Before we know it, the festive season will have already been and gone and we’ll be ringing in 2022. The past couple of years have been difficult for obvious reasons, but that makes pausing for a moment to appreciate the rich culture of food and drink in Wales that bit more special. The new year will have only just got started by the time the 1st March rolls around - and that means the next big date in the Welsh food and drink calendar will be upon us: St David’s Day. The days and the weeks leading up to it are marked by a plethora of events and initiatives around the world, many of which use the opportunity to also celebrate our nation’s food and drink. Not least is the Welsh Government’s #LoveWalesLoveTaste#CaruCymruCaruBlas campaign, so let’s embrace the opportunity to shout about all that’s great in our country - from its gastronomical greatness to the perfect producers that work so hard to get it on our plates and in our glasses. After COP26, the importance of sustainability and buying local has perhaps never been more prevalent in the food and drink industry. The situation in Wales is no exception, but the Welsh people need not see this as a problem. Rather, this is a challenge for us all to overcome together through creative solutions. And it’s an opportunity that we’re well placed to seize - with many of our producers, ably supported by the Welsh Government, already pursuing sustainable strategies. As we explore all the following produce right on our own doorstep, one can rest assured that our small but proud country has more than enough food and drink to feed our bodies and minds. If there’s anything that the past few years has taught us it’s that we can overcome any obstacle by simply sticking together and working in unison as a community.
The Natural Phenomenon
So what is it that makes Wales such a bountiful country when it comes to cultivating a rich culture of food and drink? Some might point to those living and working in rural areas adopting a way of life that intrinsically complements the surrounding rolling hills, clear waters and fertile fields. Others might emphasise the importance of the Gulf Stream and its effects on the waters along our west coast. The stream provides nutrient rich and warm currents, ensuring that the local climate is a temperate (if wet) one suited for growing grass and rearing livestock - with few extreme weather events. As a result, the surrounding marine environment is positively teeming with life, while along the coasts and further inland an abundance of minerals in lowlands and uplands creates a varied biodiversity. This variety makes perfect habitats and breeding grounds for all manner of organisms, with unique micro-climates allowing nature to thrive. The Welsh people’s appreciation for these most fertile of surroundings has remained unwavering for time out of mind. Traditionally small scale and low intensity agriculture are coupled with high standards of animal welfare, with an emphasis on letting nature take its course. Less intervention means less invasion into the integral processes of both fauna and flora - something that has been passed down on countless farms which generation to generation of Welsh families have come to call home. It is a complex combination of all of these factors which lends itself to the relationship between Wales and producing good food and drink. Welsh farmers and producers are supported in their endeavours every step of the way by a government that understands and cares about these traditions.
A Bountiful Harvest
While we touched on the suitability of the Welsh landscape for farming and agriculture earlier, this cannot be emphasised enough by the countless success stories this sector continues to have. Translating to ‘taste of the land’, Blas y Tir in Pembrokeshire is a tremendous example of a good and honest producer of lovingly grown vegetables - as is the Greedy Gardener in Llangefni and Mostyn Kitchen Garden in Holywell. If your day isn’t complete without an egg at breakfast, lunch, or dinnertime, Ochr Cefn Isa in Betws-y-Coed is undoubtedly worth your support. These free-range eggs come from a family farm on the Tir Ifan Estate, a National Trust location on the slopes of the Conwy Valley. If dutifully reared protected foods like beef and lamb are more your thing, then you can’t get much better than the taste and quality of produce from the Rhug Estate in Corwen. Having its own butchers shop just down the road from the farm itself lends these meats an unparalleled experience of freshness. And if you prefer your spice, the homegrown peppers and jarred condiments from Pembrokeshire Chilli Farm are well worth giving your tastebuds a tantalising workout.
