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Archive for August, 2011

The Bakers’ Table, Talgarth

30 Aug

I’m sure lots of you saw this mill restoration project and the creation of the Baker’s Table. Well I’ve been trying for ages to get there and hadn’t made it, so decided to visit the Talgarth Festival, which I’d heard so much about, and this was the perfect opportunity to do two jobs at once.

Well I’m so glad I did because at the festival were: Preseli Coffee, Merlin Cheese and Ralph’s Cider – prefect! I asked Ralph why they hadn’t gone to Haverfordwest and it was quite simple, they weren’t invited……………………… Communication is the key to improving our food industry and years on, it still isn’t working. Why not?

So what about the Bakers’ Table? They have been incredibly fortunate to have received a lot of money for this massive project, from the Big Lottery Fund. I know many establishments, and not just here inWales, will be green with envy at this beautiful building and how they have managed to complete a restoration project keeping the character of the mill too.  The quality of the workmanship both inside and out was brilliant.

So back to my main interest – food and service. Well it’s a long time since I queued to wait for a table, but that seems to have been a regular occurrence here since they opened. But the wait wasn’t long and did give me time to have a good look around and I can say the wait was really well worth it. It was waitress service and all food freshly prepared to order. They had installed a wood-fired bread oven producing traditionally baked bread and pizza using stoneground flour from their own watermill. The project has a commitment to producing local, seasonal quality food and working hard with local producers to achieve this. They even list some of their local producers in their menu and on their blackboards. The Baker’s Table is run as a Community Interest Company and any profits will be ploughed back into the business or into the community.

I couldn’t fail to be impressed with this ethos and counted at least ten people working there and I mean working, no chatting, playing on mobiles or reading the newspaper here. The speed they cleared the tables, how quickly the orders came out, bearing in mind food is prepared only when ordered and the friendliness of the staff made our visit there a pleasure. Ian and I shared a Miller’s Lunch which was local ham, two local cheeses, beautiful fresh bread, seasonal salad, an apple and a tasty plum chutney. There really was plenty for two and the quality was a credit to the producers – without a doubt. I did though refuse to share my cake with Ian though and devoured a moreish chocolate and ginger cake, but in the interests of research, had to taste Ian’s barabrith which was moist, fruity, hmmmm another moreish one!!!

I did have to test our young waiter man, asking him the name of one of our cheeses and was delighted and relieved that it was Perl Wen from Caws Cenarth – our near neighbour!!   

 

If you are in the area please call in and if you’re not, trust me it is worth making the effort and building it into a day out.

 
 

Haverfordwest Beer & Cider Festival

30 Aug

Luckily I knew where this festival was being held when I called in on Saturday but as for signage, I didn’t see any, but this year it appears that signage is an optional extra for many festivals, not the necessity that I think it is. The festival ran over Saturday and Sunday. 

The weather was kind on Saturday and the stage was set for music which would have kept many people happy. Yes, there were people there, obviously not deterred by lack of signage. There were two stands selling food, both doing a selection of burgers, to help soak up the varied range of ciders and ales on offer at the two stalls that were, in effect the ‘Ale Tents’.

As it was a beer & cider festival I expected to see Ralph’s Cider there but they were suspicious by their absence – more investigation needed I think on this one! 

This festival was fortunate to have had funding of £4,648.64 from Wag and were also sponsored by Puffin Produce. Taking place also over the Bank Holiday weekend, but this time over the three day Bank Holiday weekend, was Brecon Beacons Summer Fayre at Libanus. Their funding from Wag was £4,480.00. When I called there quite late on Sunday, I was impressed to see so many of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers there and many had had a fairly good show, blessed again with reasonable weather. However my query to Wag – and I’m sure they’ll clarify the matter in due course – is why does a very, very small beer and cider festival get more funding than a well established summer fayre that had in excess of 30 producers? Where is the sense in this? I’ll have to check out the Miller report again to find out how the powers that be justify this price difference.  A few BOW producers told me someone from Wag had visited that morning but I do woonder what the purpose of their visit was, was it just to tick a Wag box or were they there to find out what is going wrong and right with their supported food festivals? I also wonder if our reports would agree!!!! 

