I have recently returned from a culinary tour across South Wales, hosted by Food and Drink Wales. Myself and three other local Welsh bloggers (The Rare Welsh Bit, Munchies & Munchkins and Fly Drive Explore) were lucky enough to be invited to sample some outstanding Welsh produce and to learn a thing or two about Welsh food and drink.
Contrary to common belief, there is much more to Welsh produce than Welsh Cakes, Corned Beef Pie and Cawl. Whilst these will always be classic Welsh dishes, there are more and more artisan producers emerging in Wales who are challenging current perceptions and introducing new Welsh favourites. There is no question that Wales has earned its spot on the foodie map.
Furthermore, we as consumers are rightfully demanding more welsh produce on our shelves. As many as 80% of us are choosing to buy Welsh produce when available (according to Food and Drink Wales).
In this post I share some of the things I learnt about the wonderful food and drink all on our doorstep here in Wales.
The Seven Wonders of Welsh Food and Drink
One: There are over 30 vineyards and over 20 different grape varieties grown across Wales
A wine snob may initially turn their nose up at Welsh wine, but what would they know! Welsh wines are unquestionably making their mark. Did you know that Ancre Hills Estates’ 2008 vintage was voted best sparkling wine in the world in 2012? Or that wines from the local vale vineyard Glyndwr, are served at the House of Lords restaurant? Until recently, neither did I.
During our tour we got to visit and stay at not one, but two vineyards. The very charming and quaint Jabajak Vineyard in Llanbooidy, just outside Carmarthen and the very chic Llanerch Vineyard in the Vale of Glamorgan. Both vineyards were wonderful places to stay, but I’ll save the details for the next post. For now we’ll stay on the subject of the wine.
At Jabajaks we tasted its sparkling rosé and its crisp white called the White House of Wales, which had hints of elderflower and strawberry. Jabajak vineyard is relatively new to its wine making journey but with the passionate Amanda at the helm, it is definitely one to watch.
Llanerch vineyard has been producing wine since the 1980s. It has its own award winning label Cariad, which means sweetheart in Welsh. The Vineyard now harvests between 8-12 tonnes of grapes each year and produces around 10,000 bottles of wine. During dinner at the vineyard we tried both their sparkling and still white wines which were both superb. Their white was light and fruity, just perfect for the summer months.
During our stay we also got to sample some of the other wines across the region. A sparkling white from Llaethliw Vineyard was paired with some delicious bacon charcuterie from Trealey Farm. According to our wine connoisseur, the higher acidity and sparkling characteristics of the wine were perfect for cutting through the fattiness of the meat. He also suggested it would work really well with fish and chips, which sounds good to me.
A very tasty smooth white, Solaris from Montgomery Vineyard, made for a perfect pairing with a creamy goats cheese and a beef charcuterie. However, my outright favourite wine was a rich and ruby red, also from Montgomery Vineyard.
We were also treated to a taste of Wales first fortified wine – ‘1581’ from award winning Monmouthshire Vineyard White Castle. It’s name comes from a grade II listed Tudor barn at the vineyard. This wine was delicious, very fruity and similar in nature to Port. It made an excellent accompaniment to the local cheeses sampled.
I love wine and found the whole wine tasting incredibly interesting, but that in no way makes me a wine expert. To learn more about Welsh wines I would recommend going on the wine tour at Llanerch Vineyard which you can do for £12.00 a person. Many vineyards in the area also run wine tasting tours. During our wine tasting tour at Llanerch, we learnt all about the history of the vineyard and about the growing process and practices for wine. The biggest thing we learnt is that “a good wine is a good wine if you like it”. And you can’t argue with that.
Two: Caerphilly Cheese is exported worldwide and in early 2018 was awarded protected name status by the European Commission
There’s not many things that go with wine better than cheese, which brings us on nicely to the subject of Welsh cheese. Let me start by saying that the Welsh certainly know a thing or two about cheese. Our rolling hills and lush lands (thanks to our mild climate and the Welsh rain) provide the perfect grazing conditions. This leads to rich and flavourful milk which is ideal for cheese making.
Wales have been making cheese for centuries. Our oldest cheese, Caerphilly Cheese has been awarded protected name status, joining the ranks of Champagne and Parma Ham. It also joins as many as 15 other Welsh products with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status including Pembrokeshire Early potatoes and Welsh Lamb.
There is an abundance of artisan cheesemakers in Wales making excellent cheeses of all different types. It is no wonder that Welsh cheese is readily found in our supermarkets and delicatessens and is exported across the world as far as Australia.
Along the various cheeses we sampled, my favourites were a fantastically creamy Pants-Ys-Gawn goats cheese, a Golden Cenarth, a soft rind washed cheese similar to a Camembert and a pungent Perl Las blue cheese. Perl Las means ‘Blue Pearl’ in Welsh.
Three: Pembrokeshire earlies hit the shops within 24 hours of being picked
As part of our tour we got to meet local farmer Will Richards and his son Ed who grow Pembrokshire Earlies at Windmill Farm, which has been in their family for five generations.
Pembrokeshire earlies are small new potatoes which are usually available by late May. Also awarded PGI status, the potatoes are exclusively grown in Pembrokeshire where the rich and fertile red soil is perfect for growing them. Unlike Maris Pipers which can be held in stock for months, suppliers of Pembrokeshire earlies try and hit the shops within 24 hours to ensure their freshness.
