By Bob Rogers

The 2023 Abergavenny Food Festival arrived just as summer was putting away her swimsuit and sandals, deflating the beachball and tucking the barbecue back in the shed with the patio set and the lawnmower, but the consensus among most festival-goers was that Keats’ ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ was much preferred to the energy-sapping and barely breathable sauna of a couple of weeks before. 

In fact, the mercurial weather did little to dilute enthusiasm for a great turnout celebrating a quarter of a century of an event that arrived before the turn of the millennium in the modestly attired guise of a shop window for local producers and which has grown into the carnival of culinary creativity we enjoy today. 

There was a danger a few years ago of the event becoming a victim of its own popularity with growing crowds making it a challenge to simply move about in town, but the implementation of ticket rationing has proved a viable solution, allowing a degree of comfort and accessibility in the various locations. 

The event was founded in 1999 by two local farmers in response to the BSE crisis. Set up on a not-for profit basis, the aim has been to celebrate the food culture of Wales and beyond. It has, however, burgeoned into a European and global event where visitors can meet growers, producers, exhibitors, educators, writers, campaigners, chefs and cooks all in one place with the high-profile and established denizens of culinary renown and agriculture alongside fledgling enterprises.  

Organisers state: “We are committed to drawing in a wide demographic, transforming the way people think about food; challenging and promoting new ideas, pushing the boundaries, and encouraging people to look differently at where their food comes from as well as acting as a gateway to Wales for cultural tourism, encouraging first-time visitors to come back for new experiences, contributing extensively to the regional economy.”

The 2023 event proved to be a global experience inviting visitors from every continent to share the tastes of a cornucopia of cultures.

In an increasingly divided world, food is a common denominator and a part of the ethos of the event is an emphasis of accessibility, with sourcing and preparation fulfilling part of the brief to educate and entertain. 

Organisers are at pains to emphasise that, despite the growth of the event, it remains essentially local at heart: “While encouraging visitors from further afield, the Festival attracts the majority of its visitors from Abergavenny, Newport, Cardiff, South Wales, and the Border counties, offering an immersive, stimulating and educational family day out with free entry for children under 16.  

“When trader selections are made, the top criteria is quality and sustainability. Local and regional Welsh producers meeting that criteria form a core element of the markets. Organisers also actively seek out interesting chefs, new food traders and food stories with Welsh provenance and backgrounds.

“The programme of events in the ‘Local & Vocal’ tent showcases growers, producers, writers and campaigners from the immediate area.”