Happy Pigs But Where Are All The Irish Apples?
Irish, artisan producers are the unsung heroes of the food industry in Ireland, but need support from the commercial sector to ensure their survival. This was the view of Myrtle Allen, one of the pioneers of the movement to promote locally produced Irish food, who addressed guests at the Irish Food Writer’s Guild Food awards in March 2012. The Irish Food Awards, of which five were presented at a ceremony attended by The Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, have been cited as the most important and impartial of their kind in Ireland.
From happy pigs to placid cows – the five award winners represent a wide range of enterprises. Those awarded for standards of excellence and for their exceptional contribution to Ireland’s reputation as a top food-producing country were; Castlemine Farm for Castlemine Farm Free Range Pork (Roscommon); Patrick & Carol Rooney for Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil (Louth) and David Tiernan for Glebe Brethan Cheese (Louth).
McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Cork, was presented with a special award for the family’s notable contribution to Irish food throughout the year. Finally, renowned fruit grower and active chairman of the Irish Apple Growers Association, Con Traas of The Apple Farm in Tipperary was honoured with the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Now in its 18th year, the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards reward and promote producers of the highest quality food, who devote their lives to supporting and promoting Irish food. The awards took place at Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Ecrivain, where Derry Clarke created a lunch incorporating all of the award-winning products.
Myrtle Allen, honorary life member of the Guild continued, “The importance of these awards cannot be underestimated as they allow us to recognise people at the coalface of the food sector in Ireland. We are all fortunate and privileged beneficiaries of these people’s devotion to producing fantastic food. Collectively, today’s winners make a significant contribution to the Irish economy, developing innovative and enterprising ways of working and providing both direct and indirect employment.
“However, there is a serious anomaly in that we have some of the highest quality produce in the world and yet, it is often a challenge to find something as simple as an Irish apple in our shops. Why is this? If we don’t support and buy Irish, we will ultimately witness the demise of the small to medium-sized local producer, to the benefit of imported and sometimes, sub standard substitutes. We cannot let this happen and I am appealing to all stakeholders, including retailers, to recognise their responsibilities in supporting home grown industry.”
Minster for Agriculture, Marine and Food, Simon Coveney TD, who was guest of honour at the event applauded the work of the members of the Irish Food Writers Guild “Through these awards you are highlighting the challenging work of small independent Irish food producers, at a time when supporting home-grown industry is critical” he said.
“There is now a new appetite for buying home grown produce. By informing and promoting the high quality of our own food through your columns, you are opening up new outlets throughout the country for local food producers and assisting the better established to forge new trade links in new markets,” he concluded.
Chairperson of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, Orla Broderick explained the awards selection process: “These awards are quite unique in that no producer can nominate themselves; nominations are submitted exclusively by Guild members. Indeed, no company ever even knows that it is being considered for an award. The size of the company or the product category are of no relevance to the selection process but what is important, is that the products are produced in Ireland with the main ingredient being home produced.”
Ms Broderick concluded by thanking Bord Bia for its continued support of the Awards and the work it does for the industry both in Ireland and abroad.
Some photos from the event can be seen here.
About the Winners
Castlemine Farm, Fourmilehouse, Co Roscommon for Castlemine Farm Free Range Pork: Food Award
The award is for the excellent quality of Castlemine Free Range Pork.
On a family farm in Co Roscommon, the fifth generation of farming Allens, Brendan and Derek, are keen on tradition, convinced that age-old ways of farming produce happy pigs. Castlemine Farm pigs range free in the fields with access to open-all-hours shelters when they want them. They root and graze on beet and in harvested wheat and barley fields. Their diet is supplemented when needed with soy, which is imported directly from France in order to be guaranteed GM-free.
Traditional methods allow pigs to mature at a natural pace for eight to nine months and, as Brendan commented, to “have a decent bit of life”. These are well-bred pigs: rare breeds such as Saddleback and Tamworth are crossed with the resident Large White boar to produce pig meat with the balance of fat and flesh that results in tender, flavoursome pork.
Care is taken to avoid stressing the animals on their journey to a small abattoir just ten minutes down the road. On the farm is a butchering and chilling unit. To run this the brothers employ two qualified butchers. The shop has recently moved from the farm into Roscommon Town and the meat is also sold at Moycullen and Galway farmers’ markets. There is a growing interest in online, home delivery shopping.
From the on-farm processing and chilling unit, trained butchers make a range of traditional pork products for sale in the Castlemine Farm shop.
Patrick and Carol Rooney, Derrycamma Farm Foods, Castlebellingham, Co Louth for Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil: Food Award
The award is for the quality, flavour and versatility of Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil.
Patrick and Carol Rooney specialise in the grain crops of wheat, barley and oats, but also grow rape as a high quality, GM-free, animal feed as part of a four year rotation. Exploring ways to make the most of their 160 hectares of good land, they considered a bio-fuel crop. However, Carol favoured producing food for humans and Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil was born.
