Food Provenance and Authenticity Win Big at Irish Food Awards
Ireland’s finest food products and producers are celebrated at 2015 Irish Food Writers’ Guild awards
Food provenance and authenticity were top of the agenda at this year’s Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards, as seven food producers were awarded and honoured for the high standard and impeccable quality of their products, as well as for their unwavering dedication, devotion and commitment to Irish food. Special mention was also given to producers who embraced sustainable practices and techniques.
Now in its 21st year, the annual Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards is a firm favourite on the Irish culinary calendar. The awards celebrate homegrown producers, organisations or individuals, whilst also celebrating the heroes who have devoted – and are continuing to devote – their lives to supporting and promoting Irish food.
Lizzie Gore-Grimes, Chairperson of the IFWG said, “The origin of food and drink products is becoming an increasingly important and influential factor for consumers; more and more we are seeing ‘local’ and ‘homemade’ as key factors in their decision-making process. What’s more, as the consumers’ knowledge and interest in food provenance grows, so too does the need for complete transparency on the part of the producer. The stronger the story behind the brand and the more that is known about its origin, the greater the connection between the consumer and the product.
“All of our winners are flying the flag for food provenance this year. They come to the market with products that are real, authentic and bursting with honest-to-goodness quality. The quiet success of these seven winners is in no small part due to the richness of their produce, the strength of their story and the passion of the people behind them. What may initially have started as a labour of love for our award winners is now reaping the rewards today. All of our winners are wonderful ambassadors for Irish food, and I am certain that they will remain key players in maintaining Ireland’s enviable reputation on an international stage.”
The IFWG Food Awards are considered the most prestigious of their type in Ireland and are unique in that the members of the Guild are the sole nominating and decision-making body.
The Guild presented seven awards at an event that was attended by some of the biggest names in Irish food and hosted at the much-celebrated l’Ecrivain Restaurant.
The 2015 IFWG Food Award winners are Cork’s On the Pig’s Back, Skeaghanore Farm Fresh Ducks from Ballydehob and Wexford’s Wild About Foods. A special Irish Drink Award was presented to Richmount Elderflower Cordial from Co Longford, while Foods of Athenry claimed the Guild’s Environmental Award, with the Guild recognising the integrity of the production methods in their ‘Free From’ product range.
Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse was honoured for her notable contribution to Irish food, while Veronica Molloy of Crossogue Preserves won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to growing on the home farm and the consistent innovation of her range of artisan Irish preserves over 20 years.
The Awards are supported by Bord Bia, which was commended by the Guild for its tireless support of the Irish food industry both in Ireland and abroad.
The Judging Process
- No company or individual can enter themselves for these awards.
- Every member of the Guild is invited to nominate products they believe are worthy of an award.
- The products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be Irish grown or produced.
- The producer must be trading for at least three years.
- Products are bought and paid for and a formal tasting meeting takes place where members vote, using proportional representation.
Derry Clarke’s menu comprised:
- Sage Gnocchi with Wild About Nettle Pesto Cream and Garlic Purée
- The Burren Smokehouse Seaweed-Marinated Smoked Salmon and Hot-Smoked Salmon with Honey, Lemon and Dill with Wild About Ginger Beets and Pickled Cucumber
- Richmount Elderflower Granita
- On the Pig’s Back Pork and Plum Terrine, Duck Liver Pâté, Foods of Athenry Wholemeal Crackers, Candied Walnut and Rhubarb
- Skeaghanore Duck Breast and Confit with Carrot and Apple
- Goat’s Cheese Mousse and Foods of Athenry Crackers, Crossogue Quince and Chilly Jelly, Glazed Fig
- Crossogue Irish Coffee Curd Mousse with Feuilletine and Gold Leaf served with Crossogue Lemon Curd Ice Cream
About the Winners
On the Pig’s Back: Isabelle Sheridan, Cork: Food Award
French-born Isabelle Sheridan has been a stalwart of the English Market in Cork since 1992. Initially selling local Irish farmhouse cheese and importing French artisan cheeses and charcuterie, Isabelle launched her own range of pâtés and terrines that were geared towards Irish tastes in 1995. This impressive range includes classics such as duck and chicken liver pâté, pork and plum terrine, pork rillettes and glazed free-range hams – all based on local artisanal produce. Isabelle has also developed an innovative gourmet range of terrines including venison with raisin and ginger; chicken and lemon as well as duck and rosemary.
In 2009, Isabelle opened a second retail outlet, On The Pig’s Back, Douglas. What started as a deli with a new production unit soon developed to include a café. Today, On the Pig’s Back products are available in many speciality food shops, are listed by Musgrave and can also be ordered online. www.onthepigsback.ie.
Skeaghanore Farm Fresh Ducks: Eugene and Helena Hickey, West Cork: Food Award
Skeaghanore Farm Fresh Ducks are produced by Eugene and Helena Hickey on their family farm in West Cork. Farming geese and ducks was once a small enterprise on their dairy farm, but following the increase in demand for their duck products they decided to concentrate on producing ducks and geese. The family is also excited about its latest product, confit duck legs.
