Tag Archives: Menai mussels

A night of moules and music…Moelyci benefit night

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On Friday 1st February I will be donating my time to support Moelyci Environmental Centre. They are one of my primary local suppliers and hold the unique title of being the first community owned farm in the UK, a model which has helped and inspired other similar and perhaps more well-known projects such as Fordhall in Shropshire (which was England’s first community owned farm). Moelyci is a very special place. As a pioneering community enterprise where every member is an equal (whoever they are and whatever their background) it is a shame it has never been able to reach its full potential. There are many reasons for this, but a significant one is their lack of working capital. The future vision is there but with high mortgage payments, little spare income to increase staffing levels, geographical isolation and perhaps a certain lack of effective marketing its true potential has not yet been realised.

As a working farm it has always been at ease with its small, sustainable, peaceful cooperative ethos but sadly now that is not enough. The present economic climate is making life difficult for businesses small and large to survive. Moelyci like many non-profit making social enterprises are struggling for survival and as someone who works closely with and respects their work, the last thing I, or the rest of the community want to see is another community enterprise go under.The likelihood is that the land would be lost to developers and the mountain no longer accessible for the community.

We are all working hard to save the centre and I am helping in any way I can. Their situation is precarious but not yet dire; they survived Christmas due to a local groundswell of support and a huge amount of voluntary action, but we need more of this.

The building of a much-needed education centre (and one which has taken up a lot of the financial reserves) is one step to bringing in new and increased revenue, the mortgage is paid up til March, a green burial site is in preparation, but the bills are still mounting and the regular members of staff have all been on reduced hours since the end of November to meet financial commitments around the farm.

So now I have said all this all I can add is that….If you are local come and join us for a night of food (local Menai moules mariniere with bread) and quality music in the form of Bandabacana and the Racubah DJ’s; two prodigious local talents and purveyors of dance, funk and afro-latin grooves.

If you are not local maybe you could spare a few pounds to help us buy the mountain and farm. Money raised will enable us to finish building the barn and allow us to forge ahead with future developments that will ensure sustainability, so the local (and wider) community can continue to enjoy this beautiful Welsh mountain farm.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MOELYCI OR MAKE A DONATION PLEASE CLICK HERE

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Mussels with cider, leeks and bacon

Following on from my last post…here’s a little video of my trip to sea mussel collecting, plus what is one of my favourite mussel recipes. Now that it is peak mussel season this dish would make the perfect Christmas dinner starter.

James (of Menai Mussels) sent me off home after our day out clutching a bag of freshly caught mussels, which I promptly cooked with finely shredded leeks, smoked bacon and  a good helping of medium dry cider. Voila! they were transformed into a gorgeously creamy and beautifully warming supper served with french bread (home-made if possible) and a couple of finger bowls.

Mussels with cider, leeks and bacon recipe:

2k Menai mussels in their shells, very well washed, debearded and scrubbed. I like to rinse at least four times under cold running water.

1 tablespoon or so of olive oil, a knob of butter

half a red onion finely chopped

1 finely chopped clove of garlic

150g finely chopped smoked streaky bacon

1 finely chopped medium leek

a sprig of fresh thyme

500ml medium dry cider

300ml single cream

salt and pepper

a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan. Add the onion and leek and cook gently over a low heat for about 10 mins. Turn the heat up to medium and add the bacon, garlic, thyme and cook briskly, stirring so that the onion and leek don’t burn. The bacon should just be turning golden when it is time to add the mussels.

Tip the mussels into the pot and pop on the lid. Give the pan a good shake to combine with the leek and oil. Remove the lid and pour in the cider, giving the pan a shake again. Turn the heat up a little more, keep the lid tight on and allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until all the mussels have opened up in the pan. Once cooked add the cream, parsley and some salt and pepper.

When you have eaten all mussels and dumped the shells to one side you will be left with all the luscious creamy juices, mop up with plenty of bread and a soup spoon.

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At sea with the mussel men

Its 9am and I’m standing on the deck of the Mare Gratia thanking the heavens that it’s a calm still day. The Menai Straits are like a looking-glass reflecting the mountains as the sun slowly creeps up behind them. It’s the proverbial mill-pond and I’m looking forward to a morning’s mussel collecting with mussel farmer James Wilson and his crew.

