Sunday, 7 June 2015

Slow Food South East Wales launches at St Fagans

The new Slow Food group for South East Wales (Slow Food Y De-Ddwyrain) launched in style at St Fagans yesterday (6 June), as the wider movement celebrated Slow Food Week (1-7 June).

Mark Richards, Director of Operations at National Museum Wales, welcomed everyone to the Slow Food marquee at St Fagans National History Museum (Cardiff). He noted the Museum’s research in preserving the memory of traditional Welsh food culture, exemplified by Minwel Tibbott’s role in collecting information about food from across Wales in the 1970s; the maintenance of rare animal breeds and heritage varieties (e.g. Welsh Mountain Sheep and Carlin peas) on the Museum’s farm; and how the new £26 million expansion of St Fagans will provide exhibition space for raising awareness about traditional Welsh food culture.

Slow Food South East Wales Chairperson Mark Adams spoke about the objectives of Slow Food, which include the Ark of Taste directory in support of disappearing regional foods, the promotion of small producers of foods traditional to their areas, and educating people about food production and cooking. Mark noted that the new Slow Food group was already starting activities to further a number of key Slow Food objectives.

Mark introduced Jane Hutt AM (below), the Assembly Member for the Vale of Glamorgan and Minister for Finance in the National Assembly government. She welcomed the launch of the fifth Welsh Slow Food group, saying it now gives people throughout Wales the opportunity to participate in a grassroots movement that promotes local and sustainable food production and provides a means of reaching politicians regarding local food issues. She noted several areas of Welsh Government policy that particularly coincide with the principles of Slow Food, such as the free breakfast schemes for schoolchildren (e.g. no extra sugar allowed), the Sustainable Food City initiative for Cardiff, the Well-being of Future Generations Act, and the Food Tourism Strategy Action Plan (Food Tourism being defined by the Welsh Assembly as “any activity that promotes a high-quality, distinctive, local and sustainable food experience…”). Jane Hutt concluded by commenting that, given the convergence of objectives, Wales should aim to become a Slow Food nation.

Geoff Andrews (below), author of ‘The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure’ (Pluto Press, 2008), talked about the origins and history of the Slow Food movement and how its once marginal ideas have become mainstream. Members of the Cardiff, Vale & Valleys Beekeepers talked us through some basic beekeeping, while Joanne Tarling of Love Food Hate Waste gave some useful tips about reducing food waste (e.g. using left-overs and getting portion sizes right), and how this can save you money (up to £60 a month). Liz Torbin of ViVino wines of Hirwaun talked about how the company imports wine from small Spanish producers who do not use pesticides or additives in wine production.

Carol Adams, Secretary of Slow Food South East Wales, gave an introduction to the Ark of Taste. This was followed by a presented on South Wales Mountain Sheep (also called Nelson South Wales Mountain Sheep) by Glyn Davies, Secretary for this livestock breed's association. One of the first projects of the new Slow Food group is to work to get the South Wales Mountain Sheep aboard the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Although ewes of this breed are popular as cross-breeding animals, only about 25 to 30 people are involved in keeping the breed pure. Financial support for this heritage breed was recently lost from a European scheme. Ark of Taste status could help in finding alternative means of support, so the breed can continue to be traditionally farmed in its area of origin.

Around 15 local small-scale food and drink producers from South East Wales, who embrace Slow Food principles, supported the launch, and their products helped to illustrate what the Slow Food movement is all about.

Penrhiw Farm is a family-run business that produces and sells organic Welsh meat, including lambs from South Wales Mountain Sheep and the pedigree Welsh Pig that is already included in the Ark of Taste.

Another Welsh Ark of Taste product, artisan Caerphilly Cheese could be found on the Penylan Pantry stall, alongside other cheeses produced by small-scale producers in the South East Wales area. Alongside them, the Boragouiner Bakery (Canton, Cardiff) had soda bread and sourdough loaves, made using Welsh heritage wheat varieties, as well as Halen Môn Welsh sea salt.

The Llantwit Major micro-brewery of Rolant Tomos and Rob Lilford (Tomos a Lilford) was representative of small-scale local beer production in the area. Coaltown coffee roasters import beans from small farms around the world. Dan Reed of Chilli of the Valley currently grows 88 varieties of chilli in a greenhouse near Merthyr Tydfil and produces a wide range of chilli sauces from them. To cool the tongue after sampling those, there was ice cream from Mari (Melin Iâ) of Penarth with innovative flavours, such as sweet fennel fudge. There were homemade jams, curds and chutneys made by Clare Williams of Penylan Preserves, and Hangfire had a range of BBQ sauces. Gluten-free pies could be snapped up from GP Uprising, raw chocolate products were available from Coco-Caravan, while Lia’s Kitchen was selling pies made using herbs from the Riverside Market Garden, an organisation that was promoting its vegetable box scheme at the event.

