Well, it might not seem so, for most readers; as I suspect many equate the ‘Festive Season’ with the deep midwinter celebrations of Christmas & New Year, those brave attempts to lift us out of the dreary doldrums of dark days & stormy, bone-chilling weather.
However for us, it’s almost the opposite: as the Food Festival Season begins in earnest, as from today. Whilst so many dread the onset of winter (& admittedly months of driving rain, hail, snow & blow certainly aren’t a pleasant prospect for me, either) I’ve come to reluctantly agree with a local farming friend that nowadays, autumn has to be the best season: the frenetic activity which marks spring & summer is over; the hardship of deep snow & thick, slippery ice is yet to come; & in addition to the last breath of summer warmth there’s a certain briskness in the breeze to be observed, whilst striding the sunset hills & admiring the magnificent golden-bronze hues of the recumbant valley’s woodland.
Autumn is a brief breath-catching pause in the rhythm of the year; time for reflection & relaxation as well as one of preparation for the hardships ahead. During winter we batten down the hatches & grit our teeth against Nature’s fiercest challenges; only to be faced with the long hours of lambing & kidding when the first shy flowers of spring begin to bloom. And later in the season, when the sultry sun suggests her presence, we roll up our sleeves & work harder than ever: running not only a busy dairy farm but also an increasingly demanding & rapidly-growing business; with the production, deliveries, paperwork & general slog it all entails. Oh yes; we’ve certainly downshifted, all right….ahem.
Anyway: as I said, today’s the day for rolling up said sleeves & Getting On With The Serious Stuff. It’s the Llanwrtyd Wells Festival of Fine Food & Drink – Wales’ first food festival of the year & a popular start to the Gourmets’ summer season. Officially the smallest town in Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells is conversely also one of the most vibrant; famous not only for its superb food with some truly excellent restaurants (check out the Carlton & the Drovers, you won’t be disappointed) but also for its’ more off-the-wall activities such as the Bog Snorkelling Championship; the Beerfest Cycling Saturnalia; & a host of other unlikely-but-fantastic events, besides. So to participate in this much-hailed event was pleasure indeed!
After morning milking I left Tony to finish the chores; & was just about to set off when he mentioned he thought one of our ladies looked a little peaky. Sure enough, I agreed that she certainly was a little off-colour; & owing to the fact that she’d kidded some three weeks before along with certain other symptoms, suspected a dose of ketosis drench should sort the problem out. Experience has, however, taught me that goats loathe the stuff; & would literally rather die than agree to its’ administration. So, dressed in my best, I filled the dosing gun – & after a surprise tactical assault managed to get the first 70mls down the surprised caprine’s throat. Drawing up another 30mls I had to leave Tony to the second onslaught – for which said rapidly-recovering patient was readying herself to refuse – & hurry along the challenging cross-country route to this picturesque little town.
The delay had cost me dearly; as by the time I arrived the show was already underway. Thankfully Iwas met – & ably assisted – by our dear friend Lorraine, a fellow goat-keeper & confectioner who runs the well-known company Kid Me Not, producing delicious fudge, chocolate & smoothies using the milk from her 600-strong herd of goats.
No sooner had I set up the stall than business proved brisk, albeit when Tony arrived there was the typical lunchtime lull (not, ironically, what you’d expect at a food festival I suppose!). I was delighted to meet Duncan from the famous LaBelleRouge, who used to make artisan ice cream for Harrods with the milk from his herd of buffalo; but has now branched out into delicious, classical mozzarella. We had a fascinating chat about the best way to make ice cream & gelato; & I was delighted to learn that his methods & philosophy were very similar to ours – good to know that others share a passion for the art; & an appreciation for the technicalities which balance the perfect recipe.
Our stall was next to ‘Why Not Hot’ – a company selling a wide range of chilli products from the dried fruits themselves to chutneys, salsas & gorgeous plump bulbs of oak smoked garlic. Apart from the garlic all the products go from mild to “knock-yer-socks-off” hot; I especially love the Tangy Tomato Chutney & the Lemon & Lime Fire Chutney – really different & superb served over a juicy tuna steak. We came up with a reciprocal sales technique: if someone tasted a chilli which was too hot they sent them to us; & if we had customers complaining it was “too cold for ice cream” we’d give them a sample & then send them to the WNH crew! This tactic has since worked well at other shows we’ve attended, even though our stalls are seldom next to one another.
We met up with old friends & also made new ones; & it was especially wonderful to meet our colleagues across the way from Glanbrydan, who produce absolutely superb home-made pies, pasties etc. Sam is a fellow blogger & we’ve often convered via blog ‘chat’; but it was great to meet her in person at last. I wish them every success with their ever-expanding venture – they truly deserve it & I can’t recommend their delicious produce, highly enough.
But the highlight of the day for me was when the renowned Michelin-starred Welsh chef, Mary Ann Gilchrist, came over to sample our gelato. Unsurprisingly she first tasted the Madagascan Royal Bourbon Vanilla – the benchmark of a truly excellent ice cream. After a heartstopping few moments as she savoured taste, texture & mouthfeel, she declared it to be “sublime – an absolutely perfect vanilla”. We were bowled over – & then her appreciation that the Rich Chocolate was also “stunning”, truly made the day for me. To get such recognition from one of Wales’ most highly-respected gourmets is praise indeed; & she added that if she needs any dairy-free ice cream during the summer, ours will be the product of choice. Wow.
All-in-all it was a reasonably busy show; & although we unfortunately didn’t have the best ‘pitch’ in terms of ice cream, positioned as we were on the rear row of stalls rather than close to an entrance (which is where you ideally need to be), we certainly did well enough considering there was still quite a nip in the air. Roll on summer….!
At the end of the day we managed to pack up fairly quickly; but stayed behind to help fellow stallholders clear their goods away. Lorraine from Kid Me Not had given me a hand setting up even though it had meant leaving her own stall unattended, for a time; so we helped her & then anyone else who was either on their own or appeared to be struggling. There’s a real sense of camaraderie, at these events; everyone mucks in & helps one another as well as buying or bartering one anothers’ produce; it’s so heartening that there is such a sense of community & mutual support, not the ‘cut-throat’ world of wider business I was dreading. After saying our goodbyes we set off home for evening milking – although we did pause briefly to enjoy a drink & a chat together, overlooking the peaceful river at one of our favourite local(ish) hostelries, the attractive Crescelly Arms on the Cothi Bridge.
So, that’s the start of the Festive Season – let’s hope for a long, hot, busy summer so that by Christmas we’ll certainly be chuckling a relieved ‘Ho Ho Ho’.