Monday, October 15, 2007

The Oyster Festival

If you were driving along the A55 in Anglesey or in the vicinity of Holyhead this weekend you would have noticed the AA signs for the Annual Oyster Festival. Pauline and I like to visit this event to check out the latest people involved in foood in our area.
As usual, the event was staged in a marquee at the Trearddur Bay Hotel and there were plenty of stalls set up to whet the appetite. There were the stalls of butchers operating in North Wales and once again there was an opportunity to purchase organically raised mutton. Last year we tried the mutton and found it a tasty treat. Strangely enough we have an English expression, "Mutton dressed up as Lamb." But this meat was of a higher quality than thie expression suggests.
There were many different types of sausage to be tried too but we prefer our spicy sausages from North West England. This is not to say that local sausages are not good because they are. It is simply that the typical flavours of North Wales are not what we want in a sausage. But if you like these local flavours the ones offered were of the highest order.
The food technology department from Coleg Menai had a stall and they were offering samples of ice cream which is expected to be on the market in the near future. I tried the strawberry flavour and it was delicious. Now, when I say an ice cream is delicious you can rely on it. I consider myself an expert on what is a good ice cream, having tried many types over the last 60 years. This ice cream had a lovely soft texture with the strawberry flavour continuing to come through.
It was inevitable that we visited our friend, Tom Barlow, of the Gwinllan Padrig vineyard at Cemaes Bay. This year Tom had something different on his stall and it sold extremely well. As well as his usual white wines he had brought along a new product which we thought would go well as a pudding wine. But at 22% alcohol content you would need to be drinking it in a place from which you would not be driving! It was Friday when we visited the Festival and we found Tom did not have any of his wonderful sparkling white wine on sale. He promised to bring two bottles over if we called again on Saturday, so we did. Outside champagne we like only two sparkling wines - Prosecco from Italy and Tom's own product. I can tell you we have tried quite a number in coming to this decision.
Another stall of interest offered seafood. Of what was on offer we decided to sample crab cakes, salmon cakes and smoked haddock cakes. We had these on Saturday night for dinner with a salad and the outright winner was the smoked haddock. Speaking of smoked haddock we cannot ignore the stall from Derimon, the Anglesey smokery just a mile and a half from our house. At Derimon they will smoke just about any food you care to mention. Over the past two years they have been smoking the Anglesey Sea Salt and this has become popular. For us, we just love their smoked salmon. Each year we have it for breakfast on Christmas Day washed down by champagne.
Of all the stalls at the Oyster Festival we love to visit Cemaes Bay Lobsters. For some years now, David Livingstone has set out from the harbour at Cemaes to catch lobsters and crabs. I have seen people buying live lobsters on the quayside after he has returned to port after a fishing trip. Speaking personally, I just cannot kill a lobster so I always buy them cooked. For £10 we bought one on Friday and I prepared it with a salad for accompaniment to eat that evening. It was delicious!!! Preparation of a cooked lobster is very easy. All you do is take a large sharp knife, mark the centre point of the lobster's back and cut downwards. Then you cut along its back as far as the tail and again from the centre to its head. You will see the stomach sac in two halves which has to be discarded and then all that comes out now is the long thin intestine running down to the tail. These are not poisonous - just inedible.
This year we had a stall for Fairtrade which was good news. I bought Pauline a packet of fair traded Earl Grey teabags. For some years I have supported fair traded products and persuaded my old church in Shaw to start a regular stall and serve only fair traded tea, coffee and biscuits at events. My present church, Amlwch Methodist Church already did this when we arrived on the island to live. In fact Friday's stallholder was Stephen Roe, the Deacon who works as minister for our church.
There were stalls offering toffee, liqeurs, apples and pears and other fare. But coming last but not least was the oyster stall. I was able to talk to the owner who told me how he went out in his boat to get his oysters and mussels. It was fascinating to say the least. In future I can call at his establishment to purchase local oysters and mussels. Coming from the Menai Strait they are extremely fresh.
By sheer co-incidence, it was Harvest Festival yesterday at Amlwch Methodist Church and I thought as the service went on how I had been experiencing the taste of Anglesey's own harvest from land and sea this weekend. If you fancy visiting the Oyster Festival it is held each year on the second Friday in October and the venue will almost certainly be the Trearddur Bay Hotel.


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