ONE of the biggest events in the Welsh food and drinks calendar returns this weekend when the Abergavenny Food Festival takes over the town. 

Now in its 24th year the mix of market stalls, cookery talks and demonstrations and book signings regularly attracts tens of thousands and is regarded as one of the best events of its type in the UK. In previous years it has attracted foodie heavyweights from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver to the market town. 

This year among those appearing at the festival are cookery writer Chetna Makan, who came to prominence during the Great British Bake Off and chef Poppy O’Toole who’s garnered more than a million Tik-Tok followers after showcasing her skills on the social media platform after finding herself unemployed due to Covid. 

For Welsh food and drink producers the weekend long festival is a vital opportunity to get their produce out to consumers, this year more than ever - after the festival was cancelled in 2020. 

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Baker Allie Thomas said the event is established as the biggest of its kind in Wales, similar in scale to a music festival, and one of the biggest gatherings since restrictions lifted in August: “I think it’s the first  in Wales and following the Green Man the biggest event, it’s fantastic in quality and size. 

“It’s also very, very important as one of the key things about Abergavenny Food Festival is the recognition it gives to food and drink in Wales.

The National Wales: A cooking demonstration Picture: Abergavenny Food FestivalA cooking demonstration Picture: Abergavenny Food Festival

Allie who runs Cradoc’s Savoury Biscuits, with husband Peter, producing crackers that are sold in shops across Wales will use a stall in the Market Hall to trial a new low carbohydrate cracker. 

It has been two years in development and uses a “scientific flour” developed in the Midlands: “It’s a response to the government’s obesity challenge and it is low carbohydrate and suitable for people with type two diabetes.” 

The cracker will be officially launched at the Welsh Government’s Blas Cymru trade show at Newport’s Celtic Manor hotel in October but Allie is keen to get instant customer feedback, something the Abergavenny crowds will deliver. 

“We get to show our products at one of the best food festivals in Britain, it’s one of the oldest and most established.” 

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Cradoc’s was started by Allie and her daughter Ella from their kitchen in Brecon and after moving to a purpose-built bakery in their garden took on a unit at an industrial estate in the town. The business now employs a food technologist, with the help of Cardiff Metropolitan University, and seven staff having taken on two full-time and a part-timer during the pandemic, having grown its online sales. 

As well as it crackers under its own brand it produces own label crackers for cheese producers and sells through some 400 to 500 retailers, from farm shops and delies, ranging from local businesses in Brecon to shops in London - meaning it has picked up some celebrity fans as well. 

“Ed Sheeran chose us to go in the hampers he sent to all his friends last year, he bought from St Margaret’s Wine in London. We got a bit of a kick out of that.” 

Meeting customers is a key element of the food festival for Huw Williams of Welsh Coffee Co which will be selling refreshments and retail bags during the weekend. 

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“It’s a more of a profile event for us,” said Huw who runs the company with wife Alison from their own roastery at home in Ogmore by Sea in the Vale of Glamorgan. 

“We get to meet customers directly, we get info from them, they talk to us about our products and it’s also nice when people come up and say they’ve bought from the website and it’s nice to put a face to the company.” 

The National Wales: Crowds enjoy the festival Picture: Abergavenny Food FestivalCrowds enjoy the festival Picture: Abergavenny Food Festival

The business has concentrated on wholesale to the hospitality sector, meaning the lockdowns in 2020, which extended into this year, had impacted it – but Huw said retail custom, via its website, had grown. 

“As people became more home based we did see more sales online and I think a lot of people noticed that.” 

The scale of the festival underlines its importance to the food and drink industry in Wales said Huw: “I think it’s one of the first towns to have a food festival and it’s always been quite a big event in the calendar and is well supported in the town and has drawn big crowds and big names. 

“It takes up a lot of the town, whole different areas of it, and I’ve been to a few festivals over the years and it does seem like they try to add value to the event.” 

The chance to sell produce in person once more is being greatly welcomed by Emma O’Mahoney who bought the Afal y Graig Welsh Artisan Cider and Perry firm from its founders just before the pandemic hit in March last year.

The National Wales: Abergavenny Market Hall Picture: Abergavenny Food FestivalAbergavenny Market Hall Picture: Abergavenny Food Festival 

“I took over just before Covid happened,” said Emma who bought the firm, and its orchard, from founders Len and Angharad Nichols, who retired on health grounds. 

“Len taught me everything,” said Emma, who previously worked as a nanny, of her induction into cider making, from pressing the apples, fermenting, bottling, labelling and selling. 

“I love it, as I like chatting to people, finding out where they are from and there are so many people in Wales, from all over, at the moment. I met a group who had been living in South America in Caerphilly,” said Emma who has been selling at various markets. 

The Neath-based company has only ever sold at festivals and markets meaning for much of her first year Emma, who is helped by family members when at events, was left without an income: “We were just happy to stay in and stay safe.” 

The Abergavenny Food Festival runs on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19. For more information see its website abergavennyfoodfestival.com. 

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