Super-fruit vinegars served up in London’s Savoy Hotel are being snapped up by shoppers at a Welsh centre of excellence.
Angela Williams and her two daughters are the only UK producers of vinegars and chutneys made from aronia berries, which they grow their family farm on the foothills on Snowdon.
Their Beri Da products, hand-made in Dyffryn Nantlle, have been so popular at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre that a new range of whole-berry chutneys made with aronia, beetroot and chillies is about to go on sale.
The new varieties will hit Bodnant’s farm shop shelves on June 13 and 14, as part of the centre’s Red Dragon Weekend, which will also see a host of cookery and food events.
There will be a producer’s market, and cookery demonstrations and classes, along with family activities including a treasure hunt and dragon crafts at the centre in the Conwy valley.
Aronia berries are praised for their antioxidant properties, with research underway into how they can help fight cancer, protect against liver damage and lower blood cholesterol.
To meet increasing demand for the Beri Da products, Angela’s sister Fiona is turning over 10 acres of her own farm at Llanberis to grow the unusual shrub, which originates in America, where it is also known as chokeberry thanks to the sour taste of the raw fruits.
Since the vinegars went on sale at Bodnant, chefs at the Savoy Hotel’s acclaimed Art Deco Kaspar Seafood and Grill have begun to use them in dishes. Plus the vinegars are being tested by bar-tenders creating exotic cocktails in the Savoy’s world-renowned Beaufort Bar, which was once the hotel’s cabaret stage.
Launched at the Royal Welsh Show last December, Beri Da’s first big commercial break-through when Bodnant began selling the vinegars on St David’s Day, explained Angela’s daughter Vicky Williams-Griffith, who works in the company with her sister Anna Livingston.
“Getting our products on sale at Bodnant made a a big difference for us, and it has brought us to the attention so many more people – they keep coming back for more,” said 35-year-old Vicky, who is commercial director for Beri Da.
The company sprung into life after 54-year-old Angela planted the aronia shrubs as part of a farm diversification project, led by University of Wales Bangor, at her smallholding in Llandwrog, and decided to start making her own vinegars with the berries.
Vicky said: “The idea came from an inspirational moment, when Mum was visiting a local produce food hall at an agricultural show. She had always wanted to create a food product from the berries, so we looked at each other and knew this idea was the one. “
After experiments by Vicky, they first produced a vinegar, then added whole-berry chutneys to expand their range to ensure they used every part of the precious fruit.
Vicky, who also helps her mum and sister to cook, bottle and label the products, added: “During August we have a limited time of about two weeks to delicately hand pick each berry – it takes an hour to harvest one kilo.
“We then prepare our berries in the kitchen of my home in the Nantlle Valley.
“We ensure the berries remain whole to make the chutney, so there is no waste, because the berries are so rare. It takes us eight hours to separate the berries from the vinegar, then we filter it numerous times to ensure quality.
“The vinegars and chutneys are handmade in very small batches, about two kilos each time. There’s no mechanical involvement – we even hand wash and label every single jar and bottle.
“Plus each bottle and jar is given its individual premium element by our unique number of production.
“You really can’t describe the flavour which is what makes the vinegar in particular so versatile. It goes with so much that’s already sale at Bodnant, such as cheese, meat, strawberries, ice cream, cocktails wines, veg salad and even chocolate!”
The Beri Da team quickly realised they were on to something special, as demand grew after a launch at the Royal Welsh Winter Show, and they now turn out around 6,500 bottles.
“Everything has happened so fast, it’s just amazing. I think our first batch was ready in November and it’s been crazy ever since,” added Vicky.
Inspired by their success at Bodnant, she began to contact all London’s top eateries.
She said: “I couldn’t believe it when I got an email from The Savoy asking us to come down to London – when we went they absolutely loved the product.
“They also really liked the story – the family element, that’s it’s the only one of its kind in the UK and also because it’s hand-made in Wales. Who knows where we’ll be this time next year.
“My aunt has just taken delivery of a load of new aronia shrubs and we’re looking to plant up another 10 acres in the next week or so at her place on Snowdon.
“I’m so proud of it and what we’ve done. It’s something so special but we don’t want it to get too big. We need it to stay quite exclusive so in addition to London we’re sticking with one local market, a couple of food shows – and Bodnant of course,” she added.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre managing director Chris Morton said: “We are always on the look-out for new and local producers, so when Beri Da came to us with their vinegars, we realised that they met our vision of excellence.
“We know that when cooks, both amateur or professional, visit our farm shop they are on the look-out for ingredients that will inspire them, as well as being tasty.
“We have a continuing commitment to supporting and encouraging local food and drink producers. Overall, 45 per cent of all products sold in the farm shop are produced here at Bodnant, and three-quarters comes from Wales, including specialist foods from over 100 artisan producers,” added Chris.
Aronia berries are one of nature’s most powerful berries, due to the highest concentration of antioxidant values ever recorded for any fruit in the world. They also have the highest anthocyanin concentrations (pigments), and are very high in proanthocyanidins (tannins), in addition to a lot of other polyphenols. They are three times higher in antioxidants than blueberries and contain high levels of Vitamin C.
Bodnant Welsh Food is located in a building dating from the 18th century which has been lovingly restored and includes a farm shop, tea room, restaurant, wine cellar, cookery school and farmhouse accommodation.
The centre had its fanfare opening by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2012, and was named Welsh Retailer of the Year in the Farm Shop of the Year awards.
Bodnant has its own dairy making cheese and ice cream, plus an on-site bakery and butchery, with award-winning pies. There’s also a wine store and tea rooms plus the Hayloft restaurant and farmhouse accommodation.
More details at bodnant-welshfood.co.uk