It was one of those fluke meetings that led to this trip. A train journey to London and a conversation about occupations introduced food blogger and writer (me) to Menai mussel fisherman (James). I happened to mention that I loved mussels and was keen to go on a boat trip out and so he invited me. A month later here I was, boarding a boat bound for the Straits.

The mussel boat usually sails three times a week during mussel season (October to march) but I chose to join them on the day with the most humane leaving time (9am). Our mission: to collect 20 tons of mussels.

Mussel collecting in the Menai Straits is as old as the hills,  but the modern industry has been going for about 50 years. These days it’s a cross between farming and fishing; the seed (or juvenile mussels) are collected from further afield and returned to the local beds where they grow and mature naturally, not on ropes or chains, but on the bed of the straits itself. This process apparently produces a better flavoured mussel and who am I to argue, I love our local mussels!

Three main companies work the Menai Straits collecting mussels on beds that stretch between Caernarfon and Beaumaris. James’s company works primarily at the Beaumaris end of the Straights.

I’d read that Menai mussels make up around fifty percent of the UK mussel market, but James pointed out that this is dependent on how much is produced elsewhere. Northern Ireland and Scotland make up the rest of the market and in a normal year James reckoned that Menai mussels probably make up about thirty percent of the UK market. What really surprised me though is just how small the UK mussel market actually is! Most of those we set out to collect that morning were bound for Holland!

I am a person that tries her best to cut food miles so you can imagine my outrage when I discovered that our Welsh mussels were mostly destined for Europe, however James reassured me that mussels sort of redress the balance by being good at recycling carbon emissions. Carbon is a constituent ingredient of shell, in fact around 40 grams per kilo of mussels will be carbon, which put me and my environmental concerns into perspective a little.

Still, even if it’s not a food mile issue it is a shame that so many of our native gown mussels end up elsewhere. The demand for mussels in the UK market is tiny compared to Europe where they consume much more seafood. Even though the domestic market is growing (at around 15% a year) and we sell more now than ten or twelve years ago (mostly to the restaurant trade) it’s still a small percentage.

I asked James why when we are so close to the sea, the local supermarkets don’t seem too keen to stock this abundant local produce…

Much of it comes down to processing regulations and grading.  Supermarkets in the UK have historically been twitchy about buying from anywhere but ‘grade A’ sources, they are the ones deemed safest based on water tests. Safety tests and required preparation  prior to selling do appear to vary widely between countries but overall there is little difference in the mussel quality of the Menai mussels and those produced in Scotland or Ireland especially after cleaning and processing. It is simply because the waters of the Menai Straits are classed as ‘long-term grade B’, they have generally not made it to British supermarket shelves, or at least not until they have been to Holland for treatment then come back again!

With the UK market slowly growing there is more of a demand for Menai Mussels but no processing facilities to treat and clean them. In Scotland this infrastructure is in place which is  why most of the mussels we see in the supermarkets come from there.

I asked James what could be done to improve the selling of Menai mussels locally and in the UK….

The immediate plan is to build a processing factory on the harbour side where the mussels are landed. They can then be cleaned, packaged and more sold locally and to the wider UK.  As far as I’m concerned this is great news for the local population here in Bangor and the surrounding area. It means that we might once again have our own harbour side fresh fish shop stocking local mussels just like we did when I moved to Wales all that time ago!

Leaving harbour

Leaving harbour

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Bangor pier in the mist

Bangor pier in the mist

sun coming up behind the mountains

sun coming up behind the mountains

Mussel collecting: they look like brushes and sweep over the top of the mussel bed, shifting the mussel 'mud' but not disturbing the bed itself

Mussel collecting: they look like brushes and sweep over the top of the mussel bed, shifting the mussel ‘mud’ but not disturbing the bed itself

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lifting the mussels

lifting the mussels

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nets full of mussels

nets full of mussels

emptying the net into the container ready for cleaning

emptying the net into the container ready for cleaning

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mussels being washed, cleaned and bagged

mussels being washed, cleaned and bagged

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lifting the mussels off the boat

lifting the mussels off the boat

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not the most flattering picture of James so I hope he forgives me my bad photography

not the most flattering picture of James so I hope he forgives me my bad photography

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