Monday, 2 July 2012

Summer Country Fair and Food Festival, Fonmon Castle

The weekend (June 30/July 1) saw the first Summer Country Fair and Food Festival at Fonmon Castle, in the Vale of Glamorgan. We went along before the crowds to see what was on offer (admission £6).

Fonmon Castle is one of the few mediaeval castles still lived in as a home, according to their brochure. It’s a homely sort of place, with Georgian interiors and pretty gardens, and a popular location for weddings. The Library was the location for the chef demonstrations.

We went to see Mr G (aka George Ikamba), owner and one of the cooks at Mr G’s Soul Kitchen in Bute Street, cook his Jamaican Jerk Chicken. His restaurant specializes in Caribbean cuisine; Jerk Chicken is one of their most popular dishes. Mr G put on some Bob Marley and got down to business. His Jerk Chicken marinade contains spring onions, red onion, pimento berries (allspice), ginger, bay leaf, thyme, ground nutmeg, a red scotch bonnet chilli (with seeds), salt and pepper, juice squeezed from a lime, orange juice, dark soy sauce, vegetable oil and rum. (A recipe was given in a recent newspaper article - see link below). All the ingredients are blended, before pouring over chicken legs as a marinade. The secret here is to peel the skin back and make deep incisions into the meat, massage the marinade into the chicken, and fold the skin back into place. Mr G had some chicken that had marinaded for 24 hours, which he fried up for us. It was the spiciest and most succulent jerk chicken I’ve ever tasted. The jerk sauce can also be used on other meats, fish and vegetables.

In another chef demonstration, Mint and Mustard were showcasing one of their fish curries (we’ll catch up with Mint and Mustard in a future post). There were also wine tastings, and presentations on cider and tea.

Cream teas were being served at the castle; we had coffee with slices of cake. We also took a pleasant walk around the gardens, including the extensive kitchen garden.

There were two marquees devoted to food and drink in the large field (also the site of The Vale of Glamorgan Show later in the year), along with a range of stand-alone stalls and vans, a “Champagne marquee” with live music, and a craft fair marquee.

We bought cheese from three different stalls. From Caws Cenarth: Cennin Cenarth (made with leeks and white wine), Caws Cryf, and Golden Caws; the latter a semi-soft cheese that we will bake. Snowdonia Cheese had an interesting range of flavours, including mild cheddar with chocolate chips. The milk chocolate had a similar texture to the creamy cheese, but I remain to be convinced on this one. I bought one of my favourites from Snowdonia instead: Smoked Cheddar. Another stall was selling two very distinctive cheddars from nearby dairies in Somerset, both of which have been making cheddar for at least 100 years. Worthy Farm Mature Cheddar (Shepton Mallet) was rich and smooth, though we opted for the harder and stronger Green’s Organic Cheddar (from near Glastonbury).

Vegetarians were well served at this Food Festival. The Ethical Chef was cooking up halloumi, mushrooms and courgettes for burgers. Meanwhile, we stocked up for a couple of dinners at The Parsnipship: Thai Chickpea Cake; Glamorgan Crumble; Beetroot, Sesame Seed and Cumin Bombe; Brie, Pea, Lemon and Nettle Pasty Pie; and Roasted Butternut and Herb Polenta.

Next door to The Parsnipship was food of a very different complexion. Chipstix are a new catering van concept, whereby potatoes are cut into spirals in a special machine, spread along a stick and seasoned with one of a range of flavours from a jar, and then deep-fried. Hot, but cooling quickly, and somewhat gimmicky. The Gloucestershire-based company is looking to expand, with their Chinese-imported Caterpods™ expected to be at many festivals this summer. The company is looking for operators. They boast “huge gross profit potential,” not surprising as one medium-sized potato can be sold for up to £3 (£2.50 at this show).

There were three small breweries among the stallholders. A pint of draught Gold Beacons from Brecon Brewing slipped down nicely; a bitter for those who like their bitter bitter. Untapped and Vale of Glamorgan Brewery were also selling their bottled ales.

There was some fine-looking meat from Penlan Uchaf Gardens in Pembrokeshire, where Longhorn cattle graze. Eric Smith the butcher from Llantwit Major was selling home-made sausages in front of his distinctive grass-covered van (the grass is artificial, by the way, though the sausages are the real deal).

The full range of exhibitors can be found on the Welsh Country Fairs website. We bought some sourdough bread from Tortoise Bakery and went home to eat some bread-and-cheese.

The Food Festival calendar in South Wales is fairly crowded, but most events are in the late summer/autumn. Welsh Country Fair organizer Kim Dowdell has opted for an early summer gap in the market, while giving the non-food Country Fair elements (e.g., fashion, jewellery, wood and glass crafts, live music etc) equal billing. However, the food is definitely the main draw at this event. As we were leaving, the cars were queuing back across the bridge to get in. It looked like a big success for Fonmon Castle. With plenty of room to expand in the large field near the castle, I am sure this is an event that we’ll be seeing here again.

Selected links:

Welsh Country Fairs:

Fonmon Castle, Barry CF62 3ZN (01446 710206)

Mr G’s Soul Kitchen, 106 Bute Street, Cardiff Bay CF10 5AD (029 2132 8969):

Mr G’s Jerk Chicken recipe:

Caws Cenarth Cheese:


Brecon Brewing:

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