Family and tradition central to Ireland’s food legacy
The passing down of recipes and traditional farming and production methods from generation to generation has been instrumental in helping Ireland’s food legacy to endure, according to Aoife Carrigy, Chairperson of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG).
“The positive influence that previous generations have had on today’s Irish food sector is remarkable, and emerged as a common defining characteristic of the winners of this year’s IFWG Food Awards,” said Aoife, who was speaking at the 2017 awards ceremony in Dublin.
Six IFWG award winners were announced together with the Guild’s first posthumous award, which honoured a pioneer of the Irish craft beer revolution, the late Oliver Hughes.
Since 1993, the IFWG Food Awards have celebrated Ireland’s food producers and organisations. They recognise those great Irish producers and products that are integral to Ireland’s fine reputation in food and drink, both at home and abroad.
The 2017 IFWG Food Award winners are The Friendly Farmer for his pasture-reared chickens, Ummera Irish Smokehouse for Ummera Smoked Silver Hill Duck Breast and Cuinneog for Irish Farmhouse Country Butter and Natural Buttermilk. Bertha’s Revenge Irish Milk Gin received this year’s Irish Drink Award and Mag Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout Farm was presented with a Special Contribution to Irish Food Award. The 2017 IFWG Environmental Award went to The Little Milk Company for its innovative approach to fostering sustainable family farms. The family of Oliver Hughes, the pioneering co-founder of The Porterhouse and Dingle Distillery, accepted his posthumous award.
Aoife Carrigy said, “This year’s award winners are representative of so much that is great about the food and drink industry in Ireland. Our winners have created sustainable family businesses, continued and built upon the work of their forefathers or collaborated with like-minded people to create products of an exceptional standard.
“The common thread that binds the 2017 winners is their mutual respect for tradition, yet this group of dynamic people is also united by their forward-thinking approach. They have each been chosen because of the innovative approach they take to their craft as well as the distinguishing quality of their produce and their continued dedication to Irish food.”
The awards were hosted at the two-Michelin-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, marked with a lunch devised and prepared by chef and co-owner Guillaume Lebrun, who incorporated the products of each winner into a celebratory menu. Aoife Carrigy thanked Bord Bia on behalf of the Guild for its support of the awards and its tireless work on the home and export markets to promote and develop the Irish food industry.
The IFWG Food Awards were one of the first of its kind in the country and remain unique. No one can enter themselves or their product into the awards and no company knows it has been nominated or shortlisted for an award. The Guild is the sole nominating and decision-making body.
For social photographs from the awards, click here and for the full recipes for each dish below, simply click on the link in the caption below the food photograph.
About the Winners
The Friendly Farmer: Ronan Byrne, Co. Galway: Food Award
Since establishing himself in 2007 as ‘The Friendly Farmer’, Ronan Byrne has shown that there is a strong local demand for high-quality Irish chicken from both chefs and consumers alike.
Having studied Agri-business and Marketing, worked in finance, marketing and promotions and managed a large dairy farm in Poland, Ronan returned to Athenry determined to find a way to make a sustainable, full-time living out of his family’s small mixed farm. He now produces 115 Hubbard chickens a week using a grass-based system that ensures easy outdoor access for the flock. He also rears free-range pigs, beef cattle and other seasonal poultry (turkeys, geese and ducks) and has recently developed an on-site abattoir with the financial support and mentorship of Galway’s Local Enterprise Board.
The Friendly Farmer chickens are available at their pop-up farm shop in the weekly Moycullen and Galway markets and are found on many of the best menus in Galway city and county.
Ummera Irish Smokehouse for Ummera Smoked Silver Hill Duck Breast: Anthony Creswell, Co. Cork: Food Award
At Ummera’s custom-built smokehouse, Anthony Creswell draws on four decades of smoking experience. His father Keith began smoking salmon caught in local West Cork rivers back in the 1970s, with Anthony taking over the running of the business in 1998. In 2007, Ummera won an Irish Food Writers’ Guild Award for its wonderful smoked eel. The range of smoked products also includes organically reared Irish salmon as well as dry-cured bacon, chicken and a recently developed picanha (a Brazilian-style cut of beef from the cap of the rump).
In 2009, Anthony began experimenting with hot-smoked duck breast and within a year had won not just 3 Star Gold Awards at the 2010 Great Taste Awards, but also the Golden Fork for the best Irish Speciality Food of the year. The duck is sourced from another Guild award-winner, Silver Hill Farm in Co. Monaghan, where the Steele family farm their own unique hybrid breed. Anthony favours Silver Hill duck for its tenderness, delicate flavour and its generous layer of fat that keeps the hot-smoked breast moist. The result is a delicious and versatile ready-to-use product that is the combined creation of two exemplary Irish food producers.
Cuinneog for Irish Farmhouse Country Butter and Natural Buttermilk: Breda Butler, Co. Mayo: Food Award
In response to local demand for a flavour that was in danger of disappearing and armed with creamery cans and a wooden cuinneog (churn), Tom and Sheila Butler began making this proper country butter in their Co. Mayo family kitchen in 1990. Today, their daughter Breda Butler runs the family business, supplying their fermented lactic butter and its by-product, natural buttermilk, to supermarkets and speciality food shops nationwide.
The lightly salted butter gets its distinctive colour, creamy texture and complex, long-lasting flavour from the traditional production process, which takes four days from start to finish. The cream is slowly heated and fermented, then churned in the traditional way, after which the buttermilk is separated. The butter is then shaped, cut and wrapped by hand.
Cuinneog was recognised by the Euro-toques awards in 2010 and won three gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2015, when the country butter was listed in the Top 50 Foods.
Bertha’s Revenge Irish Milk Gin: Justin Green and Antony Jackson, Co. Cork: Irish Drink Award
This highly original craft gin is produced by Justin Green of Ballyvolane House together with his old school friend and business partner, Antony Jackson. Where most Irish gins use imported grain-based alcohol, Bertha’s Revenge is distilled with whey alcohol sourced from the local Carbery dairy plant and derived from cow’s milk produced by Co. Cork dairy farmers.
Using specially developed yeasts to ferment the milk sugars in the whey, Carbery first brew and then double distill the whey in large column stills. Justin and Antony then distill the 96% proof whey alcohol a third time in their custom-made 125 litre copper stills along with their chosen botanicals. These include coriander, bitter orange, cardamom, cumin and clove as well as foraged local botanicals such as alexanders, elderflower and sweet woodruff. The resulting aromatic and warmly spiced gin has won local and international acclaim since its launch in 2015. Bertha’s Revenge is now exported to the UK, mainland Europe and even South Korea – and, later this year, to the US. This truly Irish gin continues the strong field-to-fork tradition that has long been at the heart of Ballyvolane House, a former dairy farm turned award-winning country house hotel.
Mag Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, Co. Kilkenny: Notable contribution to Irish Food Award
Mag is best known for the excellent rainbow trout that she and her husband Ger produce at Goatsbridge, their second-generation Kilkenny fish farm. As well as their fresh trout, these tireless innovators produce cold-smoked and barbecued trout sides, a smoked trout pâté and a convenient and delicious tinned smoked trout, all under their Eat Trout retail brand. Their unique Goatsbridge trout caviar also graces many of the best Irish restaurant menus.
Mag is an active promoter of local food, with a strong involvement in Kilkenny Food Trail’s excellent food tourism offer (including their own Goatsbridge Farm Visitor Centre) and in Taste Kilkenny, a group of local producers committed to collective co-operative marketing. She is also a leading figure in sustainable fresh water aquaculture. Goatsbridge was the first fish farm to sign up to Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme and is committed to sustainable water and energy usage and to social sustainability. A recent initiative saw Mag launch the Fishwives cookbook at Savour Kilkenny in October 2016. Featuring fish recipes gathered from women in Ireland and Uganda from diverse backgrounds and professions, the self-published cookbook was funded by Goatsbridge Trout with the aim of raising €40,000 for Hospice Africa Uganda, as well as encouraging Irish people to eat more fish.
Mag is commended by the Irish Food Writers’ Guild for the energy and commitment that she brings to the promotion of Irish food and Irish fish in particular.
The Little Milk Company, Co. Waterford: Environmental Award
The Little Milk Company is an innovative co-operative demonstrating that environmentally responsible small producers can thrive by working together.
In 2008, ten organic dairy farmers from Munster and Leinster formed a discussion group chaired by Pat Mulrooney to consider the sustainability of their family farms. Recognising that economic sustainability lay in adding value to their primary product, the group experimented in 2011 with a raw milk Cheddar produced for them by Knockanore Irish Farmhouse Cheese. Encouraged by positive feedback, each of the farmers invested in the company the following year. In 2013, they brought Conor Mulhall on board as a full-time CEO of the Little Milk Company.
Today they produce eight different cheeses, including three styles of Cheddar, an organic Brie, an organic blue and Brewer’s Gold, a washed-rind cheese that uses Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Copper Coast beer. Their cheeses are exported to 16 countries and use 70% of all the milk produced on their ten family farms. With this projected to rise to 100% by 2018, the company is recruiting local farmers to convert to organic production in order to meet their future demand. By collaborating with local cheese-makers, they are supporting small Irish craft food producers while securing a future for themselves and their families on their own farms.
Posthumously Awarded to Oliver Hughes: Lifetime Achievement Award
Several decades ahead of our recent Irish craft beer revolution, Oliver Hughes co-founded one of the first small independent Irish breweries. Together with Liam Lahart, his cousin, business partner and lifelong friend, Oliver opened Harty’s in Blessington, Co. Wicklow in 1983 and later Dempsey’s in Inchicore. A decade later, they succeeded in developing not just a range of unique Irish craft beers, but also a loyal consumer base for those beers through the Porterhouse brew pub, first in Dublin’s Temple Bar and later in London, New York and elsewhere in Dublin. Today the Porterhouse Group also operates Lillie’s Bordello and the Porthouse tapas bars.
Later, Oliver had the vision to create Dingle Distillery in what was the first purpose-built distillery to open in Ireland in 200 years. Production of their whiskey began in 2012, with first batches of Dingle Single Malt bottled in 2016. They also produce a vodka and a distinctive gin distilled with local botanicals such as rowan berry, bog myrtle and heather.
Oliver Hughes passed away in July 2016 at the young age of 57, leaving behind his wife Helen, son Elliot and daughter Holly as well as many more family and friends. He is greatly missed by the Irish food and drink community, who remember his infectious energy, fearless vision, considerable generosity and passion for life with continued respect and sincere gratitude.