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The Food Produce of Mid Wales.
Here in Part Two of our tour, we’re looking at some of the best in chocolate, preserves and desserts from Mid Wales. In Part One we met some great Welsh producers of wine, beer and soft drinks too.
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Food & Drink Wales are currently running a campaign to highlight the excellent produce in Mid Wales. With St David’s Day on 1st March approaching fast, what better reason to head off to Mid Wales to sample some of the region’s best artisan foods and to meet the people whose inspiration and perspiration create it.
Bordering with England to the east, as a region Mid Wales stretches from Snowdonia in the north to the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire in the south. It’s an ancient place where sheep are many and people are few, mainly living in villages and small towns. Like the small (driving through, blink and you’ll miss it) town of Caersws. The site of two Roman forts, built during their conquest of Wales, now Caersws is home to two very special artisan food brands which were both started by accident but are now out conquering the world and winning multiple awards.
Mid Wales Chocolate from Coco Pzazz
Coco Pzazz started out only a few years ago back in 2013 when owner Lori Whinn was trying to raise money for her equine charity. Long story short: to fulfil promises made, Lori had to learn to make chocolate quickly and soon found out that she was rather good at it! Before long her kitchen table chocolate-making had spiralled into a full-time business, employing a small team of enthusiastic employees.
The Coco Pzazz brand very much reflects the company’s culture and business ethos – creative, innovative and ethical. But above all – fun. As seen with the packaging, which is bold and distinctive and uses designs by some of the best local Welsh artists, like Chris Neale, Fox & Boo and Alffabet. Packs are plastic-free, recyclable and compostable.
But it’s the flavours which set Coco Pzazz apart and this starts with the chocolate, which is some of the best, Callebaut from Belgium. To this are added natural ingredients from all over the world to create their unique flavour combinations. There are over 20 different flavours of chocolate and fudge. The former comes in bars (80g) as well as giant buttons (eight in a 96g box). Popular flavours include Vanilla Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate & Peppermint, Bucks Fizz, Bara Brith and Salty Spiced Orange but they are always thinking up new ideas and trying out new flavours (Coco Pzazz’s employees particularly enjoy this part of the job!). One particularly exciting new bar is made entirely from Ruby chocolate. This was created by Callebaut and was only unveiled in 2017; it’s the first new variety since white chocolate appeared in the 1930s. Naturally occurring ruby cocoa beans are processed to give the bar a fab pink tint; the chocolate is full of berry flavours, even though no berries are actually used.
Another interesting new product sees bee pollen (a true superfood) sprinkled on giant buttons.
It’s not just the employees who are enthusiastic, more importantly, it’s the buyers – there really is something for everyone so, Coco Pzazz is a popular brand which can be found in independent and speciality retailers as well as National Trust gift shops, farm shops and delis in Wales and the wider UK. It’s also sold in Sweden, Japan and New Zealand as well as on-line from the Coco Pzazz website.
Jams and Preserves from Radnor Preserves
In a renovated railway building just along from Coco Pzazz is Radnor Preserves where Joanna Morgan, ‘’the Alchemist of Preservers’’ runs her multi-, multi-, multi-award-winning company from an office decorated with her many achievements.
Like Lori, Joanna didn’t set out to set up a preserves business – she was a theatre producer for the RSC. Her green fingers, however, would regularly bring forth such a harvest of damsons and greengages that they would need preserving or otherwise go to waste.
Using a recipe book given to her by her grandfather (and two big saucepans), she chopped and stirred her fruit and vegetables into mouth-watering marmalades, jams, chutneys and jellies. These were given to family and friends – and then to their friends – and sold at farmers’ markets. The first marmalade she made – Quince Marmalade – won first prize in a local competition. With demand growing, Joanna decided preserve-making was something she wanted to do full time and Radnor Preserves was born in 2010. Only a few years later she scooped four wins at the World Marmalade Awards (yes, there is such a thing), the start of a long string of successes there (50 awards, including Champion of Champions Double Gold and 25 Golds).
