I haven’t been to Wales for so long; I’d forgotten how easy it is to get there. Just throw a few things into the car, pack a picnic and head for Rosslare. The ferry to Fishguard takes three and a half hours, and even
though it’s quite a short time it’s worth considering taking a cabin for €39.00 (sleeps two) so you arrive fresh as a daisy. We were on our way to Holden’s Organic farm near Lampeter to do a cheese making course. First we detoured 20 minutes south of Fishguard to Porthgain in search of a little seafood restaurant called The Shed. We found it on the harbours edge and had delicious fish, spanking fresh crab, mussels, and grey sea mullet. It was a pity about the squidgy bread and bought mayonnaise. The pretty waitress was a mine of information! She appeared to have no idea about the village, the story of the restaurant or where the local cheese came from. The cheese I discovered later was Caerphilly, Wales’ most famous cheese!
After lunch, we made our way up hills and down dales through forest and woodland and village after village with unpronounceable names, eventually arrived at Bwlchwernen Fawr Organic Dairy Farm. The Ayrshire cows that provide milk for the cheese were grazing contentedly in the fields. Up to four years ago Sam and Rachel Holden were immersed in the corporate world in London; Rachel was a press officer for Sainsbury’s and Sam was account manager for a small graphic design company. Through a series of events they decided to return to the family farm in Wales to oversee the renovation of the farmhouse. As luck would have it Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy brought a group of UK farmhouse cheese-makers to see the dairy herd. Sam’s father Patrick Holden director of the Soil Association had harboured an aspiration to add value to their beautiful milk by making a cheese but didn’t quite know quite how to go about it. After the cheese-makers visit, he asked Sam whether he might consider taking on the project, after initial discussion with his wife Rachel they decided to take the plunge. They borrowed a ton of money and spent four months learning and visiting cheese-makers. A new fully equipped dairy was built and on August 26th 2007 Sam and Rachel made their first batch of cheddar. They continued to make cheese twice a week through out the year without even having tasted the fruit of their labours – it was a year later before they could sample the mature cheese. What a leap of faith and extraordinary courage. To their immense relief the cheese was really good and well received. They decided to call it ‘Hafod’ (pronounced Havod) which means Summer pasture in Welsh. Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy, the iconic cheese shop in London tasted, approved and decided to stock it alongside the legendary English cheddars, Montgomery, Keens, Westcombe and Isle of Mull.
On 25th June 2008 Prince Charles came to officially open the dairy as a beacon of local enterprise. Now they are beginning to offer cheese making courses to pass on their skills to others who have an interest in this.
It takes two days milk to fill the vat so the cheese is made from a mixture of morning and evening milk. In comparison to most other cheese, cheddar making is immensely laboursome in the initial stage but once it is made, moulded and pressed there is little store work in the way of handling and turning. It just slumbers away on timber shelves in the cheese ‘cave’ at 10°C for a year to 18 months under the watchful eye of Sam and Rachel who turn it every five weeks. We were also shown how to make a simple soft cheese and a Jarlesberg (a mild cow’s milk Norwegian cheese)
The day cheese making course, including a delicious lunch of Welsh cawl, Hafod Cheddar and salad followed by homemade cakes and tea and coffee costs just £70.00
Soil association members get the discounted price of £57.50.
Quite incredible value for money. Sam and Rachel were enormously generous with their information and were passionate about passing on their knowledge and skills. They also had a very experienced French cheese-making student called Marie Decherf working with them who is presently on a tour of farmhouse cheese-makers in UK and Ireland. She was on her way to spend two months working with and learning from Jaffa Gill who makes the award winning Durrus Cheese on her farm outside the village of the same name in West Cork.
The following day we visited the Brecon Beacons Food Fair and bought several Welsh cheeses, Welsh cakes, pickled samphire and cob nuts.
The local Welsh Male Choir was in full voice at the end of market hall.
There was lots of salt marsh lamb and Welsh mutton from Elan Valley for sale and some quite spectacular bread made by young artisan baker Alex Gooch – his family made three deliveries of bread to the festival and sold it as fast as they could bake it.
We also visited Penpont self catering cottages beside Penpont House, cottages and farm shop, in the middle of an organic estate, a really special place to stay, close to Brecon.
Also in that area is another of my favourite pubs with comfy rooms and a menu of delicious local foods – The Felin Fach Griffin Inn.
To book a cheese making course at Bwlchwernen Fawr Organic Dairy Farm telephone Sam and Rachel Holden on
00 44 1570 493283 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.hafodcheese.co.uk Hafod Cheese
www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk Neals Yard Dairy
www.eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk/index.htm Felin Fach Griffin Inn
www.durruscheese.com Durrus Farmhouse Cheese
www.foodloversbritain.com/members/Alex-Gooch-Organics Alex Gooch Organics
www.penpont.com Penpont House and Self Catering Cottages
A comforting meal in itself, you’ll want to tuck into several bowlfuls on chilly Autumn days or after a long walk in the countryside. Both collar of bacon and neck of lamb are inexpensive and delicious.
