Innovation – the Food Industry’s Recipe for Success
Cork producers dominate in 2014 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards
Cork’s reputation as the food capital of Ireland received a new boost today at the 2014 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards, with six of the seven awards going to Cork producers, organisations or individuals.
Now in its 20th year, the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards recognise and reward producers of the highest quality food together with industry stalwarts who devote their lives to supporting and promoting Irish food.
Lizzie Gore Grimes, Chairperson of the IFWG said, “Cork is flying the flag at this year’s awards and the Guild has discovered some truly wonderful products and innovative organisations in the south of the country that just couldn’t be ignored. But these Awards are a national celebration of fine food and outstanding producers, all of whom have one thing in common, a commitment to innovation, which is proving integral to Ireland’s reputation at home and abroad. Without innovation, we would not have this dynamic and vibrant food industry of which we are extremely proud.
“Innovation underpins Ireland’s great success story in food and drink and, according to a recent Bord Bia study, 91% of exporters in the sector reported that they had introduced new products in the past three years. A great core product is key but companies have to reinvent to stay relevant and this comes through one thing – innovation.
“Today’s winners represent the very best of Irish and are awarded for their outstanding produce and important contribution to helping retain Ireland’s fine reputation on the international stage. Over the past 20 years we have celebrated over 100 producers, individuals and organisations from every county in Ireland, but today belongs to the county of Cork, which has swept the board at this year’s awards for its exceptional food credentials.”
Seven awards, including an inaugural Drink Award, were presented by the Guild at an industry celebration at l’Ecrivain Restaurant.
The 2014 IFWG Food Award winners are Cork’s Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms; Coolea Matured Farmhouse Cheese and Irish Atlantic Sea Salt. Stonewell Cider (Co Cork) claimed the Guild’s inaugural Drink Award and Dermot Carey and David Langford were awarded for their notable contribution to Irish food for their expansive Heritage Irish Potato Collection.
An Environmental Award was presented to Responsible Irish Fish (Co Cork) for its commitment to the development of sustainable fishing practices and a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the inimitable Corkonian Myrtle Allen, a much-loved fellow Guild member, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.
About the Winners
Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribben, Ballyhoura, Co Cork: Food Award
Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms are grown in a unique microclimate in Co Cork. With a background and well-honed skills in food science, Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribben grow a wide range of varieties.
Spores are inoculated into local wood including oak, birch and elder; and, harnessing the light and pure air of their location, the mushrooms thrive. But so too do wild mushrooms, which Lucy and Mark gather for sale and for producing fresh, hand made products like soups, pâtés, marinated mushrooms, ketchup and oils, as well as powdered wild cep and shitake to provide umami flavours.
Coolea Matured Farmhouse Cheese, Dicky Willems, Coolea, Macroom, Co Cork: Food Award
Since 1979, the Willems family in Macroom has been making Coolea Farmhouse Cheese. Only milk from grass-fed cows is used, sourced from two local farmers who have different growing conditions, helping to extend the cheese-making season.
With many awards already to their name, Dicky Willems, the second generation, took over production from his father in 1999 and continues to make Coolea a smooth, dense-textured cheese. Mild and creamy at three months old, after 18 months maturing it develops into a drier, slightly crystalline texture and the flavour develops an intense caramel taste. Coolea cheese is available in Coolea Plain, Coolea Herbs and Garlic, Coolea with Cumin Seed as well as Coolea Matured. Over half of their output is exported and sold through Neal’s Yard in the UK.
Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, Aileen and Michael O’Neill, Beara, Co Cork: Food Award
Michael and Aileen O’Neill produce Irish Atlantic Sea Salt at Lickbarrahan on the eastern side of the Bearra Peninsula. The salt flakes produced from Grade A seawater are unpolluted and crystal clear. The salt contains no additives or anti-caking agents and the slow, gentle process of evaporation that the O’Neill’s have developed allows the salt to retain 50 trace elements including potassium, calcium and magnesium.