Windmill farm use crop rotation as an effective means of improving soil fertility. They will first grow crops of potatoes followed by spring barley and then grow grass before coming full circle and growing potatoes again. Currently their farm has 60 acres of potatoes, 120 acres of spring barley and 20 acres for cauliflowers.
As Pembrokeshire earlies are so delicate they are usually picked by hand or fork to avoid damage from machinery. They also have to be a certain size. Any that are larger are grouped separately and sold as new potatoes. As they are so delicate you should be able to rub off the skin easily with your thumb.
Often you will find Pembrokeshire earlies still coated in soil to keep the potato intact. A top tip from Will was to “put the potatoes in a pot of soil when you get them home, as this will keep them fresh for longer.” He also suggested that the best way to serve them was to boil them gently and then serve with chopped fresh mint and plenty of salty welsh butter.
Look out for the brand Blas Y Tir, which translates to ‘Taste of the Land’ in the supermarkets. Windmill Farm provide their potatoes to Puffin Produce, a farmers cooperative, who provide the potatoes to most supermarkets under this brand.
While we were there we had a go at digging up some of our own potatoes which we could take home. I cooked mine in a summer chicken one pot with some Hallets Welsh cider. The nutty flavour of the potatoes is very distinctive and they were seriously good. It was so tasty I’ve added it to my recipes page.
Four: It’s the salty marsh land, sorrel and samphire which gives Salt Marsh Lamb its unique flavour
In North Gower, on a large salt marsh covering around around 4,000 acres of land, Gower Salt Marsh Lamb roam freely grazing on the pasture. The land consists of saltmarsh grasses, sorrel, samphire, thrift and sea lavender. All these combine to give the lamb its unique and special flavour.
Apparently, the salty water kills of a large number of bacterias, which means that the need to treat the lambs with chemicals is considerably reduced. The farmer cooked up a batch of Lamb for us and it was succulent and meltingly tender. The meat was darker and less fatty than mountain lamb and of course is also fully traceable.
After a tour of the farm building and shop we headed down to the marsh land to see for ourselves. The land here was indeed full of samphire. We picked some and tasted it, it was deliciously fresh and salty.
Five: Cwm Farm charcuterie has served its laverbread salami to Prince Charles and the Prime Minister Theresa May
On the final day of our tour we headed to Pontardawe to meet the very lovely Ruth who runs Cwm Farm Charcuterie with her husband Andrew.
Ruth and her husband have won several awards for their charcuterie products. Their awards include being overall winner for their Laverbread salami at the 2015 Farm Produce Awards. Cwm Farm was also runner up at the 2016 Great British Food Awards for their Nduja spread. Jon Torode said their Nduja spread would be ‘wonderful on toast and as an extra in eggs and pasta‘. I couldn’t agree more.
We also tried a brand new spreadable made with rosemary which was delicious. Interestingly enough, we tried this on toast as a cold spreadable and then had it warmed up. Whilst scrummy both ways, the flavour was even more enhanced when warm.
Ruth imported her drying chambers for her salami from Italy. Here some of her salamis hang taking 2 – 3 months to dry before they are ready. She explained that the drying process is all about the humidity and air flow. She doesn’t need to dip her products in mould like so many other producers which ensures a better quality.
Cwm Farms signature food and best seller is their laverbread salami. All of Cwm Farms products can be purchased via their on-line shop. You’ll also find Ruth selling pulled pork rolls at all the home Scarlets fixtures.
Six: There are an abundance of fantastic independent restaurants and eateries in Wales showcasing Welsh produce
Any Welsh Rugby fan will be familiar with the iconic Welsh Anthem ‘Feed Me Till I Want no More’. This was certainly the case for me on the trip. I was fed and then fed and fed again until I could eat no more. In all of the restaurants in which we ate, local Welsh produce featured heavily on the menu.
We first had a delicious five course seasonal menu prepared at Jabajaks Vineyard. Amanda forages for lots of the produce, making full use of berries, wild garlic, samphire and herbs. She is also an avid supporter of other local producers.
It was at Jabajaks where I had my first sampling of Nom Nom truffles, and trust me it won’t be my last.
At the Britannia Inn, in the Gower, I sampled their hefty Welsh Beef and Ale pie. This was one of the best, if not the best, steak pies I’ve ever tried. Rich thick gravy rammed with succulent beef topped with a buttery flaky pastry top with proper chips. It was also great to see plenty of other Welsh classics such as Cawl with local Salt Marsh Lamb and cockles and laverbread on their menu too.
The trend for local seasonal produce is not unique to the restaurants we tried during our tour. It is very much the case at many restaurants in Wales, which is great to see.
Seven: The hospitality is second to none and you will always be guaranteed a heartfelt Croeso Welsh Welcome
I honestly don’t think you could go anywhere else in the World and get as warm a welcome as you will from the Welsh. We’re a very chatty bunch and making people feel welcome is what we do. The hospitality we received throughout our tour was fantastic. From the friendly farmers, to the jovial bus and taxi drivers, to the artisan providers and the hotel proprietors, we received five star service from start to finish.
Finally a special thanks to Food & Drink Wales for inviting me on this culinary journey across South Wales. If you would like to help Wales showcase its food and drink, please share your findings of Welsh culinary delights using #ThisisWales on all Social Media Channels