Natural Born Winners: No artificial additives and traditional methods mark out IFWG Food Award winners 2018
“Unprocessed, naturally sourced ingredients are the foundation upon which Ireland’s reputation for culinary excellence is built,” said Aoife Carrigy, chairperson of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG), who spoke at the 2018 IFWG Food Awards on Wednesday 7th March.
“The winning produce being honoured at this year’s awards showcases the abundance of natural ingredients that is being cultivated from the Irish landscape. All of the award-winning products display a noticeable lack of additives and each producer uses traditional processes to preserve the integrity and the inherent flavour of the ingredients that they are working with,” said Aoife.
Now in their 24th year, the IFWG Food Awards celebrate indigenous food producers and organisations who create, make and share great Irish produce and products while helping to maintain Ireland’s outstanding international reputation in food and drink. New to these awards this year is a Community Food Award, which highlights an organisation or individual working with food that has embraced an ethos of social responsibility to an exemplary level.
The 2018 IFWG Food Award winners are:
Food Award: Connemara Smokehouse Smoked Mackerel, Co. Galway
Owned and run by the Roberts family since 1979, Graham Roberts and his wife Saoirse manage all aspects of the Connemara Smokehouse from its remote location on the west coast of Ireland. Selling to customers all around the world, their hot-smoked, delicately flavoured mackerel was honoured at this year’s awards. www.smokehouse.ie
Food Award: Wildwood Balsamics range, Co. Mayo
In 2016 Mayo-based painter Fionntán Gogarty established Wildwood Balsamics to continue selling the fruit- and herb-based vinegars he has been making all his life. Fionntán now supplies more than 20 stores around the country and with 18 individual flavours and a growing range of blends, Wildwood Balsamics offer a unique and sustainable taste of Irish terroir. www.wildwoodvinegars.com
Food Award: Baltimore Bacon, Co. Cork
A specialist plasterer turned free-range pig farmer in 2014, Nathan Wall of Baltimore Bacon now sells produce from his own pigs at weekly farmers’ markets in Bandon and Clonakilty, as well as locally reared pigs for his non-free-range bacon sold to retailers and restaurants. The range includes smoked and unsmoked bacon and ham, all of which are produced naturally, free from nitrates and additives. www.facebook.com/baltimorepig
Irish Drink Award: Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, Co. Meath
Mark Jenkinson of The Cider Mill is dedicated to reviving ancient cider traditions from his organic farmhouse orchards outside Slane, Co. Meath. The only cider producer in Ireland to practise keeving, a traditional and fully natural fermentation process, he produces just 20,000 litres of Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved cider a year. www.cockagee.ie
Organisation Award: McNally Family Farm, Co. Dublin
In the 20 years that Jenny McNally has been selling her organic farm produce at Dublin markets, she has become a local hero for many of the capital’s food lovers, including the growing number of cafés and restaurants with whom she now works. All produce grown at the McNally Family Farm is picked the day before each market, ensuring the longest possible shelf life and highest possible nutrient density. www.mcnallyfamilyfarm.com
Environmental Award: Inagh Farmhouse Cheese (St Tola Irish Goat Cheese), Co. Clare
Producing St Tola Goat Cheese on a 60-acre family farm on the edge of the Burren, Siobhan Ni Ghairbaith and John Harrington have implemented a comprehensive sustainability programme for nearly 20 years. The couple actively promote the principles of conservation and responsible farming, helping to educate and inspire the general public. www.st-tola.ie
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ferguson Family of Gubbeen Farmhouse, Co. Cork
From their 250-acre coastal farm just outside Schull, west Cork, the Ferguson family of Gubbeen Farmhouse have been farming and producing food since the 1980s. Each member of the family has their own area of expertise and together they are one of the finest examples Ireland has of the contribution that can be made to a national food culture by a few dedicated individuals. www.gubbeen.com
Also presented on the day was the Community Food Award, supported by Slow Food Ireland, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The 2018 IFWG Community Food Award winner is Sligo Global Kitchen, Co. Sligo. For full details on this award and the winners, click here.
