I don’t know about you but as well as friends and family, food and drink keep me going all year. My kitchen is a haven of aromatic flavours, and I love foraging for wild ingredients. I take 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 following countless road-trips over the years I often miss those foodie locations that are ‘local’ to people all over Wales.
Those must-visit destinations that I ‘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. And with so many Welsh businesses offering easy on-line service, this is the perfect time to support Welsh producers in the run-up to Christmas and all through winter.
Here in Cardiff I get 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 how about Dyfi Distillery, Penderyn, Dà Mhìle and Aber Falls? These ‘visitor experiences’ are always worth exploring, or how about getting into their ‘Christmas spirits’ on-line? I’ve also been researching the sphere of non-alcoholic Welsh beers. I’m delighted to say that some stellar refreshers are only a mouse-click away, including Swansea’s Drop Bear Beer.
As I’ve bottled my autumnal gins – sloe, damson and quince – the selection of mixers from Lampeter’s Llanllyr Source will be just the tonic to add over Christmas and 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’! Neither Christmas nor a Welsh winter are truly complete for me without Hafod cheddar, Perl Wen or Perl Las. I have a hankering for the Rock Star cave-aged Cheddar truckle by Snowdonia Cheese this year, 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 time well spent 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 Dol Las, as well as chutneys and jams from Penylan Preserves and Inner City Pickle.
And talking of pickles, consider Dylan’s fine selection – the piccalilli, 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 out in Catatonia’s anthem ‘International Velvet’, ‘Deffrwch, Gymry cysglyd...’ – that is, ‘Wake up, Welsh sleepy-heads!’. And with months of winter ahead, only the keenest beans 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 coffee companies that sell online from all over Wales. Personally, I’ve been powered by Glengettie tea since childhood, with its distinctive ‘taste of Wales’, but another hugely popular brand is Murrough's Welsh Brew Tea.
And where to begin with the rise of independent coffee 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, who brought their rural community together by launching a Saturday morning coffee and running club (as well as yoga classes in the fresh air)?
Rather than be floored by a bad case of FOMO, I’ll take a supply of the Christmas Blend ‘to go’! Speaking of Christmas, my Dad enjoyed Coffi Teifi’s ‘Bore Nadolig’ blend last year, which is also available online. 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!
Your prime destination for the finest Welsh meat selection should always be your local butcher. These front-line food heroes form the back-bone of Welsh high streets all year round. Please continue to support them all though winter, and beyond – and through them, the Welsh agricultural industry too. I’m perennially grateful to JT Morgan, and Oriel Jones in Cardiff. But so many high-class butchers are to be found all over Wales, always primed with excellent 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 got all hot and bothered following an Instagram post by Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu, sharing the news of his Christmas Wagyu boxes. If you’ve never heard of Ifor Humphreys’ herd of Wagyu beef cattle before, then you must book a table at two Michelin stars restaurant Ynyshir, or order one of Ifor’s Christmas boxes from his farm in Abermiwl. His herd are fed Monty’s beer of Montgomery daily, and are even given a 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 emitted sounds that really should never be heard in public, and if at all, only in select company.’ Forget Harry and Sally; ‘When Ifor Met Lowri’, indeed!
It’s impossible to celebrate Christmas without a box of sweets to hand. Luckily, there’s no need to travel to Belgium or Switzerland when there are so many Welsh treats to be found. At the top of my list to ‘Siôn Corn’ this year is a box of Christmas Pudding Truffles by Sarah Bunton, Pontarfynach’s premier chocolatier, along with the Giant Chocolate Buttons from Coco Pzazz in Caersws. And speaking of Christmas Pudding, buy yours online from Wright’s Food Emporium of Llanarthne near Carmarthen, or the classic edition from Siwgwr a Sbeis in Llanrwst.
I envied many in Aberystwyth who devoured Ridiculously Rich by Alana‘s dainties, before she expended the business this year. 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’! Or, for a contemporary twist on Calennig - the Welsh Christmas and new year tradition of toffee-making – I have a couple of sweet suggestions for you. 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 porridge? Or, slather your Christmas pud with Barti Rum salted caramel spread – one of the delicacies available to purchase online from Crwst Aberteifi. But between you and me, the ultimate Christmas selection box would be The Mallow Tailor’s marshmallow chocolates from the Brecon Beacons. These multicoloured ‘marbles’ are artisanal marvels, forged at the foothills of Pen y Fan.