Nicola Lewis explained the 'reach4food directory', an initiative of the rural development programme in Bridgend, which is primarily aimed at cafes and the hospitality industry and lists local food producers and details about their produce.

With Children’s Activities, plus loud artillery bangs from the civil war re-enactment in the next field, and a wonderful atmosphere throughout the day, this was a very successful launch for Slow Food South East Wales. I’ll keep you posted as we plan our first projects, activities and other events.

Previous posts on Slow Food:
Welsh products in the Ark of Taste

Starting Slow Food South East Wales

 See also:
The pork at St Fagans

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Let’s Eat Insects: The Pestaurant visits Cardiff

This week (Wedn 3 June), the pop-up ‘Pestaurant’ arrived in Cardiff for the first time. Many insects were eaten by the curious shoppers on Queen Street, who learnt a bit about the benefits of entomophagy.

In a previous post (link below), I summarised some information on the widespread consumption of insects around the world, such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation data that shows over 2 billion people worldwide supplementing their diet with insects. It is only a novelty to eat insects in countries like the UK.

There are many benefits to consuming insects as a source of cheap protein (e.g. high protein content, low calorie food), particularly in terms of environmental impacts. For example, cattle require twelve times more feed to produce the same amount of protein as crickets, and they need way more water: 150g of beef needs 3,250 litre compared to about a pint for that amount of insect protein.

The pop-up Pestuarant is an initiative of Rentokil (“The Experts in Pest Control”). Their first Pestuarant sprang up in August 2013 in London, serving pigeon burgers as well as edible insects, such as curried crickets. They have popped-up in many places since. Cardiff’s Pestuarant was part of Rentokil’s ‘Global Pestaurant Day 2015', with around a dozen Pestuarants popping-up across the world.

Special guest at the Cardiff Pestaurant was Andrew Holcroft, founder and head chef of Grub Kitchen (“Eat insects – feed the world”). He is on a mission to promote insects as a sustainable foodstuff and to put insects on the menu in the UK. The Grub Kitchen will be opening later this year, just outside St David’s in Pembrokeshire, where it will be offering a full menu of insect dishes.

On Queen Street, Andrew served up ‘Cumin toasted crickets with wild garlic hummus’ canapes, which once you got past the initial hesitation were very good. I went back for more (photo below).

His other speciality on the day was ‘Cricket, Nutella and peanut butter cookies’. This protein-enriched cookie (5-10g protein) is made by replacing a proportion of the flour in the mix with ground cricket powder. The photo above is of Andrew serving up his cookies.

In the Grub Kitchen, Andrew is experimenting, and coming up with new edible insect dishes. So far, his signature dishes include Bug Burgers, Sago Worm Pad Thai Curry, and Cricket Kofta Kebabs. He says he is even thinking of doing a bit of insect molecular gastronomy. You never know, it could become a top foodie destination!

Andrew has to source human food grade insects from abroad, but he says he will be looking to get the proper certification to rear his own insects for the Grub Kitchen. His kitchen operates on ‘Dr Beynon's Bug Farm’, a science education and insect research centre.

Rentokil supplied a range of home-made snacks and novelty edible insect products sourced from the USA. ‘Salt & vinegar crickets’ were one of the better offerings, as the flavour enhanced a slight ‘prawny’ aftertaste (reminding you that this is not that far removed from eating crustaceans). The locusts and crickets worked reasonably well with Mexican spice and curry flavours, though I didn't rate the mealworms in any combination. Some of this would make great novelty party snack food. The plain roasted locusts and crickets were a bit bland.

Chocolate-dipped bugs, and scorpion lollipops and brittle, were at the far end of the insect as novelty food market, and were given away with Rentokil “I survived the Pestaurant challenge” badges. A little at odds with the Grub Kitchen’s promotion of edible insects as a serious food option, but it meant there was something here for everybody. Nearly everyone I saw had no problem tucking into the edible insects. I think that is a big change from the reaction such a stall would have received even a decade ago.

Introduction to eating insects:

Rentokil Pestaurant page:

Dr Benyon’s Bug Farm:

Grub Kitchen – coming soon!