My only concern with this venue is the fact that the café at Libanus, obviously remains open and they have of course seating inside and outside. This meant that traders were not supposed to do hot food, which not only meant quite a few could only do limited ranges, but to me loses a part of a food festival – talk to producers, buy food from them, sit down and eat it and finish off with a Welsh beverage. But the Libanus cafe also explained why another of my favourites, Preseli Coffee were not there. 

 

 

 
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Promotion & Marketing Of Food Festivals

17 Aug

Since I sent around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers the Welsh Government list of funding to food festivals, there have been a lot more questions being asked as to what many of them do with their money. Well I have to say there’s no point asking me, if they want to know they must ask the organisers themselves. As you would expect they all work very differently, have vastly varying priorities and obviously varying amounts of experience of putting on festivals.

I have no idea at all what guidance or maybe restrictions that the government sets on how ‘their’ money is spent, or if that happens. But I do think it is more than time that some priorities were laid down for funded festivals. I think we can all agree that food festivals must have food as their core activity which must therefore mean that food is the priority, which means that producers are paramount. Sadly we know that at many events this is simply not the case. But unless producers vote with their feet and don’t attend, or Wag makes an effort to improve all festivals, producers are in a difficult situation.

One suggestion that I have been thinking about is that a well established, professional producer is invited onto their local festival committee. Their role will be to inform the committee the basics that traders must have and I’m looking at electric that doesn’t fail within the first hour – that’s even if it gets connected in the first place, and traders are not paying through the nose for the ‘honour’  of having that vital power supply. A couple of portable toilets placed near the traders – just for them, so that those having to work solo don’t have to waste precious selling time going on a country hike to take a natural break! They could help on layout of stands as they have a must better idea of traffic flow than anyone, noise levels for music, parking vans, loading and off-loading, number of similar stands – these are all issues that can make a traders life easier or make them feel that this is the last time they waste their hard earned cash at this event. I’m sure they’ll also have lots of additional ideas that would make their event special, not just for them, but for the public too. The trader representative could be the official spokesperson for the event and maybe this would will take pressure away from the organisers and help the event run more smoothly.

There always seem to be complaints from traders about festivals but after running them for years shouldn’t the bulk of the troubles have now been sorted? I know that festivals are run basically by volunteers, but the fact no-one can run away from is that festivals are much-needed income for traders. They are not attending to pay for an exotic holiday, they’re attending to pay their mortgages, pay their council tax and feed their kids. I’m positive that life for organisers would be much easier if communication was better between them and the traders. I am still wondering why traders pay their money but quite often have no idea where they will be sited. Would it be too difficult for organisers to issue a site plan with the tradestands shown and traders can book where they wish. Of course that means that there would be some flexibility in stand prices as those with better traffic flow would be charged at a premium, whilst those on the out edges would be slightly cheaper. Would this work? I know I have had lots of moans about Abergavenny again this year not only from those that couldn’t get accepted but those who have been placed in an area they’d rather not be in. Some organisers have told me that a few traders could be difficult and although you do occasionally get unprofessional guys on the circuit, I just explain, quite patiently, that this is their livelihood and the majority just want to earn some decent money.   

At an event this year with very low attendance, I was asked what this festival has done about advertising and marketing. Well that was another question I couldn’t answer apart from the fact they weren’t advertising with Welsh Country, which meant that wouldn’t have sent details around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, put up on Welsh Country website or done any editorial in a relevant issue. So I would assume it was local advertising, if any. I’m sure I’m right on my guess that traders, when they book their space, ask what Promotion & Marketing the organisers are going to do, they simply hope and trust that the organisers will have a plan on how to get people into the event – fingers crossed!!!

I’m not 100% sure, but I understand that organisers are allowed to use their own judgement on Promotion & Marketing as they are not directed by Wag, but I must finish off by sharing this story with you. As we finish off our September/October issue, we contacted Conwy Food Festival to see if they wished to work with us, but were told: no we get lots of local editorial and the Welsh Government look after us very well with funding.” Well there’s lots of truth in that with Wag giving them £41k this year, the same amount as they received last year – so lucky Conwy, no budget cuts there, wonder if tradestand prices have come down as they are so financially well looked by Wag.

