Living Dibley’s Jann Seal finds herself in the middle of foodie heaven, otherwise known as Monmouthshire County, Wales.
One of the first things we noticed when we came to Monmouthshire County, Wales, was the inordinate amount of Michelin- and British- starred restaurants there were within a five mile radius of our new home. Add to that the fresh markets to be found almost every day in one village or another, and it seemed we’d landed in the middle of “foodie heaven!”
Sheep dot the hillsides. While they are cute to look at, everyone here knows that sooner or later they will end up lavishly presented on an heirloom platter, swimming in gravy and surrounded by crispy oven-roasted potatoes and bright green Brussels sprouts. Lamb is a staple in the diet here, and with a bit of daring-do, even the cheapest cuts can be turned into scrumptious meals.
Next to the preponderance of sheep, there are the pigs. Our little cottage has two magnificently constructed brick pig pens adjacent, with solid iron gates and even a courtyard for them to roam. No, we don’t keep pigs here, but instead, the stys are used for storing wood for the wood-burner and pots for the garden. But pork is a big business and all it takes is a stop into our local butcher to see the array of pork products available. That brings us to the sausages.
Sausages of all kinds
In our market town of Abergavenny we’ve discovered a little butcher located on a side street, adjacent to a Chinese takeout and down the lane from a fish and chip emporium. The store, barely ten feet wide, houses a cold case resplendent in sausages of all kinds — blood sausages, beef sausages, and a variety of country pork sausages that have garnered prize ribbons throughout the years. It’s the pork sausages that call out my name.
Raised locally, you can taste the freshness of the meat as it oozes just slightly when sautéed. Seasoned with local herbs and spices, the sausages have an unmistakable flavor when sandwiched within a freshly baked brioche roll, purchased at the Frenchman’s bakery stand at the nearby fresh market. Add a dollop of English mustard, and you immediately forget the hot dogs of home and adopt the sausage roll as your new best friend.
Fresh Welsh market produce
And it’s that fresh market, located in the over 150-year old Market Hall, where everything local and recently pulled from the ground can be purchased. Welsh potatoes still have the earth covering their skins. Brussels sprouts have yet to be plucked from their shafts. Carrots are bright orange, massively round, and taste like – well, carrots! A fishmonger, butcher, cheese and butter maker — everything you need for your weekly meals can be purchased at the market. This is one of the glories of living in the middle of a market basket.
On a recent outing to our 800-year old town of Abergavenny, I bought five potatoes, five carrots, a bag of mushrooms, 3 onions, and some runner beans and it cost me less than $US3.00. Can you beat that, Publix?
Fresh is best
If you watch the television chefs anywhere in the world, including the French chefs who are turning in their Michelin stars at lightning speed, you’ll learn that “fresh is best” is the new kitchen-cry. Go to your local fresh markets wherever you live. (Unlike the chi-chi greenmarkets that charge at least 3-times the store price). Buy what the farmers are offering. You’ll find that preparing food will take on a new dimension for you as you explore the variety of different meals you can make every season of the year. The bonus is that your produce will be much less expensive than if bought in a supermarket, much more fresh, probably organic and grown locally, not in some far-away country. The same holds for local meet and of course, sausages.
Pick up a head of cabbage from the vegetable seller. Chop it into wedges. Sauté in olive oil and a knob (that’s British-speak for large chunk) of local butter until just wilted. Remove to a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh pepper. Then shave some parmesan cheese over it and you’ll have a side dish that is new, tasty and incredibly fresh. That simple side dish is only one of the glories of living in what seems to be our own personal vegetable aisle. If you have a choice, forget the local supermarket. Take a few minutes to investigate local markets, and never, ever, forget to stop – and smell the sausages.