Abergavenny Food Festival, Abergavenny
When it comes to food, the Abergavenny Food Festival is a restaurant, a party, and a school all rolled into one. This year, the festival is bigger than ever and plans are under way to expand into new venues. This September 16th and 17th, we'll see more than 100 market stalls, demonstrations, master classes, discussions, a cheese and wine show, fish market, and tutored tastings - among other things.
Cooks, farmers, and producers will all be at the festival, and as in festivals past, talks will focus on ethical issues surrounding food production in Wales, following the trend toward wholesome living sparked by the True Taste Movement. Chef demos will be given across town – some at the picturesque Abergavenny Castle – by specialists in Indian, Eastern European, Italian, and Chinese home cooking. And of course some of our top cooks will be demonstrating the best of Welsh fare. Taking it all in will be Britain’s top food critics and writers, along with all manner of foodies and nibblers! Hands-on workshops, meanwhile, keep kids busy at the Food Academy.
Of course there’s more to Abergavenny and to Welsh cuisine than just this one festival – much, much more.
Welsh cuisine has been in the spotlight in the last few years. We’ve been rediscovering and updating the hearty dishes that have served us well for centuries, while the True Taste Movement has boosted production of local foods and given rise to food festivals across the country.
The True Taste Movement has combined with an interest in wholesome and organic meats and produce to re-energize our classic dishes. And modern interpretations of the Welsh “old foods” have been yielding delicious results in our gourmet cafes and world-class restaurants. The 2006 Michelin Guide has even awarded much-coveted stars to Ynyshir Hall, in Mid-Wales, and Plas Bodegroes, near Snowdonia. Their secret? The best of local ingredients: delicate mountain lamb, seafood from Cardigan Bay, wild salmon from nearby rivers, and just-picked veggies grown nearby.
Understandably, then, we’ve developed a fondness for food festivals, and we’ve got dozens happening throughout the year. There are celebrations of seafood, wild foods, and healthy foods, not to mention July’s “The Big Cheese” festival, a free, family oriented event held in Caerphilly, which boasts a fantastic food and cheese market in addition to a wide variety of entertainment.
It’s an appropriate time to get together, eat, and talk about eating. September is the end of the harvest season, and Welsh cupboards are full of colorful green and white leeks, beets, tomatoes, cabbage, and more kinds of potato than you knew existed. The very last of the raspberries, cherries, plums, and pears are ripening, while wild mushrooms and other interesting fungi are just getting started in wooded areas. Sheep and cows are plumped up from grazing the rich pastures of summer, Lamb has always been a delicacy in Wales, particularly the salt marsh lamb, which feeds in coastal marshlands for much of the year. The unique flavor of our salt marsh lamb has grown in popularity and is now a highly sought-after delicacy.
Our foods evolved with a view to satisfying the appetites of farmers, coal miners, fishermen, and other hardworking men and women. And so our dishes made good use of meats, seafood, potatoes, and oats, combining them with local vegetables to make flavorful and filling meals.
On top of that, we have a long tradition of following up dinner with a cheese board piled high with one or more of our many farmhouse cheeses. Some of our most renowned artisanal cheese makers are right in the Abergavenny area. The Southeast, in fact, is known for its cheese, with the town of Caerphilly, not far from Abergavenny, making its famous Caerphilly cheese for hundreds of years. But even if you don’t get out to the creameries, you can taste our many cheeses at the festival’s Wine and Cheese Show.
Just don’t get too full at the festival. Abergavenny is known as a culinary powerhouse not just because of the annual event: it also has some well-known restaurants, where highly skilled chefs work magic with high-caliber local ingredients. The Walnut Tree Inn, The Foxhunter, and Llansantffraed Court Restaurant are all popular. A number of Abergavenny’s chefs will be giving demonstrations at the festival – including one on the Mutton Renaissance by Matt Tebbutt of The Foxhunter! And some local restaurants create special menus for the festival season, too.
If at some point you find you need to stop eating, Abergavenny has plenty of other things to do. Located just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park, the town has spectacular views of the hills (beacons) and the Black Mountains. Inside the park you have your choice of walking, cycling, hang gliding, and tons of other outdoor activities. With so much scenery right near Abergavenny and roads winding through it all, car tours are also popular.
At the end of the day, Abergavenny also has excellent hotels and B&Bs. Many inns outside town are housed in old country homes, and there’s even one in the ruins of a 12th-century priory! Llansantffraed Court is a much-loved country house hotel near Abergavenny, set on 20 acres of parkland. Its celebrated restaurant has a daily-changing menu, and a cooking school opens here this fall. Abergavenny is well equipped for good eating, so indulge! Eat well, get to know the flavors of Wales and fall asleep happy and full!
Main image and center thumbnail, photo © Crown Copyright 2006
Left thumbnail photo © Britain on View/Crown Copyright 2006