Scouring for Seafood
As a result of the aforementioned Gulf Stream, the waters along the Welsh coast are both temperate and nutrient rich. This is especially pertinent in the bottlenecked Menai Strait, where this marine fertility converges and becomes concentrated. The mussels found in this region are a shining example of this phenomenon, recognised by an official Protected Designation of Origin and a uniquely rich taste and texture to match. Just over the Menai Bridge and on the mainland in Conwy, Mermaid Seafoods is making its mark with the largest and freshest selection of fish and seafood in North Wales. Down the coast in Ceredigion one can find the likes of Cardigan Bay Fish and Catch of the Day at Fisherman’s Rest - while further south still lies a real gem in the form of Syren Shellfish in Pembrokeshire.
Some Dairy Delights
With the famed Welsh rolling hills comes bountiful pastures for livestock to graze upon, meaning a plethora of dairy farms and products can be found across Wales. There are more traditional offerings of milk, cheese and butter: Blaenafon Cheddar Company in Pontypool; Calon Wen in Narberth; Castle Dairies in Caerphilly; Caws Cenarth Cheese in Boncath; Caws Rhyd y Delyn on Anglesey; Caws Teifi Cheese in Llandysul; Daioni Organic in Boncath; Dragon from South Caernarfon Creameries; Mead Farm Foods in Newport; Moose Maple Butter in Llanelli; Llaeth y Llan in Denbigh; and Totally Welsh Milk in Haverfordwest. Also worth a special mention is Colliers Cheese, which like many of the above cheese proponents champions their craft using entirely Welsh milk! But there is so much more to dairy - from Daffodil Foods in Pwllheli’s clotted cream, to copious scoops of ice cream (from the likes of Brooke’s Dairy in Chepstow, Lochmeyler in Haverfordwest, and Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour in Anglesey and North Wales), to The Fudge Foundry in Neyland. Regardless of what you’re after, our nation’s beloved cows never fail to put a smile on our faces.
Tankards and Teacups
It’s no secret that the Welsh are a hardworking breed, but with that comes an innate ability to enjoy our downtime just as much. Whether you’re out on the town and enjoying a natter with friends, or pausing to reflect at day’s end, we’re never happier than when we’ve got a thirst-quenching glass (or mug!) in our mitts. There are so many breweries around Wales that you should keep an eye out for the next time you’re in a pub - Anglesey Brewhouse from Llangefni, Brains from Cardiff, Felinfoel Brewery from Llanelli, Monty’s Brewery from Montgomery, St Davids Old Farmhouse Brewery from Haverfordwest, Untapped Brewery in Raglan, and Wrexham Lager hailing from the eponymous town are but a few of the brilliant purveyors of beers and ales. If you’re after something stronger, distilleries abound throughout the country and any of the following are worth a tipple (or two): Aber Falls Distillery from Llanfairfechan; Angel Feathers Gin from the foothills of Moel Famau; Bullion Rum from Swansea; Celtic Country Wines from Llandysul; Coles Distillery and Sea Dragon Rum from Llanddarog; Dà Mhìle Distillery from Llandysul; Devil’s Bridge Rum from Cardiff; Gower Gin from Port Eynon; In The Welsh Wind Distillery from Tan-y-groes; Penderyn Whisky from Aberdare; The Pembrokeshire Gin Co from Tenby; and Welsh Sisters Gin from New Quay.
The sweeter the better you say? Look no further than the wines on offer from White Castle Vineyard in Llanvetherine - or the freshly pressed and fermented offerings from Apple County Cider just south of Skenfrith Castle, Gwynt y Ddraig Cider from Llest Farm near Pontypridd, and Vale Cider from Bonvilston. There’s also a renaissance in the art of mead-making (we’ll forgive you if you hadn’t noticed), with Afon Mel in Llandysul and Wye Valley Meadery in Caldicot sweetening up our lives with their alcoholic nectar. Afon Mel in particular is also going back to basics by championing its own range of honey, ensuring you can take plenty of goodies back to your own hive. For those who enjoy quenching their thirst in a lighter sense, there’s tremendous juice offerings from Sudd Afal Bryn Clwyd in Gellifor, and Welsh Farmhouse in Crickhowell - while other soft drinks are available from Blighty Booch Kombucha in Conwy, Llanllyr Source Water and Mixers near Lampeter, Radnor Hills in Knighton, and Ty Nant Water in Bethania on Cardigan Bay. And as we all know, some like it hot - with Coaltown Coffee in Ammanford and Mug Run Coffee in Rhyl catering to caffeine junkies, while Morgan’s Brew Tea in Welshpool and Welsh Brew Tea in Newton are making sure everyone can enjoy a good old-fashioned, honest cuppa from our own lands.
