What to do in Carmarthenshire on a wet & wild Sunday in ‘flaming June’? You could a lot worse than visit the National Botanical Gardens when there’s a Carmarthenshire food & drink fair on.
Walking into the Garden’s Dome, I took a tour, feasting my senses upon locally produced food, wine, & spirits; whilst noticing the abundance of talented artists, the entire experience was nothing short of astounding.
I believe its an ancient law that one must sample the wares of these treasures whether it be Turkish delight, honey and sesame toasted cashews, or various alcoholic beverages; one cannot simply observe the occasion, but join in wholeheartedly. Chatting with the actual makers. Purchasing directly in addition to making contacts for future purchases.
Upon my arrival the first trader I spotted was “Fruits of Eden’. This was an omen, for there was a lot temptation of the sugary kind inside. I digress, “Fruits of Eden’ are based in Five Roads and are growers and purveyors of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. They sell throughout the season, maintaining a presence at producers markets as well as from their own establishment. I succumbed to temptation in the form of a good sized carrier bag of fruit and some gorgeous asparagus. I can’t wait for their veg box scheme to start. For info they invite you to contact them via Facebook – Fruits of Eden Carmarthen or on 07917114222.
With the thirst for knowledge comes a physical thirst. Levicta Wines no less; a husband and wife team in Carmarthen, who work directly with the vineyards and not some large importer. This means the wines are slightly more expensive however they are most certainly not plonk. Sampling two Malbecs I soon realized these people know their business. A 2011 bottle is around the £22 mark. If you like a good fruity red then you’ll have spent your money wisely. (http://www.levictawines.com)
The next stall was probably the hardest to avoid, for MKS Food Distribution had all my ‘Waterloos’ in one place. A myriad of coated nuts, Turkish delights (yes plural), and a veritable feast of olives from around the world. Unfortunately having diabetes limited my sampling here. I did however try the cashews in garlic black pepper and sea salt and some olives, and they were delicious.
An eye opener for the uninitiated, Carmarthenshire produces it own gin. We call it “Jin” (its Welsh see!). I was introduced to Jin Talog at Christmas when I received a bottle as a gift. Anthony Rees & David Thomas produce by hand, a pleasant single botanical Juniper gin in the London Dry style, in small batches. It is without question the finest gin I have ever had. That was until today! Meeting the boys, we chatted away in Welsh about gin, processes, blogs, gin, the weather, how to serve gin, the colour of my shirt, gin – ok gin featured quite a lot in our conversation; & why not! When did you last have a chat with Gordon? To meet two very amiable, passionate people who actually make my favourite tipple, well its like meeting your heroes! I said the London Dry was the best I had tried until today; for I sampled their London Dry with Blackcurrant Leaf Jin. This is absolutely delicious. Gin can be slightly overpowering on the palate when sampling neat, when I tasted with Fever-Tree tonic, then the flavours shone through. I had made my second purchase of the day. In a similar vein to the delicious wines from Levicta, Jin Talog isn’t your everyday aperitif, but more a treat, a reward, a celebratory drink. Again, taking a mass distilled gin with a supermarket own brand tonic is enjoyable; however a premium gin needs the same when it comes to tonic.
Next stop on my odyssey was to an old acquaintance. ‘Tast Natur‘ (Natural taste) produce a range of ‘botanical syrups’. I don’t think anyone would mind if I used the old-fashioned term ‘cordials’. As I’ve said of tonic, a good drink deserves an equally good mixer. Harvested from a garden in Fairfach outside Llandeilo, yes I remembered following my first encounter with these simply lovely syrups 2 Christmases ago at Dinefwr Castle; I headed without hesitation for the Rhubarb. Last time we met I could only sample as there had been a run on the flavour. Today I managed to stock up ;).
With all this free booze… err (cough) samples on offer; my next visitation was the coffee shop for an Americano and a sandwich. Being mid-afternoon I couldn’t exactly call it breakfast. Yes, empty tummy, red wine, jin, more jin – you get the picture. It was time to sober up and do that favourite of pastimes – people watch, whilst planning my next visitations.
I have visited the gardens many times, usually inconnection with the day job; utilizing the corporate meeting facilities. Although picturesque, in those days, I found the place quite bleak, lacking visitors to enjoy the surroundings. I suppose it needed the sounds of the crowd, not just the country. Today, the place was alive with visitors, couples, friends, families, and of course, children. Everyone was enjoying in their own way. Children fascinated by running water, whilst older families investigated the foliage, and of course, those who’s sole mission was to try some speciality food and drink.
When I finally decided to put my wallet away, it was only after meeting the team and sampling the delicious pastes, “Case For Cooking” make. One of the excuses I often hear about home cooking is the terror caused by the spice rack. Knowing which spices & herbs to use, and their quantities. “Case for Cooking” to be fair, have removed that dilemma by preparing spice mixtures ready to be used with your own recipes. Having said that, each packet or pot has helpful instructions included. I sampled the Jalfrezi which was quite mild, all the taste but less of the heat. That was a definite scoop. Chatting away I discovered that their Korma is quite hot. Needless to say, it is events like this that bring out the best in us all. Opportunities to try and gain advice from the producers themselves; & of course, we as consumers, are giving valuable feedback.
We spend a 1/3 of our lives asleep, another 1/3 working, which only leaves 1/3 of our precious time for family & friends. I cannot think of a better way to spend that time than sharing a table, offering wholesome, healthy, locally sourced produce to those whom we love.
Arguably you have had to have been living on a distant planet not to notice the resurgence in the popularity of gin in the last 10 years or so. Did I mention, I like gin!
In addition, to the production of the pure spirit, the various flavoured gin liqueurs, there are the gin and tonic inspired flavours in baking & confectionery. Though encouraged to sample everything on their stall, I did try pink gin and tonic marshmallow which according their to business card was indeed “baked with love” by Karyss & Rachel Cook of PAPA-BEAR-BAKES. We did share a giggle and I clicked away as I learned of their business. Another quote from their business card simply says “Masters of Deliciousness” – I am guessing that is a ‘tongue in cheek’ reference to an academic prize. These ladies by far are more, “Doctors of Deliciousness’.
Another gin inspired offering I spied, came from Calon Cakes of Llansteffan. In her own words, Rhian Williams, Director & Cake Maker, says ” Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories.“
That Cherry Bakewell tart was a temptation that almost beat me, but no, sugar levels were preserved. The individual cupcakes are pieces of art in themselves.
As I mentioned earlier in amongst all the wonderful diverse foods that Carmarthenshire has to offer, there are artists and crafters beavering away making something beautiful with their hands.
Take for example Yoka Kilkelly from ‘Siramik‘. Based in the village of Alltwalis, just outside Carmarthen, who not only creates beautiful pottery but also teachers the craft.
She offers everything from attendance at parties & corporate events, to workshops & accommodation at her studio.
Further east in the county, a couple of miles outside, Ammanford, is Glanamman, where you will find “Coppertop Craft“. Alison Rees is a gifted illustrator, making breathtaking designs.
A regular headline is the death of the High Street, in favor of the ‘out of town’ retail park. Today I walked within a country park & found not only diversity but also the highest collection of Food Standards level 5 ratings.
And so the journey goes on, purveyors of chutneys, pickles, and the delightful Raspberry & Balsamic vinegar, speciality cake bakers, and sellers of specialist wool. Fudge by the case, and coffees locally roasted, all make for a diverse and quality cottage industrialized Carmarthenshire. Some products are geared for the tourist market, but there is still quite a remarkable amount of produce and marketing aimed at us, the consumers of Carmarthenshire.
Many thanks to all the wonderful Producers for their kindness during my meanderings.