Food Festivals are great fun and, quite rightly, big and very good news. Especially in this fabulous area in which we live, stuffed full as it is with great produce, makers and eateries. So don’t miss The Monmouthshire Food Festival on 20th to 21st May 2017 at Caldicot Castle. Monmouthshire has some outstanding producers and makers (many of which have featured in this magazine) and so The Monmouthshire Food Festival is definitely an unmissable food event. There’s a full programme of demonstrations, talks, tastings and lots of food and drink to try and buy.
The Chef’s Theatre always features many of the finest chefs from across Monmouthshire. They will showcase the finest food the county has to offer in dishes that show both flair and imagination, a positive treat for the taste buds. The Look and Learn Theatre features master classes, tutored tastings and demonstrations on a wide range of food and drinks. Meet the people who really know about the food on offer, the producers.
Bring the kids too. The Children’s Quarter will have lots of activities for our young foodies to enjoy with one or two surprises! Browse the Producers Market which will have stalls with many different products to try and buy. Come and taste beer brewed just a mile from the festival or take home locally made preserves made from foraged fruit.
This year the supported charity Guides Dogs for the Blind. Staff and dogs from the charity will be on hand offering visitors a chance to get up close to a guide dog or puppy and find out more about their vital work – and of course help out with a small donation. So don’t miss this event. A food event packed with great tasting food, top tips and help with “how to” sessions it’s going to be fab! All set in the glorious surroundings of Caldicot Castle and grounds.
How about a family picnic in the glorious Caldicot Castle Country Park with delicious food and drink from the food festival? So why not take an empty picnic basket with you and buy your picnic at the show, find yourself a great spot in the castel grounds and dine like Lords and Ladies?
We aren’t experts! Let’s get that cleared up straight away, but, and this is just our opinion, there are several key elements to running a cheese shop! First, one needs a shop and some cheese – self evidently and preferably, it should be very good cheese. Next, one needs a person – but not just any person! A person who truly knows about cheese (not gained from an in-house training course or gleaned via product notes) , but whose passion about cheese … well … over flows. There is a type of knowledge you only get when you hit the buffers and realise that you don’t know something. This spurs you on to investigate and to research and learn, as well as appreciate and test. This type of enlightenment is what we like to call “bicycle knowledge”. Bicycle knowledge, once obtained, never leaves you, it never grows old or out of date, it’s even immune from the cruel ravages of ages. Like great cheese itself, this knowledge matures.
Bankers in general, or anyone who “worked in the city”, often get a bad press. Gordon, Fred and the crew have a lot to answer for I’m sure! But that in no way speaks about the men and women, like you and I, whose occupation happened to be in the biggest and best financial centre in the world. However, there comes a time though when people want more.
How do you get “more”? – that’s the tough one.
Not for Tom Lewis, he just followed his dream and passion to one day own a deli. And now he does – The Marches Delicatessen – and it’s a very fine deli indeed, in a Welsh country town that really needs one.
“Having spent 6 years in London I was ready to come back to Wales. I was not really enjoying the job I was doing and lacked the drive to push on. I grew up near here and had been looking at opening my own delicatessen. An opportunity presented itself to move to Abergavenny – so I quit my job, moved back from London and opened The Marches”.
Our latest best friend, Tom Lewis – a very bright eyed and cheerful fella, already has some bicycle knowledge about cheese and seemingly there is nothing going to stop him from acquiring more. He is ever present in the shop and at the weekends his girlfriend and mum occasionally help out.
The obvious question of course….Why a cheese shop/deli?
“I’ve always been interested in it since childhood holidays in France. I really got into it whilst at university in Aberystwyth. There is an amazing delicatessen called Ultracomida, which first opened my eyes to some of the great Welsh produce being made. I knew I wanted to do something focusing on local produce and did not want to restrict it to Wales, so hence why I called it The Marches. I focus on produce from Wales, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire”.
Have you ever made cheese?
“Not yet, but there are plans to dabble in making some fresh cheese like ricotta or mozzarella. But having seen how much skill goes into making the cheeses we sell, I fear anything I make would turn out to be an embarrassment by comparison”.
Tom’s favourite cheese (anywhere) – “Mouldy Mabel is a beautiful creamy blue cheese from Carmarthen & made using Jersey Cows milk or Celtic Promise, a wash rind cheese which although pungent has a that taste is much more a subtle, smooth & buttery”.
Tom on the spot time – Favourite maker and why? “Harry & Sue Ryder of Wye Valley Cheese – not only is their cheese amazing, it is very local and they were the first people I visited when I started to meet the producers. Sitting with Harry and watching him make the cheese was a real privilege”.
Whilst we were chatting we met Jane, a lovely customer of Tom’s and a regular customer and Abergavenny resident. She popped in intrigued by the “cheese of the week” billboard outside offering Rachel (a Somerset goats cheese by Pete Humphries). Jane told us, “I just love this shop. When I walk in it makes me feel happy. Tom has transformed this place into somewhere you just want to walk into – it’s fantastic that someone would do this for our town. I can’t really say any more than that.” Except, Jane doesn’t like goats cheese, “It’s too strong!” – a woman whose opinion has been tainted by the plethora of goat’s cheese starters!
Tom says “I get lots of customers who decline even a tasting of anything – goaty. A bit like Jane their palates have been spoilt by mass produced goat’s cheese. It does generally have a tang to it, but some of them are very subtle indeed, not at all what you would expect. It can depend on how you are serving it or what you plan to drink with it. I’m always on hand to advise customers and let them try a little”
Tom stocks lots of great and tantalising deli products, but we really wanted to concentrate on the cheese today. We first met Tom, by luck, back in early December 2014 and he’d been in business for a little over 2 months (Sept 2014). Even then, despite the spartan premises, he had founded something special and had us hooked. For us it was cheese and what he was trying to do with Marches Deli. Well, it took us a few months to return – and in the meantime he seems to have worked wonders on all manner of tasty and different stock in the shop and the cheese counter was bursting with goodness!!
Everything looked fab, but we singled out a couple for tasting. The health and safety wallers will have you keep your cheese in the fridge , take it out, not put it down anywhere, but eat it straight from the wrapper whilst wearing gloves. But, we aren’t feeding anyone, we aren’t serving it and we absolve anyone in the council from blame – so, if it’s all the same to you, we adopted the French method of cheese management and put it on the passenger seat for the sunny drive home before leaving it out on the kitchen worktop for a few hours. We lived long enough to write this thankfully.
Wye Valley Mellow
The back story to this farmhouse maker is frankly incredible. The cheese lived up to the back story admirably. It has a nice thick crust that conceals a very creamy coloured, crumbly, but smooth tasting cheese which was just a delight. It has a milky cheesiness with a very pleasant slight hint of chewiness. We got the faint smell of exceedingly fresh shellfish, not fishy, just, well fresh! It’s very creamy to taste with a lovely tangy mature after-taste on the back of the palate. We’ll take some!
Crottin Affine – France
Cute rounded individual cheeses, with a nutty soft white crust from the cave-aging process. Beneath that is a yellow waxy layer and inside a white creamy cheese with a wonderful smell of a classic French camembert. This would be perfect with a soft fruity chutney and a glass of ice wine. Is this a good time to tell you that… it’s actually a Goats cheese – this is the one Jane!