The salt crystals are slightly harder than many imported salt flakes and have a genuine sea-fresh flavour and, being saltier, means you use less. With a background in fishing, Michael and his wife Aileen spent years mastering the production process for this excellent sea salt – a welcome revival of Irish-produced sea salt and import substitution.
The O’Neills are passionate about their gourmet sea salt flakes and spent years developing and perfecting a production process that blends age-old salt-making methods with energy efficient production techniques. Irish Atlantic Sea Salt was officially launched in 2010 at Shop (Ireland’s food, drink, retail and hospitality event) and is available nationwide.
Stonewell Cider, Daniel and Géraldine Emerson, Kinsale, Co Cork: Irish Drink Award
Chosen for the Guild’s first-ever drink award, Stonewell Cider is made in Belgooley, Co Cork, by Daniel Emerson and his wife Géraldine who hails from the Loire region of France and comes from a family that has been making wine for centuries.
Inspired by a gift from Geraldine’s father of an old French cider press and convinced there could be a market for artisan cider, they set out to make traditional, additive-free cider with local, Irish-grown apples.
All their cider blends were developed using the old cider press. Now a more modern press is employed using five varieties of apples including traditional cider apples from growers in the renowned apple-growing areas of Cork, Kilkenny, West Waterford and Carlow.
Heritage Irish Potato Collection, Dermot Carey and David Langford: Notable contribution to Irish Food Award
Since the 1970s, David Langford has been collecting and growing heritage potatoes. In 2006, he teamed up with Dermot Carey, an experienced organic vegetable grower who was then gardener at Lissadell House in Co. Sligo.
The horticultural skills, passion and hard work of David and Dermot have resulted in an amazing collection, grown and managed by them on an entirely voluntary basis. The collection has well over two hundred varieties including the Irish Apple (dating from 1768) and the Lumper (forever associated with Irish Potato Famines), as well as more recently developed varieties. There is a real need for a permanent home where all these varieties can be maintained as part of our Irish food culture and heritage for the generations to come. We honour them today and support their call for a permanent home.
Responsible Irish Fish, Frank Fleming, Castletownbere, Co Cork: Environmental Award
Responsible Irish Fish, developed and run by members, is committed to the development of responsible, sustainable fishing practices, high quality and traceability.
All members sign up to a code of practice based on an environmental management scheme developed by them with BIM. This links the fishing community with wholesalers, retailers and consumers, who can be confident that fish and shellfish bearing the RIF logo is locally sustainable and responsibly caught and landed.
Members implement BIM environmental management systems; crews employ various conservation measures; member vessels have achieved various third-party certifications and are actively involved in a Clean the Seas Project, bringing ashore marine debris caught during fishing. Their strong ties with international organisations, including the Marine Stewardship Council and Friends of the Sea, confirm that this is a serious organisation that cares about Irish fish stocks and Irish consumers.
Myrtle Allen: Lifetime Achievement Award
While the development of Irish food over the last five decades may now seem a logical progression, much of it is down to the vision and determination of one person.
Since the mid ’60s, the practical application of Myrtle Allen’s down-to-earth yet visionary philosophy of serving carefully prepared, simple, local food in season and supporting local suppliers has utterly transformed the way we think about food in Ireland, along with our reputation abroad, where her name commands great respect.
Her way of seeking out and working with other gifted people has had profound effects, notably through her founding of Euro-Toques Ireland in 1986; member chefs of this national network are committed to supporting local producers through their purchasing policy and showcasing them on menus, thus raising the profile of Irish food and cooking, both at home and internationally.
Evidence of Myrtle’s knack of inspiring original endeavours in food and hospitality is now to be seen in flourishing businesses throughout Ireland. The Guild, of which she is a member, considers it fortunate for us all that Myrtle chose to direct her prodigious energy, steadfast determination and great food sense to protecting our food heritage.