750g (1 ½ lb) collar of bacon
750g (1 ½ lb) neck of lamb
3 stalks celery sliced
3 – 4 carrots peeled and sliced
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 white turnips peeled and quartered
A bouquet garni of parsley stalks, thyme and a bay leaf
3 – 4 litres (6 ½ pints) water
450g (1lb) baby carrots if available, other wise peel, quarter and cut into chunks
700g (1 ½ lbs) small new potatoes or ¼ larger ones
350 g (12 oz) green cabbage cut in ¾ inch strips
lots of chopped parsley
Put the bacon, lamb, celery stalks, carrots, onion, peppercorns, cloves, white turnips, the green part of leeks and bouquet garni into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim and continue to simmer for one and half hours, skimming regularly. Slice the white part of the leeks and add to the pot with remainder of the vegetables, except the cabbage, cook for a further 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for a further 5 minutes or until both the meat and vegetables are fully cooked. Remove the bacon and lamb and cut into rough chunks, return to the pot, taste and correct the seasoning. Ladle into wide, deep soup bowls. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley and enjoy.
Cyrus Todiwala’s Mutton Coriander Gosht
(Executive chef, Café Spice Namaste) – taken from Renaissance Mutton booklet
Mutton is used in many Indian style dishes commonly served in the UK. This simple dish can form part of an Indian feast or serve on its own with steamed rice or naan bread.
550g (1/4 lb) diced leg of mutton
3 onions, roughly chopped
15ml (1 tablespoon) ginger, finely chopped
30ml (2 tablespoons) coriander seeds
15ml (1 tablespoon) cumin seeds
1 whole dried red chilli, cut into 3 pieces
Cinnamon stick, 5cm (2inch) piece
4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped or I can of chopped tomatoes
600ml (1 pint) hot, good lamb stock
60ml (4 teaspoons) fresh coriander, chopped
75ml (5 tablespoon) vegetable or corn oil
In a frying pan, roast the whole chilli and cinnamon stick over a low heat until light brown. Set aside to cool. Repeat with the cumin and coriander seeds then crush with the cinnamon and chilli in a pestle and mortar until you get a crushed peppercorn consistency. Heat the oil in heavy-based pan on a high heat. Add the mutton and seal well. Maintaining the heat, add the red chillies and cinnamon and stir-fry for one minute. Add the onions and stir fry for a couple of minutes on a medium heat and add enough stock to just cover the mutton. Keep the pan covered, add the salt and simmer the mutton for 1 hour. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further hour or until the mutton is tender and the gravy is thick. If there is too much liquid after the first hour, remove the lid for the final stage of cooking. Before serving check the seasoning then stir in the fresh coriander.
I bought a bag of bag of delicious Welsh cakes from a cheery lady on a stall at the Brecon Beacons Food Fair. This is a delicious recipe – Welsh cakes are best made with a mixture of lard and butter but use all butter if good lard is unavailable.
450g (1 lb) white flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mace
110g (4oz) butter
110g (4oz) lard
175g (6oz) castor sugar
¼ lb currants, sultanas or raisins
2 eggs preferably free range organic
caster sugar for dipping
Put the flour, salt, baking powder, and mace into a bowl, rub in the butter and lard add the sugar and dried fruit and mix well, whisk the eggs and add just enough milk to bind.
Roll out thinly and stamp into ¼ inch rounds with a 2 ½ inch cutter.
Heat a heavy frying pan or griddle. Grease with a little butter and cook the Welsh cakes for 2 to 3 minutes each side. Remove and dip in sugar. Best eaten warm.
Continuing our countdown to Christmas
This week I share the recipe for my mother’s plum pudding with you. It was always the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it was made. The grandchildren could hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that first plum pudding seemed the most delicious, it was our first taste of Christmas. The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helped to stir so we could all make a wish.
It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day. Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.
Mummy’s Plum Pudding
This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.
12 ozs (350g) raisins
12 ozs (350g) sultanas
12 ozs (350g) currants
12 ozs (350g) brown sugar
12 ozs (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)
12 ozs (350g) finely-chopped beef suet (preferably home-made)
4 ozs (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)
2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated
4 ozs (110g) chopped almonds
rind of 1 lemon
3 pounded cloves (½ teaspoon)
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 fl ozs (62ml) Jamaica Rum
Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish! Next day stir again for good measure. Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.
Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours. The water should come half way up the side of the bowl. Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary. After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding. Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper. Store in a cool dry place until required.
On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours. Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite. Serve immediately on very hot plates.
Savour Kilkenny Festival kicks off on Friday 23rd October and runs until Monday 26th October with a list of exciting events to attend. To see the programme, visit www.savourkilkenny.com
Glebe Gardens course schedule is available for winter 2009 / 2010 and includes ‘Composting and mulching – putting the garden to bed for the winter’ on Sunday 18th October and ‘Salads all Year Round’ Sunday 1st November, both courses cost €60.00 including lunch. To book and for information about further courses, phone: 028 20232 or email email@example.com
A Pizza Heaven – Ballymaloe Cookery School. Learn how to make the perfect pizza with lots of unusual and delicious toppings with Philip Dennhardt. Hendrik Lepel will also give a talk about how to build and maintain your own pizza oven in your back garden. Friday 30th October 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Booking essential 021 4646785 or www.cookingisfun.ie