Meet the producers at the heart of Wales’s sustainable food and drink scene

From native flat oysters to organic bison meat, Wales is striving to be at the forefront of sustainable food practice. Here, three top producers share their passion for the country’s produce.

Published 8 Jun 2021, 11:11 BST
Andy Woolmer, owner of Atlantic Edge Oysters, believes that shellfish delivers in terms of taste, health, ...

Andy Woolmer, owner of Atlantic Edge Oysters, believes that shellfish delivers in terms of taste, health, and environmental footprint.

Photograph by Dai Williams

1. Andy Woolmer, Pembrokeshire

Andy is the owner of Atlantic Edge Oysters in Pembrokeshire, where he produces high-quality rock and native oysters.

Tell us about a memorable food experience that’s unique to Wales.
It has to be a proper Welsh breakfast with laverbread and cockles. It may sound strange if you haven’t tried it, but the thought of bacon, laverbread and cockles with an egg makes my mouth water. I make my own bacon from local pork, which goes perfectly with cockles from Penclawdd village and laverbread.

What might surprise visitors about the Welsh food scene?
If you come to Pembrokeshire, you’ll find innovative and high-quality restaurants tucked away all over the county. From street food vans selling the best lunches by the beach to fine seafood dining — it’s simply a case of seek and you shall find.

Are there any trends that could make an impact in the future? 
Shellfish is something that isn’t appreciated as much as it should be. We can grow high-quality mussels and oysters right along the Welsh coast. It’s only now that consumers are realising the importance of where their food comes from and the environmental impact it has. And shellfish delivers in terms of taste, health, and environmental footprint.

Why do you think Wales has such a good reputation when it comes to quality produce?
For us, we work in a pristine marine environment surrounded by seagrass beds and in Class A waters. Oysters take on the essence of the marine environment in which they grow, so provenance is everything. This merroir [the terroir for seafood] reflects Pembrokeshire’s healthy environment, which chimes with many of the chefs we work with — they value quality, provenance and local produce above all else. Very few other places benefit from the sort of natural environment we have in Wales. 

What does the future hold for you?
I’m excited about growing native flat oysters. We’ve developed expertise growing them for conservation projects, having put 40,000 into Milford Haven and Cleddau Estuary in the last year. It’s considered the connoisseur’s oyster, and growing them commercially will have huge ecological benefits for the local wild oyster beds because of the ‘spill over’ of their larvae. Over 70% of Welsh inshore waters are protected in some form, so we need to ensure our fisheries and shellfish farms continue to have a light touch.

Lord Newborough has been a farmer at Rhug Organic Farm in Denbighshire since 1998. 

Photograph by Rhug Estate

2. Lord Newborough, Denbighshire

Lord Newborough has been a farmer at the Rhug Organic Farm in Denbighshire since 1998, and specialises in producing organic meat.

How did you get into farming? 
My father always wanted me to farm but it wasn’t something I was interested in until I started at Rhug Estate in 1998. For four years, I also ran a fishery protection service in partnership with the Sierra Leone government. 

Tell us about a memorable food experience you can only have in Wales.
I’m biased, but I enjoy eating meat produced at my own farm; it’s organic, produced without artificial fertilisers, and held to the highest standards of animal welfare. Our meat is eaten in some of the world’s most famous Michelin-starred restaurants, so if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. My favourite is bison meat from a small herd on the farm, followed by our salt marsh lamb, which is produced on the shore of Caernarfon Bay.

Which Welsh meal is a standout for you?
I love roast Welsh lamb or beef. It's a Sunday treat, the best meal of the week, and something I always relate to being at home.

Are there any trends that could make an impact in Wales in the future? 
We’re seeing an increase in venison because it’s healthier to eat than fish or chicken. It’s found in the wild on the Welsh Borders, and more farms like ours are seeing demand for it. I also believe climate change will lead to an increasing number of vineyards here.

Why do you think Wales has such a good reputation when it comes to quality produce?
Welsh Lamb is a strong, well-recognised international brand and the consumer thinks of Wales as a destination where food is produced in a natural, clean environment. Every effort must be made to build on this and we should continue to care for the environment by embracing the most advanced sustainable practices. Carbon sequestration, for instance, will be a buzz phrase for the future. 

Patrick Gee is a producer at Llanllyr SOURCE, which has been carbon neutral since 2006. 

Photograph by Crown Copyright

3. Patrick Gee, Ceredigion

Patrick is the founder of Llanllyr SOURCE in Ceredigion, which is aiming to become the world’s first carbon negative water company by 2025.

Are there any trends that might make an impact in Wales in the coming years? 
I think we’ll see a greater focus on products that co-exist better with the environment we live and work in than we do now. And that should see the variety of the indigenous ingredients we use increase — not just fungi, for instance, but types of greens that have been traditionally foraged.

Of all the smells in a Welsh kitchen, which is your favourite?
Cawl, a hearty meat and veg stew, being cooked in the kitchen. It’s the ultimate comfort food, especially after a cold, wet day outside on the farm.

Tell us about a memorable food experience you can only have in Wales.
The food and drink sector here is focused on the growing awareness of how environmental changes can affect the food chain and how we can better harness the ‘farm to fork’ philosophy. These days, there are so many places to eat that focus on seasonality from both the land and sea — so a meal is always memorable.

What do you love most about Welsh ingredients?
It’s a beautiful country and it’s very rural in parts. But that’s an opportunity for restaurants and shops to sell products that have travelled only a few miles. The carbon footprint of what we eat and drink is becoming more visible and, crucially, it’s more important to actively reduce it year on year.

How important is sustainability for you? 
We’ve been carbon neutral since 2006 and this has supported our export business. In time, we’re hoping to be carbon negative.

For more information on the Welsh Government's new sustainability vision, visit: businesswales.gov.wales

Read the interview with chef Gareth Stevenson on Welsh cuisine, sustainable sourcing and his favourite local producers.

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