Skeaghanore ducks are hand-reared, bedded on straw, and fed on a 100 per cent natural cereal-based diet. The end product is exceptionally succulent and tasty. What’s more, chefs also point out another secret ingredient: the salt-laden air from nearby Roaring Water Bay, which lends an intriguing salty taste to Skeaghanore ducks. It is no wonder that Skeaghanore ducks are a regular feature on the menus of top chefs in the Southwest of Ireland for many years. www.skeaghanoreduck.ie
Wild About: Fiona and Malcom Falconer, Co Wexford: Food Award
Fiona and Malcolm Falconer are the creators of Wild About, an extensive, innovative range of handcrafted products made from wild and native Irish foods sourced in Co Wexford. All the ingredients are sourced locally, either in the wild or from foods grown in their own permaculture garden and food forest.
Welsh-native Malcolm and Dubliner Fiona swapped their successful careers for a different lifestyle. Fulfilling a long-held dream, they bought a small holding, built an eco-house, planted a child-friendly native food forest and created a heritage permaculture kitchen garden.
Once established, the land was producing far more fruit, berries, herbs, flowers and vegetables than the family and friends could consume. After a full year of research and development, the Falconers felt ready to launch their range of Wild About products, starting out at farmers markets. By a process of constant experimentation on the small holding and in the test kitchen, the result is an artistically presented, stunning range of sweet and savoury preserves. www.wildabout.ie
Richmount Elderflower Cordial: David and Martina Burns, Co Longford: Irish Drink Award
The Irish Food Writers’ Guild’s Drink Award goes to David and Martina Burns for Richmount Elderflower Cordial, a traditional, non-alcoholic product that is new to the Irish market. It is a high-quality product that can be enjoyed in the same way as wine and is a welcome import substitute.
While the Burns’ background is originally in dairy farming at their farm in Co Longford, they changed from dairy to growing and marketing their award-winning sweetcorn. Wishing to expand into other products, the Burns decided to test Martina’s delicious elderflower cordial on the market. The product is made from pure, natural ingredients without any concentrate or artificial sweeteners, flavourings, colourings, sulphites or other additives. Martina produced 2,500 bottles in the first year, which sold out in 10 weeks. To supplement the wild elderflowers that grew prolifically in the hedgerows, the Burns planted a large orchard of native elder saplings; last year 11,000 bottles flew off the shelves.
With the aim of producing enough to sell their cordial all year round, 2014 was devoted to planning a new bottling plant to increase production, and experimenting with ingredients with a view to expanding the range of native flower and berry cordials. www.richmountcordials.ie
Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse, Co Clare: Notable contribution to Irish Food Award
Birgitta Curtin is not only dedicated to maintaining the highest standards for her own products at the Burren Smokehouse and Visitor Centre (which attracted over 30,000 visitors last season), but, as Chairperson of Slow Food Clare, Birgitta was involved in the Burren Food Festival and is active in the Burren Eco-tourism Network. Nationally, Birgitta is a member of the TASTE Council, which recently set up an Artisan Food Production module for transition year students. Internationally, Birgitta is also an extraordinarily energetic ambassador for Irish produce at international trade fairs and promotions, where she never misses an opportunity to raise the profile of Irish food.
Burren Smokehouse products are available in a number of European countries. However, in 2014 Birgitta also successfully introduced them to the American market, where they are now on sale at branches of the premier New York gourmet store, Dean & Deluca. www.burrensmokehouse.ie
Siobhan and Paul Lawless, The Foods of Athenry, Co Galway: Environmental Award
The Environmental Award is presented to Siobhan and Paul Lawless for the philosophy underpinning their bakery business, The Foods of Athenry, as demonstrated in the integrity of the production methods in their ‘Free From’ product range. The philosophy behind the ‘Free From’ range was to produce real food for food lovers, the health-conscious and those with special dietary requirements. The end result is home-baked produce made from high quality ingredients and produced with integrity whilst being especially mindful of the environment.
As the demand for their healthy home-baked produce grew, so too did the production methods of The Foods of Athenry. Siobhan and Paul converted farm buildings, devised biodegradable packaging, planted an organic apple orchard of native heritage varieties and established a colony of bees to pollinate the trees. Siobhan also began researching and developing produce for allergy and dietary problems, in direct response to market demand. She now bakes a substantial range of gluten-free products, which are made in a separate production facility on the farm. www.foodsofathenry.ie
Veronica Molloy of Crossogue Preserves, Co Tipperary: Lifetime Achievement Award
This year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Veronica Molloy, who is honoured for her dedication and the consistent innovation of her range of artisan preserves over many decades. Born and raised in East Africa, she qualified as a nurse in England. On a visit to her uncle in Ireland she met her future husband and ended up living in Tipperary, the same county from which her mother hailed.
With a growing family and the need to generate an income, Veronica began selling homegrown vegetables and, later, homemade preserves, at the local country market. Soon, local shops wanted to stock her traditional products. Veronica began experimenting and developing a range of sweet preserves for Janet Drew, of Janet’s Country Fayre (a former IFWG award winner). The brand name Crossogue Preserves came in 1995; this year marks the 20th anniversary of the company.
Veronica is committed to using only Irish-grown – and where possible home-grown – fruit and vegetables. She credits her mother-in-law with teaching her about traditional methods of preserving the homegrown produce from her vegetable and fruit gardens. Today, the preserves are handmade in small batches of not more than 20 jars, and are free from any preservatives or additives.
Veronica acknowledges the support of the North Tipperary Enterprise Board for helping her expand her production facilities, and Bord Bia’s excellent marketing section that enabled her to enter the export market with her astonishing range of 85 products. www.crossoguepreserves.com