“The winners of this year’s awards give a great sense of what Ireland’s best food producers can achieve with the island’s ‘raw materials’: flavours that are sometimes bold, sometimes subtle, but always pure and natural in their expression from our fields, orchards, hedgerows, mountains and waters. The Guild is proud to champion these artisanal producers from all over the country,” said Aoife.
The awards were hosted at two-Michelin-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, marked with a lunch devised and prepared by executive chef and co-owner Guillaume Lebrun, who incorporated the produce of each winner into a celebratory menu, and paired with wines kindly provided by Liberty Wines.
• Connemara Smokehouse Mackerel with Soy and Hibiscus Jelly, Jerusalem Artichoke Purée and Buckwheat Dentelle
• McNally Farm Candy Beetroot with Wildwood Raspberry Vinegar and St Tola Goat Cheese
• Cider and Apple Smoked Baltimore Bacon with Parsnip Purée, Caramelised Brussels Sprouts and Onions and Fresh Mandarin
• Croquant of Sheep’s Yogurt Chantilly with Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider Pastry Cream and Caramel Sauce
• Gubbeen Cheese Board with Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider
The IFWG Food Awards are unique, as 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.
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 have been 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.
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.
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
Connemara Smokehouse Smoked Mackerel, Co. Galway: Food Award
Connemara Smokehouse is one of the oldest smokehouses in the west of Ireland and has been run by the Roberts family since 1979.
Today, second-generation smoker Graham Roberts and his wife Saoirse personally manage each aspect of the business, from sourcing the highest-quality Irish fish to hand filleting, dry salting, seasoning, hot- and cold-smoking and finally delivering from one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Connemara to customers around the world.
It is their hot-smoked mackerel that the Irish Food Writers’ Guild selected for one of this year’s awards, a humble and plentiful local fish that is elevated to a fine delicacy through meticulous sourcing and sensitive smoking. The result is a superb smoked mackerel with a succulent, generous flesh and sweet, delicately smoked flavour.
Wildwood Balsamics range, Co. Mayo: Food Award
When Mayo-based painter Fionntán Gogarty felt the pressure of the recession, he began selling the fruit- and herb-based vinegars he had been making all his life.
Inspired by an Irish grandmother who made wonderful wild blackberry jam and syrups and a Provençal grandmother who made wines and vinegars, Fionntán begins by making wines from organically grown or foraged fruits, blossoms or herbs, such as blackberry or elderberry, mountain heather or fuchsia. These wines become vinegars to which he adds the cooked pulp of the fruit or herbs to produce balsamic vinegars, which are then aged in Portuguese oak barrels for at least a year.
In 2016, he received start-up funding from Enterprise Ireland and Wildwood Balsamics was officially established. Fionntán now supplies over 20 stores around the country and counts chefs Neven Maguire, JP McMahon and Richard Corrigan among his regular customers. With 18 individual flavours and a growing range of blends, Wildwood Balsamics offer a unique and sustainable taste of Irish terroir.
Baltimore Bacon cured bacon, Co. Cork: Food Award
A specialist plasterer turned free-range pig farmer, Nathan Wall of Baltimore Bacon began curing his own bacon in 2014. He now keeps over 40 free-range Berkshire pigs on his Baltimore farm and sells produce from his own pigs at the weekly farmers’ markets in Bandon and Clonakilty.
As demand grew, he began sourcing free-range pigs through Our Piggy Co-op run by Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Smokehouse and locally reared pigs from Stauntons in Timoleague for the non-free-range produce that he sells through local restaurants and shops.
The range includes smoked and unsmoked bacon and ham, all of which are produced naturally and free from nitrate and additives. Some are simply cured with Atlantic sea salt and raw cane sugar, while the superb dry-cured black bacon is cured with molasses and black pepper. His apple and cider-smoked bacon, available sliced or as a joint, uses Stonewell Cider from a previous IFWG award-winner. The bacon is smoked over hardwood at Gubbeen Smokehouse.
Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, Co. Meath: Irish Drink Award
Mark Jenkinson of The Cider Mill is dedicated to reviving ancient cider traditions. In his organic farmhouse orchard of 1,200 apple trees outside Slane, Co. Meath, he experiments with more than 100 varieties of apples, some very rare.
