Abergaveny Food Festival! Fringe benefits/Behind the fringe/Fringe on top by David Holman

This year’s Abergavenny Food Festival has embraced the fringe fully, with events happening in
town and further afield. As in any major festival, the fringe gets to the heart of local issues and
highlights local growers and businesses.

The sheer range of different events was breathtaking!

Chester’s Wine Merchants held several wine-tasting sessions, including ‘A different down under’, a talk by David Knott on Australian winemakers, ‘An introduction to natural wine’, featuring Nik Darlington of Red Squirrel Wine, and ‘Redefining the West- A modern take on Californian wine. Meanwhile, the Angel Bakery held three varied sessions. First was ‘Breaking bread’. This was a discussion of the finer details and wider implications of making real bread in the UK today. Next up was ‘Raw milk’, a talk about milk used in cheese making with Randolph Hodgson and dairy farmers Steve and Sarah Fletcher of New Hunt House Farm, Herefordshire. Lastly came ‘Seasonal Plant and Real Dairy Ice Cream Making with La Grotta Ices & Fern Verrow’, a demonstration of some simple tricks to making vibrant, seasonal plant and real dairy ice creams.

One of the sponsors of the festival, Chase Distillery was offering tours of the premises from Wednesday 12 th Sep. until Saturday 15 th Sep. A unique tour and tasting experience that unlocked some of the secrets and skills that go into creating the award-winning range of premium Chase spirits.

The fringe has now extended to Monmouth, where Cyrus Todiwala taught his signature Asian fusion style at The Chef’s Room at Bridges Centre in Drybridge House.

One of the most thought- provoking events came on Friday 14 th at St. Mary’s Church when Just Food  talked about ‘Food, Poverty and Power’. They addressed the issues of the 2,000 plus food banks in the UK which provide short term emergency aid every week. In Wales alone, 43,509 food parcels were distributed between April and November 2017. A real opportunity to reflect on ‘down to earth’ food issues.

Now in its eighth year, Severn and Wye Smokery released approximately 20,000 eels at Llangorse Lake as part of its eel restocking programme. It is estimated that since starting in 2010, Severn & Wye have restocked British waters with over 500,000 eels and engaged with over 10,000 school children.

In Abergavenny Library, ‘Storyteller’s Soup’ told stories about food from around the world to share around the meal table!

Running from Wednesday 12 th Sep. until Wednesday 19 th Sep. was ‘Uprooted, Overlooked, Ignored’, which raised awareness of the more than 40 million people uprooted by conflict or natural disaster, unwilling or unable to cross a border. They are largely ignored by the international community and denied official protection afforded to refugees. If we knew their names, it would take us well over a year to read them aloud.

White Castle Vineyard in Llanvetherine was the setting for a conducted vineyard tour which lasted approximately 45 minutes and allowed time for questions and answers. Talking topics included, from early beginnings, planting, grape quantities, varieties, yields. Rachel Watson, meanwhile demonstrated how to mix and knead her secret pizza dough recipe, to make pizzas ready to be baked in the searing heat of the wood fired oven from Orchard House in Abergavenny.

One of the definite highlights of the fringe was the Syrian Street food event in Abergavenny Community Centre on Thursday 13th Sep. organised by Lindsay Wright from the Abergavenny Town of Sanctuary group. Local Syrian families cooked food from Syria such as falafels, humous, and tabouleh. There was a full house and great atmosphere. We are very fortunate to have these families in Abergavenny who are making an impact in the town by giving people the opportunity to taste their delicious food. I was very impressed with the different flavours used to create some tasty dishes. After the meal, the dancing commenced and before long the dance floor was full.

I asked Lindsay Wright what difference this event made to the families. She said, ‘I am very grateful that this group is involved in the fringe festival as part of the wider food festival. It means a great deal to these families to be part of the fabric of Abergavenny society’. The Ceramic Maker’s market ran throughout the festival, in The Chapel in Market Street. The standard of work was exceptional and was hand crafted by professional artists who have been perfecting their practice over many years. A different and very fascinating event that once again adds to the richness of the fringe. Saturday morning seemed like a perfect chance to try a breakfast made completely with food sourced from within the county of Monmouthshire. I arrived at the Abergavenny Community Centre with Chief Chinamhora from Zimbabwe and managed to get a seat. We then ordered our food, and both went for the vegetable frittata. Other plates were piled with eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, toast and black pudding. The apple juice was superb! The event sold out days before and over a period of three hours people came and went having sampled some wonderful food. Pam Mason, who organised the event to support the Community Centre was delighted with the response and said,’ The feedback from people near and far was good. People from away enjoyed chatting to people who live locally. And diners loved the local produce and the idea of a local breakfast. I wrote the other day that food is about relationships. In the case of this breakfast, about relationships between producers, between producers and people who came to eat, between those who worked hard to make this event a success, including our local print shop and Monmouthshire County Council’s local photographer, between people who came and chatted round the tables. I hope that indeed some great relationships were forged around the Monmouthshire Breakfast. That’s what food should be about across the globe. ‘Now in it’s 7th year, the March for Africa started out from the Methodist Church in Castle Street on Saturday at 1pm. The march is organised by Martha Musonza Holman from local charity- love Zimbabwe and aims to highlight injustices and problems in food sustainability in the developing world. Martha said, ‘We are so pleased that the food festival embraces this march and understands that whilst people are enjoying a great festival, it is important to also think about those who are less fortunate. in what must surely be the most colourful event of the festival, children from Llantilio Pertholey Primary School, and Ysgol Gymraeg Y Fenni set off around the town dressed in African costumes and vivid animal face paints! before the march started, speeches were made by Nick Ramsay AM, Chief Chinamhora from Zimbabwe and Councillor Teslin Davies, Mayor of
Abergavenny. The procession weaved its way to the castle, where the children, under the musical direction of Simon Oram sang a selection of appropriate African songs. After the castle, the parade visited the Angel Hotel who kindly allowed the children into the guest area to entertain visitors to the festival. Next stop was the lower brewery yard where once again the children sang some well received songs. Chief Chinamhora also spoke about the need to think about the food shortages in less well developed countries. Welcome refreshments, provided by the food festival were then served before the final leg which ended up back at the Methodist Church who kindly provided facilities for the children to gather and change, as well as more much needed orange squash! I asked festival CEO, Aine Morris how important was the fringe within the festival? She replied, ‘It is an essential and integral part of the festival. Abergavenny is fortunate to have such a great network of local groups who are committed to food issues both locally and internationally. It is essential to have community involvement in the festival whereby everyone is represented. We are hopefully creating a lasting impact on local and international food issues that will continue long after we have gone!’.