The Ark of Taste is Slow Food’s catalogue of disappearing local food culture. On board The Ark are breeds of domesticated animal, cultivated plants, artisan food products and the techniques used to make them. All are in need of recognition and protection.
Many local products and traditional production methods have suffered due to competition with mass-produced, available all-year-round food products, which have often travelled extensive food miles to be sold in supermarkets. However, farmers, small-scale producers and restaurant owners are fighting back, by promoting local food systems based on heritage livestock breeds and crop varieties, sustainable and seasonal production methods, local food sourcing and regional cuisine.
The Ark of Taste brings together small-scale, quality food production belonging to the diverse cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet. It draws attention to the existence of an extraordinary heritage of animal breeds, fruit and vegetable varieties, fish and seafood resources, cheeses, breads, and numerous other artisan products, all of which are at risk of extinction within generations given present trends. Administered by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, it invites everyone to take action to help protect the items in The Ark. This can involve buying and consuming artisan products, supporting their producers, or taking part in various campaigning initiatives.
The Ark of Taste currently (February 2016) has 2,836 products on board from all around the world. The UK has 84 products on the Ark. These are mainly rare animal breeds (21); artisan cheeses from specific localities (10); localised fish and shellfish (10); fresh fruit and dried fruit products, including nuts (11); and vegetables (9). Also included are cured meat products, cereals and flour, baked products, spirits, pulses, seaweed (dulse) and honey. Further details of these products are given on the Slow Food UK website (http://www.slowfood.org.uk/ff-products/)
There are currently five Welsh products in The Ark of Taste: a cheese, two animal breeds, a rare apple variety, and a seafood product (listed below). One of the aims of Slow Food South East Wales is to identify, research and propose further Welsh products for inclusion in The Ark of Taste.
Artisan Caerphilly Cheese
Traditional Caerphilly is a hard, crumbly white cheese, with a short maturation period, made using unpasteurised milk. It has long been produced by hand, on small family-run farms, as a means of using and preserving surplus milk. On local markets, it was typically sold in the form of 5 or 10 lb truckles. From the 1830s onwards, it became associated with Caerphilly because of its popularity among the town’s mining community. Today, it is in competition with a very different young cheese product, also called Caerphilly, which is mass-produced using pasteurised milk and sold more cheaply in supermarkets. Traditional Caerphilly cheese is still produced by a limited number of creameries in South Wales, such as Caws Cenarth. A small quantity of aged Caerphilly is also available from artisan producers.
Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep
The Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep is a low-maintenance Welsh mountain breed. It has two sub-types, both being relatively small and hardy: the Torddu (black belly) and Torwen (white belly). This breed produces milk, wool and high quality fine-textured meat of excellent flavour. Although a very old breed, it was first officially recognised in 1976, when a small group of farmers in mid Wales, who were breeding the sheep, formed the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society. Pedigree flocks are relatively small and mostly kept by smallholders for their unique characteristics. They are slow to mature, but produce very flavoursome meat. Small-scale producers, such as Hebsnbadgers and Llwyn-on, are promoting it as a Slow Meat product.
Bardsey Island Apple
A medium-sized, sweet and juicy, pink eating apple with a unique lemon aroma, the Bardsey Island Apple is a very rare variety. The mother tree grows by a house built by Lord Newborough in the 1870s on Bardsey Island, where it is continually ‘pruned’ by salt-laden gales. The trees produced by grafting from it are resilient and disease-resistant, requiring no chemical spraying. The Slow Food UK website relates how, in 1998, ornithologist Andy Clarke brought several apples from the tree to local fruit grower Ian Sturrock for identification. He, in turn, took them to the National Fruit Collection in Brogdale, where the Bardsey Island Apple was declared a new variety. The variety is grown by Ian Sturrock & Sons of Bangor and other small-scale producers in North Wales, where it has spearheaded a resurgence of interest in old and almost extinct Welsh Varieties.
Pedigree Welsh Pig
The Welsh Pig was first referenced in the 1870s, and the Welsh Pig Society (formed 1922) played an important role in increasing numbers and developing its commercial characteristics. The pig is white with lop ears, a curly tail, and a long body. It is hardy and thrives in both indoor and outdoor conditions. The breed has a traditional pork flavour, and produces high-quality, well-developed hams, with a desirable ratio of meat (70%) to fat (30%). Although it has characteristics that could be of valuable to the modern pig industry, numbers have continued to decline due to competition with commercial breeds. Small producers, such as Kilvrough Welsh Pigs on the Gower, rear Pedigree Welsh Pig non-intensively and provide a range of cuts and joints from.
Penclawdd cockles are removed from the low-tide sands of the Burry Estuary, near Swansea, by pulling a flat cart (once by donkey, now tractor) with a metal scrape to expose them for hand-picking. A government decree in 1965 only permits licensed gatherers to take cockles, within limited quotas. They are sold at local markets, either boiled and peeled or untreated. The cockle industry in Penclawdd has suffered due to water pollution and mismanagement of stocks, though there has been a recovery in recent years.
Many of the traditional products in The Ark of Taste have helped shape local cuisine. Protecting these products helps preserve the recipes, knowledge and history surrounding them, which may also be at risk of being lost. This is certainly true of Penclawdd cockles, for example, where cockles fried in bacon fat are an ingredient in a traditional local ‘Welsh breakfast’, along with laverbread and fried eggs, while the Swansea Cockle Festival is celebrated every September.