The new Slow Food group for South East Wales (Slow Food Y De-Ddwyrain) launched in style at St Fagans on Sat 6 June 2015, 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, 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 , 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 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, there were raw chocolate products from Coco-Caravan, and 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 linking cafes and the hospitality industry with local food producers, who are listed with details of 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.