A tasty Mon-mouthful: Monmouthshire Food Festival 2016

Caldicot Castle is a stunning setting for any occasion.  Despite the recent turn of cold weather, the sun still shone proudly for a few minutes as I drove through the estate and started to walk towards the castle gates.  Some classic 80s cheese was playing in the background, I could smell a fresh BBQ, and I could hear my stomach rumbling – this was a good day.

The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than Abergavenny, but this was to be expected due to the confined nature of the castle itself and the impressive reputation Abergavenny Food Festival itself holds.  There was still plenty to choose from here, although it seemed to be mostly jars, preservatives, sweet treats to take away with you rather things to eat right here and now – nonetheless impressive, of course.

What I did think was a nice bit of something different was that there was a stall dedicated to home delivery vegetable boxes; Riverford Organic Farmers, whose motto “Live Life on the Veg” I think is just brilliant.  Whilst not the cheapest way to get your weekly shopping, I love the fact that you can opt for a ‘100% UK’ veg box to support local produce – my affinity for which I have expressed previously yet, unfortunately, I struggle to do so in my own day-to-day life.  This is something I do intend to rectify, so maybe I’ll give Riverford‘s boxes a try.  Even more exciting is that you can ask for recipe boxes which deliver all the ingredients readily weighed out so that all you need to do is whack them all together and boom!  A lushious, nutritious meal is on your table.  What a dream.  Although, I have to be honest, as a big lover of cooking and baking I sometimes find half the fun in faffing around sorting out all my ingredients, only to realise halfway through I’ve forgotten something and must now improvise – which is where the magic in one’s own recipes really happens.

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Another interesting and unusual addition to the party was Kitchen Garden, a plant centre offering a wide variety of living herbs ranging from Chocolate Mint, to White Rosemary, to Sweet Camomile or even Vietnamese Coriander.  Imagine the possibilities!

My first taster of the day was a Goats Cheese and chutney pizza from Newport-based food van Flour’d Up.  This wood-fired traditional Napolitan pizza was a pleasure to eat (so much so that I didn’t get chance to take a photo before it was all gone…) and I have to say, the base was the perfect level of thin and crispy for my liking!  My only criticism would be the more cheese the merrier… but to be honest I was so hungry it was still amazing.  The customer service I couldn’t fault; they saw I was looking after a very hungover friend and brought it over to my table for me once ready.  Top effort guys, thank you!

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Flour’d Up and their mobile wood-fired pizza oven!

Another little wander around the stalls brought me (inevitably) towards the beers & ciders, where I settled on Brecon Brewing; a bottle of their limited edition Olicana IPA to be exact, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write.  At first it tastes like your usual British IPA, yet there’s a subtle after-taste that gives it that edge; sort of fruity, a little bit bitter, it’s hard to place but very enjoyable.  And noticeably cheaper than the likes of Brewdog, who’s Punk IPA I am a huge fan of, don’t get me wrong, but a bigger bottle for a smaller price is always a winner.  I’ll more-than-happily drink both again regardless.

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My smart-looking tipple: Olicana IPA

I turned around to find an old friend Chock Shop there to greet me; their spreads at food festivals continue to amaze and impress me!  Always so much choice and arranged so file_000-15tantalisingly, especially when the words “would you like that with chocolate sauce and cream?” are mentioned… I mean, who could say no?  This time I went for a plain chocolate brownie with a strawberry on top and, as much as I love banoffee, I preferred this to my last selection.  There was less of a smack in the face of sugar and more of the classic gooey, stodgy (in a good way) texture which I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of.  Aside from the fact that it smelled amazing, I also imagine this would be an absolute dream warm with ice cream – I’ll certainly try that next time.

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Another amazing spread from Chock Shop!

My sweet tooth didn’t stop there, however, leading me towards Shelly’s Foods in the top right corner.  Here I tried a taster cup of small chunks of millionaire shortbread drizzled with caramel sauce.  A very guilty pleasure but much appreciated after a busy week – I’m sure you all know the feeling – especially as once again there was fantastically friendly service.
file_003-3Above all, Monmouthshire Food Festival seemed to me to be one of the happiest places on earth this weekend.  Everyone who served you, stopped to speak to you about their products, or even just caught your eye in passing had a smile on their face and a genuine interest in you as a person, not just a customer.  It was lovely to feel a part of, even if just for a few hours.  This community-feel resonates with me personally as a country bumpkin and rural village girl at heart; a reminder of the true value of kindness and friendliness, no matter what else is going on in this crazy world.

On that slightly philosophical note, my food adventure for the day was complete.  I stood in awe for a while, gazing around at the castle itself which provided a brilliant backdrop for the whole thing.  Its enclosed and cosy nature enhanced and encapsulated that community feel.  I’d recommend Monmouthshire Food Festival as a nice little wander during a day out and about but perhaps not so much a whole day in itself, in my opinion, due to its limited size.  Still, I very much enjoyed my experience; Caldicot Castle certainly caught my eye as an ideal spot for a summer picnic sometime, maybe next year I’ll return!  For now though, as the days get colder and the nights get longer I eagerly await one of the best parts of the winter/festive season… Christmas Markets!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks to Juno Lounge for their hospitality whilst I posted this using their wifi (mine had run out at home) – I’m a big fan and promise I’ll write about you soon!

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