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A Welsh Food Safari

A Welsh Food Safari
Tiffany Kaba: I'm walking from Caernarfon to Cardiff with a stop at Caerphilly. The journey will take me through a giant maze of maize created in the shape of a Welsh map.
 
Hendrewennol is a soft fruit and vegetable farm in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales; the cornfield maze is the brainchild of the farm’s owner Richard Arnold who designed it to attract children to come and play here all summer long while picking seasonal fruit and vegetables. The name Hendrewennol means ‘House of the Swallows’ and for over 30 years visitors have been able to pick a variety of produce from raspberries to gooseberries, tayberries to blackberries as well as broad beans, courgettes, garlic and onion. Once your baskets are full, you can head back to the barn and shop and taste an array of local biscotti, jams, fruit vinegars and homemade rhubarb ice cream.
 
Hendrewennol is the first stop on our Welsh Food Safari where we are guided by local culinary expert, Sian Bassett Roberts. Sian has long been banging the drum for Welsh food with her company Coginio (meaning cooking in Welsh) promoting Welsh food locally and internationally through cookery demonstrations, lectures and workshops.
 
From our base at the luxurious St David’s Hotel and Spa in Cardiff we plan to eat our way around South Wales over the next two days, starting with the impressive seven-course tasting menu at the hotel’s restaurant, Tempus at Tides. Its focus is on local produce and Welsh specialities such as Breconshire lamb and Snowdonia wild mushroom velouté, as well as an impressive array of oceanic-themed dishes reflecting the restaurant’s unique coastal location right on Cardiff Bay.
 
With barely enough time to digest our sumptuous dinner, it’s an early Saturday morning start to The Vale Resort in Glamorgan where Sian
A Welsh Food Safari
will be taking us through our paces in a Welsh cakes workshop. For those who manage not to singe their Welsh cakes, a delicious lunch of Cawl, laver soup and Welsh cheese awaits. Cawl is real comfort food and Sian makes hers from neck of lamb on the bone, carrots, onions, Pembridge potatoes and leeks, Wales’ national vegetable.  I can best compare it to a warming winter stew or a French ‘Pot au feu’.
 
For vegetarians, Wales’ signature ingredient is laver, a historically significant and utterly delicious cooked seaweed similar to the slimming Nori Japanese seaweed, which you can stir into scrambled eggs, serve with bacon and cockles for a traditional Welsh fry-up or use it to make laver bread. We try it in a starter of goat cheese and laver bread crostini, a great idea for a cocktail canapé. Next we have laver soup, similar to Cawl but without the lamb and with heaps more fresh vegetables. We sample some of the 100 artisan Welsh cheeses on offer including the brie-like Pearl Wen and the Dragon Mature cheddar from the South Caernarfon creameries.
 
No Welsh meal would be complete without our melt-in the mouth Welsh cakes and for once I manage to carefully follow the traditional recipe and cook them just right. The recipe usually demands sultanas but I have some orange peel and chocolate chips which I throw into the mixture to give it some extra flavour. Fresh off the griddle it doesn’t take long for them to disappear as each cake makes just one sweet mouthful.
 
To prove that Welsh wine is not just something you sprinkle on your chips, we visit Meadow View vineyard near Cowbridge in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan. This two-acre family-run vineyard provides stores in Wales with its delicate citrusy sparkling wine. We enjoy a glass or three of fresh ‘Gwin y Fro’ (wine of the Vale) before heading off on a tractor and trailer tour of Slade Organics Farm.
 
Nestled on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Welsh lambs, sheep, cattle and pigs graze cliff-top fields and clover-rich pastures alongside woodland valleys. Slade Farm is the antithesis of mass production farming and Peter and Polly Davies, the farm’s tenants, are adamant about the advantages of rearing animals organically to produce the best quality meat. They’re certainly doing something right having won a number of prestigious accolades. Our tour of the farm in the glorious sunshine is rounded off with tea and homemade lemon cake in the family’s beautiful farmhouse garden.
 
A country’s cuisine is naturally dependent upon its geography and for Wales its grassy slopes and mountainous terrain is fertile and diverse and today, Wales’ raw materials and rich produce have never more firmly been on the gastronomic map. Innovative chefs are more confidently using Welsh ingredients to tell a generational story and showcase their skills. Nowhere is this more evident than at the newly opened Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth, overlooking the Severn Estuary.
 
Sommerin is of Michelin-star calibre having earned and retained a star for seven years while at The Crown at Whitbrook. No doubt his first restaurant will soon earn him a second with outstanding dishes and rich ingredients on the seven-course ‘Clogwyn’ tasting menu.
 
Starting with cauliflower, wild mushroom thyme and truffle, we are taken through a pea, parmesan, sage and Serrano ham risotto followed by dewy Ox tongue with parsley and shallot. My favourite dish is the monkfish with broccoli, chickpea and coconut which is cooked to perfection, bringing out all the delicious and subtle flavours. For dessert, we taste a heavenly dark chocolate mousse with olive oil, rosemary and honeycomb. Sommerin is a huge proponent of Welsh produce and when we pay him a visit in the kitchen, he modestly credits his trusted local suppliers for bringing him the very best of each season’s staples.
 
As Sommerin and 30,000 fellow foodies gear up for the fêted Abergavenny Food Festival, we decide to see what’s on offer. Adorned with flying pigs, the town’s Victorian Market and Brewery Yard play host to chef demonstrations and over 200 exhibitors over the annual two-day event.
 
We sample delicacies from artisan cheese makers such as the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, cereals from the makers of Wye Valley Granola, slow-fermented bread at the Tortoise Bakery and of course the unmissable Welsh cakes at The Little Round Cake Company. My fabulously foodie weekend ended with me lugging a cargo-load of goodies from the festival onto the train. I now have enough fresh garlic cloves to last me till Christmas, award-winning cider from Gwynt Y Ddraig, Aberwen cheese from Friesian cows in the Snowdonian foothills and a couple of Coginio’s cookery DVDs to bring me an inch closer to the wonders of Welsh food in my kitchen back home.  
 
Welsh Food Safari
Spend the day sampling some of the food and drink on offer in the Vale of Glamorgan, enjoying the area’s beautiful scenery and hearing about the growers and farmers’ unique stories. From £85.00 per person – including coach travel, lunch, all visits and tasters. For further information on Welsh Food Tours, visit www.lovingwelshfood.uk
 
Rates at St David’s Hotel & Spa start from £99 per night based on two adults sharing on a bed and breakfast basis.
call+44 (0) 2920 454 045
For further information go to www.visitwales.com
 
 
 
 
 
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