Falling in love with Abergavenny Food Festival

QUEUING in the sun, the smell of grilling scallops filled the little side street as the queue behind us grew.

The beautifully-fresh molluscs were browned off, then placed in their shell on a bed of samphire, leek and bacon, topped under a coating of lemon butter sauce.

Eating it, the soft flesh punctuated by buttery caramelisation and complemented so well by the salty samphire and bacon, I was immediately taken on a journey to the sea, savouring each mouthful.

But I was nowhere near the coast. We were outside a pub called the Farmers Arms, and this was my first experience of Abergavenny Food Festival, a weekend that saw every food-loving cell within me pumped with excitement.

I'd wanted to go for years but it had taken us this long to get here. But finally it had happened, and even on the Friday anticipation could be felt in Abergavenny before festivities had begun.

Signs outside every shop spoke of it, offering special deals or just showing solidarity. We wandered around the town, through its side-streets and all over saw traders and producers were busy setting up stalls.

And then it rained, hard. But apparently the weather was just getting it out of its system ahead of two days of glorious sunshine.

I purposely ate little for breakfast on Saturday morning, wanting to save myself for festival specials. And walking through the town centre getting our bearings and checking out the different stalls, the first thing I would eat caught me by surprise – a hog roast.

I wouldn't normally go for them, feeling they vary little from one to the other. But I'd arrived at Sam's Meat Roasts' stall just as they were uncovering the centrepiece: a whole pig (half-Tamworth, half-boar), roasted a deep golden brown, surrounded by cooking juices and fat still bubbling ferociously. I stood no chance.

In a roll slathered with stuffing and Dragon mustard – a deep purple-red from beetroot and a kick from chilli – I ate as I continued my tour.

Spread across different parts of the town, the food festival is like a village – no, a city - of food.

There's a street food section, where I battled the temptation of grilling souvlaki and lamb burgers to make a beeline for Hang Fire Smokehouse.

Their Memphis King Rib was beautiful – tender meat and yielding roasted fat smothered in a tangy BBQ sauce and spiced a little through the Memphis dry shake.

Hang Fire's Shauna greeted everyone like they were an old friend, a theme throughout a festival where everyone selling goods there seemed so happy to be there, buoyed by the excitement shown towards their goods.

The castle grounds were busy with children's activities, health-food presentations and food stalls selling burgers (really, really good burgers) and home-made pasta.

The market hall, where authors signed copies of their books beneath inflatable market animals dangling from the ceiling, was packed with stalls selling delectable sweet treats from meringues, ice cream, cakes and florentines.

The Priory Centre's grounds were dedicated to seafood, where I snuck a single oyster into my already-full stomach, while the indoors celebrated chutneys and chocolate, honey and spices.

There were areas dedicated to cheese, where I savoured a beautiful three-cheese toastie on incredible sourdough from Hobbs House Bakery while sitting on a step basked in sunlight. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a new string to the bakery's bow started just this year - long may they continue.

We also stocked up on excellent cheeses and writing this now, it's taking all my willpower to not dive into the fridge and stuff my face full of the Lyburn's beautifully nutty Old Winchester Mature Cheddar we bought home

There was a packed schedule of presentations and cookery demonstrations, with stars including Gizzi Erskine, Tom Kerridge, Yottam Ottolenghi and Raymond Blanc all on the roster. 

We'd booked onto two. The first, Vietnamese Kitchen with Cyrus Todiwala of Cafe Spice Namaste and Green Papaya's Wyn Ma, was chaotic but entertaining, and I'll be making the Vietnamese dishes they demonstrated very soon and uploading it onto the website.

Even better was  Cabrito Goat Meat's demonstration. Dishes featuring James Whetlor of Cabrito whose kid goats – saved from immediate culling at birth – were knocked up by Matt Gillan of the Michelin-starred The Pass in West Sussex.

Being half-Jamaican, goat will always have a special place in my heart. But Matt showed the inspired dishes that could be done aside from curry, from unctuous, moist shredded shoulder to beautiful pan-fried rack served with girolle, marzipan, blackberry and radish. Incredible. It's criminal goat is so underused in the UK but it's demonstrations like this that will slowly change the national mindset.

It was the passion of the producers, cooks and growers that made this weekend so special for me.

I was thrilled to see the Wasabi Company's stall, given one of their wasabi plants is growing in my garden, maybe or maybe not flourishing into a gigantic rhizome beneath the soil that I will one day serve to Fowl Mouths guests.

There in the form of a half-kilo gnarly rhizome was encouragement to never give up on my plant. I could've tried to buy it, but at around £125 it was a bit pricy and Wasabi Company boss Nick Russell – a fellow Weymouthian, it turns out – didn't seem in a rush to give it up as he enthused on his product to the busy crowds.

Watch this space, as some of their goodies will be making their debut on the Fowl Mouths' next menu very soon.

By 3pm on the Sunday, I was done. We collected a £45-half lamb special offer we'd ordered the day before from Edwards, Abergavenney's local butcher before heading to the car.

Back home, my haul includes dried chillies from the Wiltshire Chilli Company, some lovely honey, sauces, cheeses and chorizo to keep me going. And my memories, of course.

A lot of people have since said Abergavenny Food Festival has long been on their list, but they hadn't quite got around to going.

I can only say, go.

It's somehow managed to retain a sense of being special, despite its popularity, and because it's so varied it will surely appeal to many.

This festival is the very essence of food in Britain today. Passionate, loved and joyful. And of course really bloody tasty.