Abergavenny,Cardiffand Conwy were festivals I have highlighted as being fortunate in not having their funding cut this year and querying why. It was only when we downloaded the Miller Research report that to get around high funding for these three festivals, that they are now classed as ‘Flagship National Events’ and so I guess they can continue to feel confident that Wag will continue to look at this trio very well.  Think to summarise it’s down to the producers to speak up if they are not happy and make suggestions for improvements, but I know a few are reluctant to do this as they feel they wont get a stand the following year of be stuck out on the edge. I don’t wish to say they can’t win, I simply think we must just find ways to improve.

 
 

Cardigan ‘Local’ Food Festival

15 Aug

I’ve had a couple of calls in about Cardigan which ran on 6th August both muttering about having stands there from England. Apparently there were at least three of them, which brought one producer to ask me: “when is local food local?” 

Having English producers at Welsh food festivals has long been an issue, not just with me but with lots of producers too. When I’ve queried this, I’m told that as Wag funding is European, festivals cannot be restricted to Welsh producers only. You’ll see this very clearly if you attend the larger events such as Abergavenny and Cardiff. If this is the case my concerns are also with visitors. If they are foodies and are on holiday in Wales and they go to what they perceive as a Welsh Food Festival, I think they would expect to see just Welsh producers there, wouldn’t you? Actually I wonder if this was a question asked in last year’s food survey – have you travelled here looking for Welsh food or doesn’t it matter to you?

I’m not sure how many of our Welsh producers can afford the time and money to attend English food festivals, or for that matter if Westminster funds the English festivals as Wales does. Maybe that is a matter that needs looking at further. I do understand though that at a fairly small festival like Cardigan, producers keen to try and earn a living, that travelling from England appears to make this festival worthwhile.

At the Royal Welsh Show in July a Wag official told me that many food producers were doing well……………………….and although I suggested that a trip around the food hall might give a different view, I’m sure that my idea wasn’t taken up! From my chats with producers that are running various sizes of businesses, life on the circuit, whether it is festivals or farmers’ markets they are attending, trade is the toughest it has been for many, many years with many producers finding these avenues to market are no longer profitable. I’m not sure how you get festival, market organisers and Wag to take on board the difficult trading climate and re-look at how these markets are actually working. We need to find ways to improve these markets, ways to get some organisers to up their game and to give the producers the boost they desperately need. Improved promotion and marketing must be near the top of this ‘action list’.   

Having said that, I’m fed-up of attending both festivals and markets and talking to some ‘new’ producers that haven’t business cards or literature, no banners on their stand and seem to spend hours sat down, arms folded and looking totally bored!!!! I know it isn’t just me that wants to know more about new producers on the scene, but if I’d been from a major food chain or just a potential customer wanting mail order, I would not have been impressed by some of them.           

Sorry not to have visited Cardigan, but I was booked elsewhere. But it was very much a non-Welsh food weekend for me for a change and Katherine Jenkins was brilliant!!!  

 

 
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Pembrokeshire Show – Food Stands

11 Aug

Can anyone confirm stand price in the Food Centre Wales area, or any other food area at the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Show?

I’ve been quite surprised by the price I’ve been told and would like it verified by anoyone else attending, as it doesn’t make much sense. The price I’ve been given is £60 plus VAT for about a 9m frontage, this includes a pre-show vehicle pass, but no vehicle pass or day ticket for the actual trading day! How can you possibly trade if you don’t have a vehicle pass? As traders always have lots of equipment to bring with them, where will they be parked?  

My memory could be failing, that’s quite possible, but I thought food traders attending last year under the Pembrokeshire Produce Direct banner; paid £100.00 inc VAT for a three day’s trading. That price included daily vehicle passes, as well as daily tickets for two people. But this year it appears to be a different scenario and I cannot believe any event expects traders to pay to come in and park out with the public when they have already paid for a tradestand. The Pembrokeshire website says tickets are £14.00 per day, so for two traders to run one stand it’s an extra £28.00, plus stand fee, plus travel, which will be around £100.00 for the day. Gosh, you’ll have to sell an enormous amount of produce to break even, let alone make some money.      

I’m also not sure if Pembrokeshire Direct are running their food area again this year but it will be interesting to compare prices and what they are offering. I’m sure a producer will confimr or deny what I’ve been told. I cannot understand the confusion here unless Food Centre Wales has just forgotten to send the traders additional vehicle passes and tickets out yet ……………………..

