The Ark of Taste is SlowFood’s catalogue of disappearing local food culture. On board The Ark are breeds of domesticated animal, cultivated plants, and artisan food products and techniques, all in need of recognition and protection to prevent them from disappearing.
Many local products and traditional production methods have
suffered due to competition with cheaper, mass-produced, year-round-imported
food items, such as those mainly sold in supermarkets. Farmers, producers and
restaurant owners are fighting back by promoting local food systems based
on heritage breeds and varieties, sustainable and seasonal production, local food
sourcing and regional cuisine.
The Ark of Taste brings together small-scale, quality food
production from diverse cultures and traditions worldwide. It draws attention to the existence of an extraordinary heritage
of animal breeds, fruit and vegetable varieties, fish and seafood resources,
cheeses, breads, and numerous artisan products, all of which are at risk of extinction
within generations given present trends. Administered by the SlowFood
Foundation for Biodiversity, it invites everyone to take action to help protect
the items in The Ark. This can involve buying and consuming artisan products,
supporting their producers, or taking part in various campaigning initiatives.
The Ark of Taste currently (25 April 2015) has 2431
products on board from all around the world (see http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/ark).
For a taster of these, ‘The Food Programme’ on BBC Radio 4 is currently featuring
stories of some Ark of Taste products (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pdjh9).
On board The Ark are 83 products from the UK. These are mainly rare animal breeds
(21); artisan cheeses from specific localities (10); localised fish and shellfish
(10); fresh fruit and dried fruit products, including nuts (11); and vegetables
(9). Also included are cured meat products, cereals and flour, baked products, spirits,
pulses, seaweed (dulse) and honey. Further details of these 83 products are
given on the SlowFood UK website (http://www.slowfood.org.uk/ff-products/).
There are currently 5 Welsh products (6%) among the 83 UK
products in The Ark of Taste: a cheese, two animal breeds, a rare apple
variety, and a seafood. The following information on these products is mainly gleaned from the SlowFood UK website:
1. Artisan Caerphilly
Traditional Caerphilly is a hard, crumbly white cheese, with
a short maturation period, made using unpasteurised milk. It has long been
produced by hand, on small family-run farms, as a means of using and preserving
surplus milk. When sold in local markets, it was typically in the form of 5 or
10 lb truckles. From the 1830’s onwards, it became associated with Caerphilly
because of its popularity among the town’s mining community.
Today, it is in competition with a very different young
cheese product, also called Caerphilly, which is mass-produced using
pasteurised milk and sold more cheaply in supermarkets. Traditional Caerphilly
cheese is now produced by only a limited number of creameries in South Wales,
such as Caws Cenarth. A small quantity of aged Caerphilly is also available from
2. Badger Face Welsh
The Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep is a low-maintenance
Welsh mountain breed. It has two sub-types, both being relatively small and
hardy: the Torddu (black belly) and Torwen (white belly). This breed produces
milk, wool and high-quality meat having an excellent
flavour. Although a very old breed, it was first officially recognised in 1976,
when a small group of farmers in mid Wales, who were breeding the sheep, formed
the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society.
Pedigree flocks are relatively small and mostly kept by
smallholders for their unique characteristics. They are slow to mature. Small-scale producers, such as Hebsnbadgers and
Llwyn-on, are promoting it as a Slow Meat product.
3. Bardsey Island Apple
A medium-sized, sweet and juicy, pink eating apple with a
unique lemon aroma, the Bardsey Island Apple is a very rare variety. The mother
tree grows by a house built by Lord Newborough in the 1870’s on Bardsey Island,
where it is continually ‘pruned’ by salt-laden gales. The trees produced by grafting from it are
resilient and disease-resistant, requiring no chemical spraying.
The SlowFood UK website relates how, in 1998, ornithologist Andy
Clarke brought several apples from the tree to local fruit grower Ian Sturrock
for identification. He, in turn, took them to the National Fruit Collection in
Brogdale, where the Bardsey Island Apple was declared a new variety. The
variety is grown by Ian Sturrock & Sons of Bangor and other small-scale
producers in North Wales, where it has spearheaded a resurgence of interest in
old and almost extinct Welsh Varieties.
4. Pedigree Welsh Pig
The Welsh Pig was first referenced in the 1870’s, and the
Welsh Pig Society (formed 1922) played an important role in increasing numbers
and developing its commercial characteristics. The pig is white with lop ears,
a curly tail, and a long body. It is hardy and thrives in both indoor and
outdoor conditions. The breed has a traditional pork flavour, and produces
high-quality, well-developed hams, with a desirable ratio of meat (70%) to fat
(30%). Although it has characteristics that could be of valuable to the modern
pig industry, numbers have continued to decline due to competition with commercial
breeds. Small producers, such as Kilvrough Welsh Pigs on the Gower, rear Pedigree
Welsh Pig non-intensively.
5. Penclawdd Cockles
Penclawdd Cockles are removed from the low-tide sands of the
Burry Estuary, near Swansea, by pulling a flat cart (once by donkey, now
a tractor) with a metal scrape to expose them for hand-picking. A government
decree in 1965 only permits licensed gatherers to take cockles, within limited
quotas. They are sold at local markets,
either boiled and peeled or untreated. The cockle industry in Penclawdd has
suffered due to water pollution and mismanagement of stocks, though there has
been a recovery in recent years.
Many of the traditional products in The Ark of Taste have
helped shape local cuisine. Protecting these products helps preserve the recipes,
knowledge and history surrounding them, which may also be at risk of being
lost. This is certainly true of Penclawdd Cockles. ‘Welsh
breakfast’ is a traditional local breakfast that includes cockles fried in
bacon fat, laverbread and fried eggs, for instance, while the Swansea Cockle
Festival is celebrated every September.
In ‘The Taste of Britain’ (2006, HarperPress), Laura Mason
and Catherine Brown explored the traditional foods of Britain. The section on Wales
includes further information on Caerphilly Cheese, Welsh Mountain Sheep, Penclawdd
Cockles and other traditional foods closely identified with parts of Wales,
including Glamorgan Sausage, Laverbread, Sewin (sea trout), Welsh Black Cattle,
Aberffraw Cake, Welsh Cakes and Teisen Lap (fruit cake).
By this point, you will have realised that there is room in
The Ark of Taste for many more products of the type described above, from
countries all around the world, which would benefit from inclusion.
One of the many aims of the newly-established SlowFood South East
Wales group (see links below) is to research and identify further Welsh products
for potential inclusion in The Ark of Taste.
Previous posts on Slow Food in South East Wales: