Sea, Land and the Environment All Winners at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild Awards
Both sea and land were represented at the 2009 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards where the unusual combination of fruit, dairy and seafood companies took home the top awards.
Celebrating its 15th Year, the annual Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards promotes and rewards the highest quality of produce, craftsmanship and dedication to Irish food. The IFWG Food Awards are regarded within the industry as the most reputable and indeed, most prestigious food awards in Ireland. And, with environmental issues on most company’s agendas, the Guild has introduced an Environmental Award to recognise the positive contribution specific producers are making to the environment.
The accolades of excellence were presented by Minister Trevor Sargent T.D., Minister for Food and Horticulture to Derryvilla Blueberry Farm for its excellent blueberries and innovative Blueberry Tonic and Preserves, Marine Harvest Ireland for Clare Island Organic Salmon and Carrigbyrne Farmhouse Cheese Company for its St. Killian Irish Farmhouse Cheese.
Carrigbyrne Farmhouse Cheese Company was also the proud recipient of the inaugural Environmental Award, which was made in recognition of the company’s exemplary practices in many areas of their business, both farming and cheese-making, which have had an enduring, positive effect on the environment.
Maírín uí Chomáin, Chairperson of the IFWG explains; “The Guild’s annual awards are a very real celebration of exceptionally good, Irish-produced foods. These awards are about one thing – true excellence”
“We have no set categories. No food producer can enter themselves for an award. The products, traditional or innovative, must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredients must be home produced”
“At a time when many in the food industry are suffering from the major challenges presented by the economic downturn, it is more important now than ever before to recognise companies that are striving to deliver consistently wonderful produce.”
Many of Ireland’s leading food writers and industry representatives joined members of the Irish Food Writers Guild at a celebratory lunch, hosted by SallyAnne and Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain, at their Michelin star restaurant.
Derry Clarke created a five-course awards menu, incorporating each of the winners’ produce with Clare Island Salmon Plate to start, Blueberry Tonic Granita, Suckling Pig, Carrigbyrne Cheese Pithiviers followed by Baked Blueberry Cheesecake.
About the Winners
Clare Island Organic Salmon: Food Award
Clare Island in Clew Bay is six miles off the Mayo coast; in winter stormy conditions can last for days with waves over ten metres. Ireland’s Atlantic waters have the highest water rating possible – AI. This quality, together with the strength of the tidal exchange is crucial to the excellence of Clare Island organic salmon from the most exposed salmon farm in the world – renowned for its superb flavour, its lean flesh and firm muscle texture.
In 1979, the four Irish shareholders became involved in the pioneering days of Irish fish farming. First farming trout off Fanad peninsula, later in Mulroy Bay and Lough Swilly and by the late 1980s farming salmon off Clare Island. By the mid 90s they’d identified a demand for organic salmon and in 1997 they achieved organic status. Now Clare island is certified organic in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland – countries that continue to be their strongest markets followed by the US and the UK. The product is particularly well regarded in Europe and future plans include developing the Japanese market.
Clare Island remains the only organic salmon farm in Ireland and is also one of the largest harvesting up to 80 tonnes every week of the year. The salmon are produced in Ireland by the parent company Marine Harvest Ireland who hatch and rear the one million smolts delivered every Spring.
Released into the most exposed cages below which hang huge nets allowing the fish to shoal naturally and control proximity to each other.
In up to 30 metres of water swept by a two-knot tidal stream every six hours the salmon swim the 23,000 km in their lifetime. Lots of exercise means they eat a lot and the food is Irish produced and made from natural organic and GMO free ingredients. The consistently excellent quality makes Clare Island salmon in demand by leading restaurants (where you’ll often see it named on menus) and the top fish smokers like Kinvara, Belvelly Smokehouse, Ummera, all previous winners of our awards. Demand for fresh Clare Island salmon is increasing and it is available from speciality shops like Cavistons, the organic supermarket in Blackrock and Beshoff’s in Howth and Clarke’s in Ballina.
(Contact: Pat Connor, Marine Harvest Ireland, Co Donegal. Tel: 074 0159804)
Derryvilla Blueberries: Food Award
A long history lies behind the story of this award winner – a link to an indigenous plant and an ancient Irish traditional food. The American blueberries they grow at Derryvilla Blueberry Farm are closely related to the native Irish fraughan or bilberry a prized fruit associated with celebration and feasting and fertility. The cultivated berry is a juicy, versatile fruit, prized as a vitamin rich food.
Fifty years ago in the National Soil Centre in Wexford Dr J.G.D. Lambe researched the potential of blueberries as a commercial crop and found that peaty land was the most suitable. In 1965 he assisted John Wilson, an English industrialist, to plant 10 acres in bogland in Co Offaly. Some of those original long-lived plants remain productive to this day. In 1977 Dr Lambe together with colleagues, Bernard Crombie and John Seagar and their wives took over the farm. Then, fifteen years ago, John retired early to devote himself to the farm. Five years ago Nuala O’Donoghue became involved, in particular with development of the Blueberry tonic and the preserves. 20 acres of cutaway bog are in cultivation.
Three years ago, as John was no longer free to come to the farm regularly, Nuala (continuing in product development) also became farm manager, caretaker of one of two ten-acre plantations. Blueberry farming is labour intensive. From January to March the bushes are hand pruned and the grasses cut. They flower in May and by mid-July, weather permitting, handpicking begins. No pesticides are used, just a little organic fertilizer. The delicious, naturally grown berries, the tonic and preserves are supplied directly to fruit traders and selected retailers. There is a popular “pick your own” option and a farm gate shop and another at Farmleigh Producers Market.
The making of the Derryvilla Blueberry tonic and preserves is out-sourced to other well-known artisan food producers both of whom worked closely with Derryvilla to perfect the products. Con Traas of The Apple Farm in Clonmel makes the tonic and Ciara Morris of Slieve Bloom Foods makes the preserves. Production had steadily increased and there has been a huge growth in sales.
Derrvilla Blueberries and products are available from selected retailers: Nolans in Clontarf and Foxes in Mullingar.
(Contact Nuala O Donoghue, Derryvilla Blueberry Farm, Port Darlington, Co Offaly. 057 864 2882; 057 8643945; email: NualaOD@gofree.indigo.ie 087 246 6643.)
Carrigbyrne: Food Award & Environmental Award
On the 16th March 1982, on their family farm close to Adamstown in Co. Wexford, dairy farmers Patrick and Juliet Berridge, launched Carrigbyrne Cheese, one of the pioneers of the revival of Irish farmhouse cheesemaking and founder members of Cais. In less than two years their cheese received its first awards at the RDS Dublin Spring Show. Down the years they have consistently won awards at Irish, British and international cheese competitions, taking the Best Irish Cheese at the 2007 World Cheese Awards. This sustained success led to a larger herd, more land, more farm work, and the need for a dedicated cheesemaker. Having decided to make mould-ripened soft cheeses in the Camembert and Brie styles, they chose a Frenchman, Alain Girod, who has had that responsibility since 1986.
St Killian’s is presented in an easily recognisable hexagonal box – a cheese handcrafted with love and skill. It may be eaten at several stages.
Cut through the smooth white rind of a well-matured cheese and a creamy paste spills out, full of all the delicious grassy, light flavours of the sunny south-east. So, too, do their other cheeses: St Brendans and Irish Brie. The consistent high quality of all the Berridges’s cheeses is greatly appreciated by cheese lovers, making Carrigbyrne one of the most widely available Irish farmhouse cheeses – always on sale in specialist shops and in Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn, Supervalue, M&S, and Waitrose in the UK and also Metro in Germany – one of their greatest areas of growth.
They currently produce about 70 tonnes of cheese a year and have milk to spare to meet increased demand. In addition to Patrick and Juliet, five people are employed full time at Carrigbyrne, three in the cheese unit, two on the farm producing the milk, and three more on various recycling and other environmentally exciting projects.
This year the guild decided to introduce a new award to acknowledge Irish food producers whose production process has succeeded in having a positive environmental impact on one or more of the following areas: water, waste, energy, by-products and packaging.
Carrigbyrne, whose exemplary practices in many areas have had an enduring positive effect on the environment are the first winners of this new award.
The number and variety of environmentally-friendly initiatives at Carrigbyrne is astonishing. An early and enthusiastic champion of protecting the environment, Patrick installed an anaerobic digestor 12 years ago, designed to take slurry from the dairy farm, and waste from the cheese plant. Bacteria converts organic matter to methane which can be used for heat power and even transport fuel. Through stages of storage, heating and agitation it produces 450 cubic metres of biogas every day to run an old two-cylinder engine which generates electricity. The compost is spread on the farmland. With Celtic Compost, they plan a unit for food waste and anticipate selling electricity back through the grid. Patrick is also involved in processing forest-thinnings into chips for central heating for local hotels.
A member of the local Leader Renewable Energy Group, Patrick has also designed a travelling Eco-Cabin. There was a lot of talk amongst the group until Patrick took action and designed an Aladdin’s cave of tricks made from environmentally-friendly bits and bobs – a project for youngsters to have fun and develop an interest in renewable energy. A little windmill generates 36 watts powering long-life bulbs, TVs and charges mobile phones. An 80 watt flat screen solar panel and a traditional solar panel heat water for a 200 litre water tank. The cabin also has a sun oven to cook meals and even a model car powered by hydrogen produced from water. As you’d expect, this imaginative educational project is welcomed with excitement when it arrives in a Wexford schoolyard.
(Contact Patrick Berridge, Carrickbyrne, Adamastown, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. 053 92 40560 email firstname.lastname@example.org 087 2474296)