 

 
 

Final Day of Big Cheese, Caerphilly

03 Aug

Sunday, I made my first visit to this event as I knew many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers would be there. There was plenty of signage as I went in and I spotted a Park & Ride too which was much needed and looked to be very popular. The first two stewards I met couldn’t have been more helpful and that was a great start.

It was a huge event, a beautiful setting by the castle, with a huge fun fair alongside. Entrance free, programme free and also another programme for the cookery demos are which actually included the recipes the chefs were doing. This is an idea I have been suggesting for years, but it has rarely been taken up, but from the visitors’ side, I do think it a good one. I’d still like the producers to supply product and have a plug but at least this is good progress. There were outside tables and chairs but these were mainly near the fast food outlets and not by the food halls. The food halls however did have a huge mix of stands not only from Wales but from Isle of Wight, the Cotswolds and Norwich were some I spotted.

One producer did raise a good point about loos. Would it not be possible to have a few loos near to the food tents but sectioned off, just for producers? This means that they’d be able to take a quick break, not get held up and maybe these can be kept really clean before Health and Safety have a fit!!! The suggestion was also for running water in these loos rather than hand gel, but not sure if this is practical. Without a doubt more  litter bins were needed as the public still hasn’t got the message about not dropping litter on the floor. Again a humid day and the tents really were hot and stuffy inside, making if hard work for producers and not perfect shopping conditions for visitors. I wish there was a system with some sort of vents in the tent roof to prevent this overpowering heat, but maybe I should just be pleased it wasn’t raining!!!!

Of course I could hardly leave a food festival without eating could I? So it was off to Samosa Co to see Golide and Tee to purchase a selection of their delicious samosas for a picnic – mind you they were so tasty there was nothing left to take home! I then went to see Sue at the and again was spoilt for choice but plumped for Pwll ddu cheddar with mustard, leeks and Reverand James Ale – what a delicious cheese, great flavours and certainly one that I will be buying again. This was followed by some Salt Chocolate Brownies from Ruth at Coco Bean, it’s impossible to resist her selection of brownies and impossible for me to eat just one! My Sunday picnic lunch could not have been bettered.  

This event is not supported by Wag, but was well supported by many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers and I’m sure they had quite a busy time.   

 
 

Really Wild Festival

01 Aug

The bravery of the organisers moving from their well-established date in September to the 29th – 30 July certainly seemed to have paid off. They were able to take advantage of the children off school and more holiday makers. Not sure if the Fri/Sat worked bteer than the normal Sat/Sun, taking into account ‘changeover day’ but sure we’ll get attendance figures in due course.

There were lots of signs advertising the event on my drive in and I’m aware that many of these signs have been out for weeks. Forward planning and well done to this team, who also managed to give the event plenty of advertising support, including local radio.

I arrived on Saturday and was pleased to see people queuing to get in. Friendly stewards and a free programme got my visit off to a great start. The even was blessed this year with reasonable weather the rain stayed away which gave the visitors chances to partake in the huge variety of outside activities that were on offer. I did hear some grumbles that a lot of outside activities had to be paid for but the pig racing was certainly free as were the gundog training demos and the sheepdog and duck demos, the birds of prey, the alpacas and the kitchen demos too. But they’d certainly got a packed programme on both days.

There were lots of lots of tables and chairs and a great chance for families to take-a-break and friends to catch up and enjoy the great food and drink available. The festival carried on into Saturday evening with a music event and not sure if that was the reason for the outside bar, just wondered how much trade it took from the drink producers in the food tent. Anyway it didn’t stop me paying my, what is getting to be a regular visit to Ralph’s Cider – but with so much seating outside it was a temptation I could not resist!!! We met up with friends later and tempted them with the wonderful range of ice-creams that Cowpots had on offer, talk about being spoilt for flavour choice, we settled for a delicious strawberries and cream, a chocolate, a vanilla and one of my favourites, crème caramel crunch – gosh it was gorgeous. If you see Cowpots ice-cream on sale, it is certainly one to try and I’m sure you’ll love it.

As always the producers gave me mixed trading reports, but hopefully by the end of the day they’d made some reasonable money. This event is always very friendly and the layout in the food tent seemed to work better this year. It was quite a humid weekend and as you’d expect often rather warm in the tents, it’s impossible to get the temperature right – that’s for sure.