I was invited by Food and Drink wales to spend three days travelling around and getting to know Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons. This was an unpaid press trip but I was expected to blog about our experiences.
As you probably know already if you follow me on instagram or twitter, we recently spent three days travelling around Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons on what can only be described as an epic food fuelled road trip.
With St David’s day just around the corner, were invited to take this road trip by Food and Drink Wales to discover more about all that their country has to offer when it comes to food and drink. St David is the patron saint of Wales and 1st March has been celebrated with the feast of St David since the 12th century – sounds good right?
So, without further ado – let’s get started with this, the first post in a four part series. Today I’m shining some light on some of the best Welsh food and drink producers around.
Buckle up, and don’t read hungry!
Black Mountains Smokery
This family run business on the outskirts of Crickhowell has been producing award winning smoked fish, meat and cheese for over 20 years. We were very lucky to get a look behind the scenes into how they smoke their products before tucking into plenty of samples.
The thing that struck me most was that even at their busiest period in the run up to Christmas, everything is prepared, sliced and packed by hand. They source all of their ingredients sustainably and use a traditional brine and oak smoke technique. As well as their cold smokers which the use for salmon and trout, they have two hot smokers for chicken and duck. I can’t even tell you how wonderful it smelt!
We were lucky to try a range of their products and honestly, it was difficult to pick a favourite. The chicken and duck were wonderful – rich, smoky and moist. I can imagine them working perfectly in a salad or as part of a starter. We also tried a smoked cheese which packed a real punch and a glazed ham – perfect for the Christmas table! At the end of the day though, a favourite was indeed picked and it was, of course, their smoked salmon. With a smooth, firm texture (so different to supermarket smoked salmon which has sugar added to help preserve shelf life) the subtle oak smoked flavour coming through the Black Mountains Smokery salmon, it was just delicious.
You can buy Black Mountains Smokery products online or in their shop which is at: Leslie House, Elvicta Park, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1DF
If you go to Abergavenny Food Festival, you may well have seen or tried Trealy Farm before. Based very close to the town, they are producing an impressive range of charcuterie. They use a mix of modern and traditional curing, smoking and air-drying methods. As well as products you’d expect to see – salami, chorizo etc… they’re producing some really unusual (and hella tasty) stuff like lamb carpaccio and sobrasada.
On a cold, rainy day James welcomed us in with a cup of tea and a table full of samples to try. I loved everything I ate but the fennel salami and pancetta (which we ate raw) were my favourites. Following our tasting session, we headed into the production area to see how Trealy Farm create their delicious products. The thing which struck me was the science of it all. To get charcuterie right, you have to be aware, and in control of, humidity, temperature, cultures and especially the friendly mould cultures used to ferment the meat.
We spoke at length about the UK farming industry, something I’ve previously discussed with a mutual friend and local pig smallholder Martha Roberts on my podcast at the sauce. James has built a network of smallholders all over the UK for his meat supply, all of which is fair trade, free range and reared to the highest welfare standards. He also uses nothing artificial in any of his charcuterie and all this effort has led to him winning numerous awards and becoming a well known supplier to many Michelin and high quality restaurants all over the UK.
You can buy Trealy Farm Charcuterie online, at the farmers markets in Usk and Stroud plus they always have a stand at Abergavenny Food Festival. Or, buy from their premises directly here: Trealy Farm Charcuterie, Unit C6, Park Farm, Plough Rd, Goytre NP4 0AL
Whisky, from Wales? Yes! We were as surprised as you to hear that there is a distillery (Penderyn Whisky) making award winning single malts and spirits from their home in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. We were able to learn first hand with a tour and tasting session which incidentally, was run by a woman from the village next to mine in the East Midlands! What a small world! We took a taxi from our hotel in Crickhowell across the rainy windy moors to a large barn style building filled with pipes and bright copper stills.