If you’re named the world’s best marmalade maker (and dubbed Lady Marmalade by one wag), you might rest on your laurels. Joanna though would probably some jam with them – she remains as creative now as she ever was, with Eureka! flavour combinations often coming to her in the middle of the night. As far as possible, ingredients for the three dozen Radnor Preserves lines are sourced from local fruit farms and greengrocers. There are too many flavour combinations to mention all of them here but the range of Joanna’s imagination is impressive.
Examples include award-winning Lime & Laver (laverbread is Welsh seaweed!), Smoky Bourbon Marmalade, Plum and Prosecco Preserve and Strawberry and Champagne Preserve. Joanna uses Monty’s Brewery’s exceptional and celebrated gluten-free Masquerade beer plus a good kick of ginger, to create Welsh Ale Chutney.
Combinations of fruit and alcohol are clearly a recurring theme!
And, taking the theme a fun step further, Radnor Preserves came up with the Marmalade Martini using their Hand-cut Pink Gin Marmalade (swirl a cap of vermouth over ice cubes, add a large teaspoon of the marmalade and a double measure of excellent gin).
There’s also a range of delicious recipes which creatively use some of Joanna’s preserves. Sicilian Blood Orange Marmalade Roasted Chicken and Sausages sounds (and looks!) particularly tasty.
Radnor Preserves products can be bought from a number of outlets around Wales, Caviar House at Heathrow and Gatwick as well as through Ocado with the full range available from their website.
Cakes, Bakes, Desserts and Pastries from Sidoli.
While Coco Pzazz and Radnor Preserves are small enterprises still in their relative infancy, down the main road in Welshpool Sidoli is an example of where passion and creativity can take you.
Carlo Sidoli started his cake company back in the early 1980s with only a handful of employees and through successfully keeping the same passion and enthusiasm he had when making his first bakes, it is now a large enterprise with 400 plus workers and turnover in the tens of millions.
Nowadays Carlo and his team create a huge array of desserts, everything from chocolate cake to cheesecake, apple pie to apple crumble and tarts to tortes. It’s probably easier to say what they don’t make! Sidoli is such important deliverers of desserts, purveyors of puddings and concocters of cakes you might be wondering why you haven’t heard of them. That’s because they only work with wholesalers, pub and restaurant chains both in Mid Wales and throughout the UK.
Ironically, although you might not know the Sidoli name, if you’ve ever bought a dessert from a pub, restaurant or cafe, there’s a really big chance that you have eaten some of their delicious bakes without actually realising it.
Sidoli’s products are very popular, so to meet the great demand, its premises have to be large-scale but you’ll find the same care and attention to detail you’d find in somewhere more artisan and many items are hand-finished.
Sidoli is still run very much like the small, family business it was when Carlo started out. Everything is made from scratch in their kitchens, only using the best natural ingredients, sourced locally as far as possible and keeping it British where they can. Amongst Sidoli’s range are many traditional bakes like an apple pie or a Victoria sponge but the company prides itself on its imaginative new creations. Innovation is led by Carlo’s daughter Sophie whose creativity sometimes sets tricky challenges for those who have to turn her often spectacular ideas into reality!
One particular challenge has been to reduce the amount of sugar used in the bakes to reflect our diet-conscious society while retaining as much taste as possible. Another has been to come up with a range of cakes and desserts which meet the needs of people who avoid gluten and those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, but who do not want to miss out on great flavour and texture. Sidoli wants everybody to be able to enjoy their products so they have developed a large choice of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan cakes, pies and desserts, which are perfectly delicious in their own right. Some might regard such products as less good, somehow second best, but they have been made without compromise and with absolutely no reduction in quality.
So, to coin a phrase everyone can have their cake and eat it – whatever your dietary needs!
For more information about Coco Pzazz, check their website. In addition to an online shop, you’ll find information about their chocolate events run in conjunction with the Coco Live Chocolate School in Powys.
The Radnor Preserves website has an online shop and, as mentioned in the feature, their produce is widely available throughout the UK.
Sidoli Desserts provide desserts on a wholesale basis. But why not check out the website and see if you can spot something you’ve tried already!
For more about where we stayed and what we ate, check our feature on where to eat and drink in Montgomery Wales
Nick was a guest of Food and Drink Wales.