He is on a quest to rediscover the Cockagee apple, an indigenous variety of historic repute but presumed lost. This variety gives its name to his Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, a complex cider with delicate fresh apple aromas, rich, bittersweet fruit flavours and a long, dry finish. Mark is the only cider producer in Ireland to practise keeving, a traditional fermentation process that preserves the sweetness through natural clarification and slow fermentation from wild yeasts. The final fermentation takes place in the bottle, much like champagne, to which keeved cider is often compared. The result is a ‘live’ cider that hasn’t been filtered, pasteurised, back-sweetened or force-carbonated.
Producing just 20,000 litres a year, The Cider Mill remains one of the smallest cider producers in the country, a status Mark is happy to maintain in order to ensure the highest quality for his boutique cider.
McNally Family Farm, Co. Dublin: Organisation Award
In the 20 years that she has been selling her organic farm produce at Dublin markets, including Temple Bar’s Saturday food market, Jenny McNally has become a local food hero for many Dublin-based food lovers, thanks to the consistent quality and freshness and surprising diversity of the vegetables and leaves that are all grown at her north County Dublin farm.
The McNally Family Farm is very much a family affair: her husband Pat and three of their five adult children are also employed full time in growing and selling their farm produce, which is always picked the day before each market, ensuring the longest possible shelf life and highest possible nutrient density. From heritage tomatoes to tomatillos, flowering sprouts and cucamelons to pineapple mint, the diversity of that produce is thanks to the encouragement of their dedicated market customers.
More recently, the McNallys have developed direct working relationships with some of the city’s finest restaurants and cafés, such as Forest Avenue, The Fumbally and Assassination Custard, helping to forge a local food culture that showcases just what can be done with truly seasonal produce from small-scale sustainable growers.
Inagh Farmhouse Cheese (St Tola Irish Goat Cheese), Co. Clare: Environmental Award
St Tola Irish Goat Cheese is produced on a 60-acre family farm on the edge of the Burren in Co. Clare. Raw goat milk cheese is the heart and soul of the business, with just a third of the cheese pasteurised to meet the requirements of supermarkets and multiples.
The IFWG Environmental Award acknowledges Irish food producers whose production process has had a positive environmental impact in various areas, including water, energy, by-products and waste. The comprehensive sustainability programme that Siobhan Ni Ghairbaith and John Harrington have implemented at Inagh Farmhouse includes achievements and commitments in each of these areas: rain harvesting and digging their own well; utilising solar panels and developing plans for wind turbines; providing kid goats to a local farmer for goat meat production; using natural fertiliser produced on site; and developing an onsite aeration tank for treating effluence.
As members of the Burren Ecotourism Network and Burren Food Trail, they actively promote these principles of conservation, responsible farming and responsible tourism to staff and to visitors to the farm shop and working farm museum, helping to educate and inspire the general public.
Ferguson Family of Gubbeen Farmhouse, Co. Cork: Lifetime Achievement Award
The Ferguson family of Gubbeen Farmhouse is one of the finest examples Ireland has of the contribution that can be made to a national food culture by a few dedicated individuals: in this case, Tom Ferguson, the dairy farmer, Giana Ferguson, the cheese-maker, Clovisse Ferguson, the bio-dynamic gardener, and Fingal Ferguson, the smoked meat producer.
Since Giana began making her washed rind farmhouse cheese with the milk of Tom’s herd in the 1980s, what they have achieved at their 250-acre coastal farm just outside Schull, west Cork, has been truly influential. The Fergusons have shown extraordinary generosity in sharing their time, skill and expertise with others, playing an integral role in helping to establish Slow Food Ireland and develop Irish farmhouse cheese and the charcuterie sector that followed in its wake.
While each member of the family has their own area of expertise, each of these areas have evolved in a symbiotic fashion: the milk from Tom’s grass-fed dairy herd makes Giana’s cheese, which makes the whey that is fed to Fingal’s pigs, the meat of which is cured and flavoured with Clovisse’s garden herbs.
Links of Interest
Not the full Irish - Katy McGuinness explores the true origins of 'Irish' foods.
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