavenny Food Festival? Obvious, he goes out to meet and interview some of the undoubted stars of the weekend, and they’re all local and all great.

Linking up with Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council’s Communication Team ensured that the resultant interviews would be aired on the Council website and using Helen’s immense range of Twitter followers the word would go far and wide.

Helen even added to the package by inviting another food blogger Rhian Jacobs to come with us and blog our foodie road trip. Now the only problem with Helen is a total lack of a sense of direction so the meandering through some of the quieter lanes of the very rural Monmouthshire would be a challenge to rival that of Livingstone or Magellan.

Four local heroes agreed to be guinea pigs for our first attempt at video blogging so, with a couple of camcorders and iPhones as backup we set off.

A lack of clear signage meant a minor detour before arriving at Trealy Farm Charcuterie’s production facility in Goytre.

 Despite an early morning email from James Swift advising us that the power was likely to be off all day, as the result of planned maintenance by SWALEC, we arrived to find that power had been restored after a very short outage. A cup of coffee allowed us time to sort a suitable background and set up the cameras before starting the interview.

When I say interview it was not exactly Paxman, more a chat covering a wide range of subjects, all related to Trealy Farm products. Amongst other things we covered the forthcoming Great taste Awards – congratulations yet again the Air Dried Hogget was another unique taste and success, Outstanding in the Field holding their only UK dinner on the farm, the advantages of producing in Monmouthshire and James’ forthcoming appearance at the food festival with Jose Pizzaro the Sherry and Cava guru to discuss tapas and accompaniments.

Armed with supplies of bacon, chorizo and boudin noir, all of which would be used in the cooking part of the blog, and stuffed with samples of charcuterie we moved on.

Navigational challenges were not an issue as we shot off to Ty Mawr Organics producers of great vegetables, if you are at the food festival they have a big stand in the main street – buy some of the freshest and tastiest veg around.

Our challenge was more physical than intellectual as we were greeted by a huge Rottweiler! “You get out and knock the door, I’ve got bare legs” is the strangest excuse for inaction I have ever heard, if a Rottweiler fancied your leg for lunch a light covering of denim was hardly going to put it off. Fortunately Phillip heard our arrival and sent the magnificently named Odin to lie down. “Don’t worry about him; it’s the Jack Russell that’ll have your ankles”.

With my colleagues anxiously looking around for stealth canines we made our way to the polytunnels and an array of tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and the seedlings of the winter crops and salads. Tasting the freshest young leaves, warm and powerful tomatoes set the gastric juices running again and the interview with Phillip was as entertaining as it was informative.

Next he piled us all into an old Range Rover and we bounced across fields to admire potatoes, cauliflower, beet and chard and to dig the freshest carrots, wipe them and eat raw to get carroty heavenly tastes.

Having taken up an hour or so of his time we thanked Phillip and left laden down with fresh veg that would be part of the cooking segments – If the film/blog crew hadn’t finished them with great smacking of lips and appreciative noises.

Obviously Rhian and Helen were ravenous and exposure to great food, even in its raw state, was sharpening their appetites so off to look for lunch.

We settled on the food hall in the Tithe Barn, one of the Food Festival venues and an important part of the fringe events in the run up. I have to recommend the locally sourced club sandwich and the smoked salmon and mushrooms on toast eagerly hogged down by my colleagues were obviously good as well.

Helen identified Richard the General Manager so an impromptu shoot ensued showcasing the amazing tapestry woven/knitted (?) by local enthusiasts and the role of the Tithe Barn in feeding the monks from the adjacent church. We also met the Church Warden who is also a director of the Food Festival and got some bonus footage of the interior of the church and its links to food. The Priory Centre is the venue for the Fish stalls and demos this year and the courtyard outside will host eating experiences for all piscatorial addicts.

Chef Wesley Harris at the Charthouse had agreed to an interview between services so we rocked up just as he cleared down after a busy lunch and before prepping the evening menu.

Wes has been there just over a year and has already been shortlisted as a Start Up business of the year as well as making waves on the food scene. Wes was one of the chefs who demoed in the Tithe Barn and will be in the Market Hall venue on Sunday at the food fest, having recently done a demo in the True taste Kitchen at the St Fagans Food Festival.

We discussed the importance of local and seasonal ingredients, keeping the menu manageable and relevant – he changes every six weeks or so and how to stand out in an area blessed with chefs such as Sean Hill, Steven Terry, James Summerin and Matt Tebbutt. To find the answer you’ll have to watch the video.

Finally we moved on to Llansantffraed Court a local hotel which this year was nominated in the Great Taste Awards – usually it is restaurants rather than Hotels which get this accolade.

Mike Morgan has run the hotel for 25 years and is a great supporter of local producers and businesses using some 70 or so to deliver a first class hotel experience. I attended a wedding there a couple of years ago and left very happy!

Mike led us to his pride and joy, a Walled Garden that they are just bringing back into life. Though only in its first season - Potatoes, Leeks, Sweetcorn, Chard, Courgettes and massive Squash were all on view. The walls were covered with Apple trees that will be cordoned and a small greenhouse was full of tomatoes. I dug fresh potatoes and Leeks and cut Sweetcorn all of which rapidly became a very seasonal Sweetcorn Soup.

The video interview was illuminating and I am hoping that the bit where I stood backwards onto an Asparagus plant (thus reducing the crop from 100 to 99) goes missing in the final edit!

Overall a truly great day out; with good and supportive colleagues and local food heroes who gave most generously of their time and knowledge. They really did show why Monmouthshire is a Food Destination. Many thanks to them and I hope that their enthusiasm shines through in the filming which will appear here soon.

For the blogger's eye view of the day visit   Thanks for the link Rhian