Started by a group of friends in, Penderyn Whisky is currently the only whisky distilled and sold in Wales. They use natural spring water from the site and are the proud owners of a unique single pot copper-still which was designed by Dr David Faraday (descendent of the famous electro-magnetism scientist Michael Faraday) as part of a university research project. They also have two Scottish style lantern stills which, when up and running, will be used to create a whole new style of whisky.
Unlike most traditional distilleries, Penderyn Whisky focus on the flavour and not the age of their spirits. This is because their special single pot matures spirits quicker and also because they age their whisky in bourbon barrels. This usually takes between 5 and 7 years compared to 10, 15 and up with many Irish and Scottish whiskies. Breaking tradition is never easy and they’re one of the first distilleries in the world to label their whisky by flavour profile over age. Brave!
We tried a range of their whiskies and although I’m not a big drinker of spirits, there was one which I really enjoyed. The Penderyn Sherrywood is aged in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks which gives it a warm, fruity flavour. We were told that women do often prefer this one, perhaps because their master taster is female? Funnily enough, Dave preferred one of the other Penderyn range whiskies – the Madeira. Oh, and we also went home with a bottle of their rather yummy Merlyn Welsh cream liqueur which won the 2018 World Liqueur Awards for UK Cream Liqueur. Although that’s not saying a lot as they’ve won millions of awards for all their products!! These guys REALLY know their stuff.
Buy online or visit their shop and book a tour at: The Welsh Whisky Company, Penderyn Distillery, Pontpren, Penderyn, CF44 0SX
White Castle Vineyard
Another surprise right – a vineyard, producing award winning wines in… Wales? Yep!
Hidden down a country lane, near the village of Llanvetherine just outside of Abergavenny, White Castle Vineyard is nestled in rolling hills. It’s owned by Robb and Nicola who purchased the farm with the intention of retiring and having a quiet life. They renovated the beautiful 16th century croft barn on their property and then, after Nicola mentioned a few times that she quite fancied trying to grow a few vines as a hobby, they somehow ended up becoming viticulture experts and vineyard owners!
Their first vines were planted in 2009, with more added in 2010 and now, more being planned for 2019. Robb explained they grow several varieties of grape there. Pinot Noir, Regent, Rondo, Seyval Blanc, Phoenix and Siegerrebe. I hadn’t heard of a lot of these varieties and was interested to hear more. These are mostly Germanic hybrids which are bug resistant and grow well in cooler climates.
Not unlike James at Trealy Farm, Robb is something of a scientist now. He measures the soil’s pH and micronutrients to ensure they are right for growing and adjusts when needed. He also keeps an eye on the weather constantly. Apparently, his weather station is accurate enough that it could be used by the Met Office!
Ten years since they planted their first vines, Robb and Nicola are now very well known in Wales and beyond for their award winning wines at White Castle Vineyard. Robb is the chairman of the Welsh Vineyards Association (17 and growing!) and also acts as a mentor for other up and coming vineyards.
After a walk around the vineyard, we headed into the tasting room which reminded us a lot of the vineyards we visited in the Yarra Valley. We tried several wines and they were all fantastic.
One of my favourites was the 2017 Gwin Gwyn. It’s a crisp, dry white which is almost sauvignon blanc in its flavour profile. I loved its green, citrus flavour so much that we got a bottle to bring home! The 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve was another of our favourites. In fact we had a bottle that night at The Bell in Skenfrith (more of which later). We also tried their 2015 Sparkling Wine which has won several awards. It’s produced using the traditional méthod champenoise and bottle aged for 18 months. You’d be hard pressed to say that it was any less tasty than a French champagne! A perfect celebration drink!
Visit Robb and Nicola at their vineyard White Castle Vineyard, Llanvetherine, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 8RA or shop online!
Over that cold weekend in January, we were introduced to some amazing Welsh producers doing some interesting and unique things. What comes to mind when you think of Welsh food? Traditionally it might not have been wine, whisky, smoked salmon or salami but in future it should be. These proud, local family run businesses are brave, creative and innovative. We loved meeting every one of them, listening to their stories and trying their produce.
This is part one of a four part series exploring the food and drink of Wales. Keep an eye out for the next two coming soon!