There’s more to South Wales than rolling valleys and rugby, dragons and daffodils. In fact, if you thought that Welsh food was just about laver bread, lamb and leeks, it’s time to think again. True, the region has a proud association with some of the staples of traditional Welsh cuisine, butdiscovered that here you can also find everything from artisan charcuterie to whiskey distilleries
Cardiff is home to one of the UK’s largest processors of nuts and nut products, Sunscoop. Over the last 20 years the company has built up an annual business worth an impressive £10 million, producing a range of own-brand nuts for major supermarkets as well as processing huge quantities of nuts for peanut butters, chocolate-coated nuts and branded breakfast cereals. A staggering 20 billion nuts are handled each year, a figure set to double by the end of the decade.
Sunscoop’s first branded range, athlete Colin Jackson’s signature collection of nut-based nutritional snacks, includes especially selected peanuts, cashews, pistachios, mixed nuts and raisins. Says Colin: “As an athlete, I have always been very focused on how food affects performance. I am passionate about naturally nutritious food and believe firmly in the importance of nuts in people’s daily diet.” The company has also been working with Liberation Foods on a Fairtrade nut range endorsed by another top celebrity, comedian and TV presenter Harry Hill. Although the raw ingredients for Harry’s Nuts! come from growers in developing countries, they are roasted, salted and packed in Cardiff. Says Harry, who will make no money from the venture himself: “I’m working with Liberation because all of its products are Fairtrade and the company is solely run to benefit the farmers and their families.”
Just a few miles north, in the small town of Llantrissant, the Serious Food Company has been producing the Simply Organic range for just over a decade. Simply Organic has become one of the leading providers of prepared organic food, specialising in fresh soups and ready meals, and available in supermarkets and high street food shops throughout the UK.
South Wales hosts a number of annual food and drink festivals, including the Abergavenny Food Festival, the British Cheese Awards (held in the grounds of Cardiff Castle) and the True Taste Awards, which celebrate quality, innovation and excellence in the Welsh food and drink industry. A partnership of two innovative Welsh companies struck gold twice in last year’s prestigious Great Taste Awards: ingredients specialist Beacon Foods and the Really Welsh Trading Company of Llantwit Major, near Cardiff collected gongs for their Cauliflower Cheese and their Leek and Potato Gratin in the Vegetarian Ready Meals category.
“The awards are fantastic news,” says Beacon Foods’ managing director Edward Gough. “We are thrilled that the judges were impressed because great attention to detail went into developing meals that are authentically Welsh – from the cauliflowers, leeks and potatoes to the Cadog cheese, milk and butter.”
Bringing a touch of the Med to Monmouth, Trealy Farm Charcuterie recently added to its impressive list of accolades by coming top in the True Taste Awards for the third year running. Producing a range of smoked and air-dried specialities – including superb Merguez sausages, chorizos, pancetta and salamis – Trealy Farm predominantly sources traditional breed, free-range pigs (primarily Gloucester Old Spot, Welsh and Saddleback) from its own land and other local farms. Other meats available include wild boar, venison, lamb and beef – also reared locally and free-ranging.
Vin Sullivan Foods Limited has been supplying hotels and restaurants for almost 50 years and is famed for introducing a number of once-innovative products to our menus, including iceberg lettuce, crocodile, bison and ostrich. Today more than 6000 lines are stocked – sourced mostly from small individual producers – a far cry from the company’s comparatively humble beginnings back in 1960 when it first traded as a small shop in Abergavenny. MD John Sullivan tells Essentially Catering: “We started out as fishmongers; my mother and I took over when my dad died in 1964 and by the early ’70s, reacting to demand, we were supplying restaurants and hotels.” John’s customer base is huge: as well as supplying The Crown at Whitebrook (one of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales) he also supplies businesses as far away as Barbados and St Vincent.
Pontypridd is home to Gwynt y Ddraig – Welsh for Dragon’s Breath – the largest producer of cider and perry in Wales. 2008 saw the company enjoying a staggering 196 per cent increase in sales as well as a clutch of awards including Gold in the Great Taste Awards for their Yarlington Mill single varietal cider and Champion Perry of Wales at the 2008 Welsh Perry and Cider Championships. “Gwynt y Ddraig is an excellent example of a Welsh company successfully competing in the highly competitive food and drink market,” says Tony Griffiths, head of the Welsh Assembly’s Food and Market Development Unit.
When we think whisky, we automatically imagine that the best distilleries are to be found in Scotland, yet South Wales has its own – nestled in the southern reaches of the beautiful Brecon National Park. The Penderyn distillery produces world class malts as well as vodka, gin and a fantastic cream liqueur, Merlyn, named after the mighty wizard of Wales, which has a wonderfully smooth, mellow flavour.
For a very good overview of Welsh produce, Colin Pressdee has written two highly informative books: Food Wales and Food Wales – a Second Helping. These provide a comprehensive guide of where to eat, where to stay and where to buy the best local, seasonal produce. Available from Amazon.
We can’t leave Wales without a word about lamb. Sheep rearing is an age-old tradition in Wales, and the unique reputation enjoyed by Welsh Lamb worldwide comes from centuries of tending carefully to the hardy Welsh breeds that thrive in one of the most unspoilt environments in the world. “Provenance is increasingly important to consumers; more than ever they want to feel confident about where their food comes from and how it has been produced,” says Meat Promotion Wales’ marketing manager Bill Joyce. “The coveted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status, which has been awarded to Welsh Lamb, provides caterers, retailers and consumers alike with a guarantee about the quality, traceability and origins of the product.” For more information on Welsh lamb, check out the recently launched Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales website.