I don’t know about you but as well as friends and family, food and drink have been my saviours over this difficult period. My kitchen was a haven of aromatic flavours; like many, I baked banana bread, and foraged for wild ingredients, and I still get a buzz from my weekly sourdough loaf and a Friday night quarantini. I took pleasure in supporting local businesses in Cardiff, from West Pizza in Grangetown and Friends in Knead in Roath to Curado and Ashtons fishmongers in the city centre. But months on from the initial announcement of ‘lockdown’, I miss those lovely foodie locations that are ‘local’ to people all over Wales. Those must-visit destinations that I’d go out of my way to ‘call-in’ to along my travels, for the ‘croeso ’nôl’ and a catch-up on the ‘clecs’ of the latest Welsh gastro gossip! From craft ale houses to artisanal deli-cafe-bars, their shelves heaving with life’s little pleasures.
Yes, I confess, I’m obsessed with Welsh food and drink. And the only thing better than devouring the goodies myself is sharing the wealth of Welsh produce with others. The fact that so many businesses have survived is a marvel in itself, let alone reacted and adapted to the ever-changing safety measures, or even dared to launch new enterprises this year. And with so many of these businesses offering the convenience of a quick and seamless on-line service, this is the perfect time to sing for your supper and support fantastic Welsh produce.
Here in Cardiff I’m terribly nostalgic about my favourite craft ale shop, Stori Beers in Bala, and the wonderful Dylanwad wine merchant in Dolgellau. I dream of ‘calling in at the inn’ at the Cwrw Llŷn bar in Nefyn, Wild Horse in Llandudno and Purple Moose in Porthmadog, for a supply of my favourite Welsh IPAs. And what about Dyfi Distillery , Penderyn, Dà Mhìle ac Aber Falls? While those ‘visitor experiences’ are on-pause for now, you can still get into the spirit in two shakes of a quarantini by purchasing their products on-line. I’ve also recently researched the sphere of non-alcoholic Welsh beers, and I’m delighted to say that stellar refreshers such as Swansea’s Drop Bear Beer are only a click of a mouse away. Back in September I bottled my own gins – sloe, damson and quince – and so the selection of mixers from Lampeter’s Llanllyr Source will be just the tonic to add over winter. And for all you master-mocktail-makers in need of refreshing ideas, turn to the Heartsease Farm line of soft drinks by Radnor Hills. My tips from the top to make your party ‘pop’? Add a splash of lemon juice to the Blackberry Crush, or a dash of lime to the Fiery Ginger Beer.
Where do I begin with my love of Welsh cheese? Just call me ‘Mickey Caws’! Winter is not truly complete for me without Hafod cheddar, Perl Wen or Perl Las. I have a hankering this year for a Truffle Trove truckle by Snowdonia Cheese, along with the horseradish tang of Caws Harlech, on a Halen Môn sea-salted Cradoc’s cracker spread with Shir Gâr butter! I could go on all day about my faves from Wales (how could I forget the pleasures of garlic and rosemary-studded oven-baked Golden Cenarth?). But I’ll refer you to an expert instead. Following his recent time during the pandemic manning his Tŷ Caws stalls at Cardiff’s various farmers’ markets, Owen Wyn Davies now provides a UK-wide delivery service of his Welsh cheese-filled hampers. Included are such delicacies as Brefu Bach and Gorwydd Caerffili, as well as chutneys and jams from Penylan Preserves and Inner City Pickle. And talking of pickles, consider Dylan’s fine selection – the picalilli, in particular, is outstanding. Or turn to Wales’ super online market, Blas ar Fwyd of Llanrwst, to order many of these products, and so much more.
As Cerys Matthews blasted in Catatonia’s anthem ‘International Velvet’, ‘Deffrwch, Gymry cysglyd...’ – that is, ‘Wake up, Welsh sleepy-heads!’. And with months of difficult times ahead, only the finest possible products will drag us out of bed. So whether it’s a ‘dishgled’ you crave first thing, or a ‘paned’ to make your brain ‘ping’, there are countless Welsh tea and coffe companies that sell online from all over Wales. Pesonally, I’ve been powered by Glengettie tea since childhood, with its distinctive ‘taste of Wales’, but another hugely popular brand is Murroughs Welsh Brew Tea. And where to begin with the rise of independent cofee roasteries that have sprung up all over Wales? In my humble opinion, Coaltown’s espresso bar in Rhydaman (Ammanford) is on par with the finest hipster coffee joints in San Francisco, Oslo or Melbourne. I still savour the maple syrup latte with oak-smoked Halen Môn sea-salt I enjoyed on my last visit, but until the next time, I’ll take a bag of the ‘Black-Gold’ house blend coffee, os gwelwch yn dda. And how about Coffi Poblado in Dyffryn Nantlle, with their efforts to bring the rural community together this year by launching a Saturday morning coffee and running club (as well as yoga classes in the fresh air). And let’s not forget the hearty flavours of Heartland Llandudno, Gower Coffee from Swansea, and Cardiff’s Hard Lines Coffee – to name but another three!
I’m sure you don’t need a reminder that your prime destination for the finest Welsh meat selection should always be your local butcher. These front-line heroes really were the back-bone of Welsh high streets this year. Please continue to support them all though winter, and beyond – and through them, the Welsh agricultural industry. I’d personally like to thank JT Morgan, Martin Player and Oriel Jones in Cardiff. But so many excellent butchers are to be found all over Wales, always willing to share their advice. But if you are in the market for terrific online service, then i have my own tips to share with you. Edwards of Conwy offer much more than just their award-winning sausages; indeed their high street emporium is a prime foodie destination. The same can be said about the Rhug Estate farm shop near Corwen, a mecca for lovers of Welsh meat. And I must admit I got all excited over a recent Instragram post by Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu, sharing the news of his Wagyu boxes.If you’ve never heard of Ifor Humphreys’ herd of Wagyu beef cattle before, then (when you are able) you must book a table at Michelin-star restaurant Ynyshir, or order one of Ifor’s boxes from his farm in Abermiwl. His herd are fed Monty’s beer of Montgomery daily, and even given an occasional massage, before reaching the magic hands of chef Gareth Ward at Ynyshir. I believe my review for Barn magazine says it all... ‘I almost fainted upon tasting the sourdough and Wagyu beef dripping, then emited sounds that should never be heard in public, and if at all, only in select company.’ Forget Harry and Sally; ‘When Ifor Met Lowri’, indeed.
Luckily, there’s no need to travel to Belgium or Switzerland for a box of the finest sweets around when there are so many Welsh treats to be found. At the top of my list this year is a box of Truffles by Sarah Bunton, Pontarfynach’s premier chocolatier, along with the Giant Chocolate Buttons from Coco Pzazz in Caersws. I’ve envied all this year in Aberystwyth who devoured Ridiculously Rich by Alana‘s dainties. Can you imagine anything more decadent with your take-away coffee on South Marine Parade, than a box of fresh brownies flavoured with crème brûlée? Well, imagine no longer, you hungry hordes; thanks to her online shop, we can live the dream – close your eyes and you’re ‘Alana môr’! To entice you from your winter bed, how about a dollop of Halen Môn’s salted caramel spread on top of your ‘uwd’, or breakfast porrige? But between you and me, the ultimate selection box would be The Mallow Tailor’s marshmallow chocolates from the Brecon Beacons. My Welsh foodie highlight of the year was a box of ‘caramallows’, sent by a friend . These multicolured ‘marbles’ are artisinal marvels, forged at the foothills of Pen y Fan.