Patrick set about converting the old stone dairy building. Their aim was to produce, from seed to bottle, an eco-friendly, top quality, cold-pressed rapeseed oil. Instead of ploughing, they use eco-tillage, a technique using discs or deep tines which do not disturb the soil. Eco-tillage aids soil regeneration and optimises the beneficial organisms that control pests in the long term, allowing sprays to be kept to a minimum.
Sown in August, fed in spring and flowering in May, the rapeseed pods are ready for harvesting by late July. The seeds are dried to below 7% moisture and are then pressed, separating the oil from the residual ‘cake’, which goes to a local farmer for cattle feed. The oil is filtered before going to the settling tank where it remains for five days before being filtered again. Any leakage goes to a local engineering firm to oil the machinery they make for the meat industry.
Production last year was 60,000 bottles of extra virgin cold-pressed oil: crystal clear, golden in colour and with a wonderful flavour. From an artisan producer providing local employment, Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil makes an elegant Irish alternative to imported olive oil.
David Tiernan, Co Louth for Glebe Brethan Cheese: Food Award
The award is for the consistent, excellent quality and complex flavour of Glebe Brethan Cheese.
Handmade in the lush grasslands of Co Louth, Glebe Brethan Cheese takes its name from the founder of a local monastic settlement. Made by the Tiernan family, this unpasteurised, thermophilic, artisan cheese comes from the milk of Montbeliarde cows, a breed which originates in the mountainous of the Jura region of Eastern France where their milk is also used to make cheese.
Twenty years ago, with a yen to make cheese, David began building up a specialist herd with two cows. Now their descendants produce all the milk for Glebe Brethan cheese. Montbeliarde are a hardy breed, powerful in appearance yet placid in nature and have the useful habit of searching the hedgerows for the sweetest grasses and tastiest herbs. Half of the herd’s milk goes for liquid milk and for Bailey’s Cream liqueur, and the other half for producing this award-winning cheese.
As a frequent visitor to France for breeders’ meetings, David Tiernan spent a day at the Mamirolle National Dairy School where, as he says himself, he “caught the bug”. At once he ordered equipment and set about converting his dairy. To acquire the skills needed to make a cheese similar to the Gruyere cheese of the Jura region, he arranged for a young cheesemaker to come from France to teach the family. He came for two years and provided on-going support as they developed and test-marketed Glebe Brethan Cheese. Two years later, in 2006, they won the award for the best new cheese at the British Cheese Awards.
The milk clearly benefits from the good Louth land they graze for most of the year and David grows wheat, barley and maize for winter feed.
McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Co Cork: Notable Contribution to Irish Food Award
The award is for the McCarthy’s notable contribution to Irish food throughout the year.
Jack McCarthy and his son Tim come from a long line of butchers. In 1892 Callaghan McCarthy, in despair at the poor meat he had bought, decided to give up being a baker and learn how to become a butcher. The family has been perfecting their techniques and developing new and value-added meat products for five generations.
Guild members who have been judging butcher’s competitions for many years know well that the McCarthy’s have consistently won gold for the high standard of their traditional spiced beef, dry-cured bacon, interesting sausages and their ability in producing an ever-increasing range of cured, smoked and marinated beef, pork and lamb products, including particularly broad and innovative ranges of both continental-style charcuterie and traditional, fresh blood black puddings.
Recent highlights in the McCarthy’s career have included a visit from 23 members of the French Brotherhood of the Knights of the Black Pudding, who presented Jack with a Gold Medal for his fresh blood pudding, to working with chef, Ross Lewis, in creating a bespoke pudding to serve at the state banquet celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ireland.
They also introduced Ireland’s first ‘Practical Pig in a day’ courses for chefs, single pig families and food lovers. The McCarthy’s approach combines the best of tradition with creativity.
Con Traas, The Apple Farm, Cahir, Co Tipperary: Lifetime Achievement Award
The Guild honors Con Traas with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his on-going dedication to the Irish Apple Growers’ Association and the promotion of Irish apples.
When Willem and Ali Traas moved to Ireland forty years ago, generations of the Traas family had been growing fruit for a few hundred years. Land was scarce in the Netherlands at the time and they came in search of land to establish an orchard.
Today their son Con grows 40 acres of fruit at The Apple Farm: 60 varieties of apples, seven types of soft fruit, four types of plum, three types of cherry and two types of pear. The fruits are made into a variety of juices, jelly, cider vinegar and jams and, his latest product, sparkling apple juice. The Apple Farm is strong on eco-friendly growing methods, systems and energy-generation for production and the farm shop.
Of the forty commercial growers in Ireland, half are small-scale. Despite the vast Irish market for apples only a tiny percentage are Irish, and most are sold as a low-price, generic product. Consumer focus groups set up by Bord Bia highlighted what the Irish consumer wanted: a year-round supply of red apples, consistently high in quality.
Con, an active Chairman and committee member of the Irish Apple Growers’ Association, has for many years been tireless in supporting and encouraging growers to aim for production methods up to the standards of the Bord Bia Fruit quality scheme and to develop a range of products made from apples, to install cold storage units and grow a range of varieties enabling homegrown top quality Irish apples to be on sale all year round.