A Special Selection
Who doesn’t enjoy the finer things in life? We may not have the bright lights of London, Paris or New York, but Wales has a bubbling undercurrent of luxurious local treats for every occasion - just waiting to be explored and indulged. Next time you’re perusing the charcuterie and delicatessen aisles or visiting your own local hotspot, great Welsh names to look out for include Blas ar Fwyd, Cwm Farm, Edwards of Conwy, and The Baker’s Pig. The Pembrokeshire Sea Salt Co is a must have when it comes to seasoning your selection of fine meats. There are also countless sauces and preserves which can turn your fine foods into a positively fantastical feast. Black Mountain Preserves, Do Goodly Dips, Farmers Food at Home, Maggie’s Exotic Foods, Penylan Preserves, Radnor Preserves, Sabor de Amor, Sorai Sauces, The Preservation Society, and Welsh Lady Preserves are all worthy contenders for that jar that take a front-and-centre spot in your cupboard. If your sweet tooth is proving to be insatiable, then the offerings from the Bee Welsh Honey, Gwenyn Gruffydd, Pen y Bryn, Wainwright’s Bee Farm, and Welsh Honey Company hives are sure to keep you buzzing around. These all have their own beekeeping operations, ensuring that their honey is procured in the freshest and most sustainable method possible. There are also many jack-of-all-trades suppliers who have garnered a knack for catering to all tastes with a wide variety of products. Look out for Flavours of Fields Lodge, Ffynnon Beuno, Harlech Foods, Maple Green Fine Foods (and WeDoughIt4U pizzas), Saveg’s vegan offerings, Trailhead Fine Foods (including Get Jerky), Welsh Speciality Foods, and the fine folks over at Wye Valley Producers. For something a little different, SamosaCo is a brilliant up-and-coming brand which enables you to have the great taste of South Asia while supporting a local small business.
Flour and Bakes
While there are countless exciting enterprises exploring new tastes in the world of food and drink, Wales also has a strong and deep-rooted history of the more traditional milling of flour and baking of associated delights. One such relic of our humble past is Y Felin in St Dogmaels, which is one of the last remaining active water mills in the country. Stoneground flour is produced here, powered solely by the water wheel itself. Reflecting on this unique process almost makes appreciating baked goods even more special - and there is by no means a shortage of such goods in Wales! Baked by Mel, Brynmor Flapjacks, Calon Lan Cakes, Cradoc’s Savoury Biscuits, Popty Bakery, Siwgr a Sbeis, Terry’s Patisserie, Tregroes Waffles, Wiggies Bread, and Wilfreds Premium Welsh Bakes are just some of the tried and trusted names you can rely on when you want a doughy delight.
Support Local Livelihoods
The #LoveWalesLoveTaste#CaruCymruCaruBlas campaign is more than just a hashtag, it’s a movement. That national pride in our country can extend from a full heart to a full stomach too. Our beloved surroundings are more than just lovely to look at, they are the spirit and soul that quite literally sustains the Welsh people. We may be a small country, but we have dreamed big and better for generations when it comes to growing and cultivating our own produce. Each and every second taken to provide for our loved ones and each dinner table ritual should not be taken for granted - we should all take a moment to reflect on how much we Love Wales and Love Taste.