2016 Awards

Forget food fads and culinary cults – quality and sustainability are king

Real ‘super foods’ aren’t about fads or trends. The foods worth celebrating are about consistent quality, long-term sustainability, hard work and a massive dollop of passion, according to the chairperson of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG), Aoife Carrigy, who was speaking at the 2016 IFWG Food Awards.

Six IFWG award winners were announced, including the first-ever award for an Irish stout. In another first, the awards ceremony was hosted at the two-Michelin-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, where industry luminaries gathered for a lunch prepared by head chef Guillaume Lebrun, who incorporated the winning produce into a special menu and paired with wines kindly provided by Liberty Wines.

The IFWG Food Awards, now in their 22nd year, celebrate indigenous food producers and organisations. They are considered important as they recognise those who create, make and share great Irish produce and products while helping to maintain Ireland’s outstanding international reputation in food and drink.

The 2016 IFWG Food Award winners are Wild Irish Foragers for its full range of products, Silver Darlings for its pickled herrings and Mossfield Organic Farm for its organic milk. White Gypsy Brewery received the Irish Drink Award for its Russian Imperial Stout. Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye Bakehouse and Bread School was presented with a Notable Contribution to Irish Food Award and this year’s Environmental Award went to Highbank Organic Orchards.

Aoife Carrigy said, “As a nation, our focus should be on the abundance of incredible produce available throughout Ireland that is being made available to consumers by passionate producers who take a sustainable approach to food and food innovation, whether by re-embracing traditional approaches to age-old food sources such as milk, apples or wild berries, or by applying a modern perspective to traditional foods such as Irish fish, stout or bread.

“What’s really interesting about this year’s winners is that they are representative of the new energy that is emerging from the midlands for food and drink. All six have been selected for the high standard and impeccable quality of their produce, together with their dedication and commitment to Irish food. As an organisation that is devoted to being a voice for better eating, we have been shining a spotlight on the best of the best for over 20 years and this year it’s the turn of the midlands to shine.”

The IFWG Food Awards are 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.

The IFWG thanks Bord Bia for its support of the awards and its tireless work on the home and export markets on behalf of the Irish food industry.

About the Winners

Mossfield Organic Milk: Ralph Haslam, Co. Offaly: Food Award

Ralph Haslam of Mossfield Organic Farm is no stranger to the IFWG Food Awards, having received an award in 2007 for his excellent Mossfield cheese. This year it is his organic Mossfield milk that the Guild has chosen to recognise for its traditional full flavour and rich, creamy texture. Both are produced at the family farm at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, where the milk of 80 cows grazing on limestone pasture is also transformed into buttermilk and yoghurt.

After three decades of conventional farming, Ralph converted to organic methods in 1999. Today, he takes an unusually complex approach, reseeding individual fields with up to two dozen types of grasses and herbs depending on the soil’s requirements. This ‘organic-plus’ system encourages wonderful biodiversity, promotes the health of both soil and animals and produces a particularly rich-flavoured milk.

Unlike most commercially available milk, Mossfield milk is not standardised (skimmed) or homogenised to increase shelf life or to prevent the cream from separating. Instead, it is simply pasteurised and distributed nationwide in as fresh and natural a state as possible. www.mossfield.ie

Wild Irish Foragers: Sharon and Gordon Greene, Co. Offaly: Food Award

Sharon and Gordon Greene of Wild Irish Foragers didn’t set out to become entrepreneurial food producers. But one day, while walking on their fifth-generation midlands cattle farm just outside Birr, their daughter Emily pointed to a rosehip in the hedgerow and asked, ‘What’s that?’ The ensuing journey to reclaim and preserve near-lost knowledge eventually led to the family creating a unique business as producers of syrups, jellies, shrubs and sauces made from wild ingredients.

The hand harvesting of their farm’s hedgerows and fields remains a family affair. Wild elderberries and elderflowers, rosehips and rowanberries, blackthorn sloes and spring nettles, blackberries and damsons, honeysuckle and gorse, meadowsweet and clover are transformed into an expansive range of products based on traditional recipes discovered by ‘rooting around’ in rare old cookbooks.

The Greenes describe themselves as caretakers of their land’s natural bounty. Rather than expanding through horticultural cultivation, they are exploring other offshoots for the business, including renovating an old farmyard mill to facilitate foraging courses and events, thus creating sustainable employment opportunities for their family, neighbours and wider community. www.wildirishforagers.ie

Click here to view recipe with winners’ product

Silver Darlings: Kirsti O’Kelly, Co. Limerick: Food Award

Kirsti O’Kelly moved to Ireland from her native Finland in 1999, but she never lost the taste for Nordic pickled herring or the skill for producing it according to family recipes passed down from her grandmother. While managing a busy Limerick city restaurant, Kirsti became convinced that the Irish palate was ready for traditional pickled herrings with a contemporary twist, produced with high-quality ingredients.

With the help of BIM’s Seafood Development Centre in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Silver Darlings was launched in March 2013 with six distinct flavours to its range. These include a classic dill-pickled Midsummer Herring alongside a fresh Fennel & Tarragon Herring with pink peppercorns and a Star of the Sea Herring scented with star anise, cumin and lemon. She exclusively uses Irish herring sourced from a small Killybegs-based processor, Island Seafoods, and only adds natural ingredients. Mild wine vinegars break down the bone while semi-preserving the fish flesh and act as a subtle backdrop to the aromatic spices and fresh herbs.

Although the range is available in market stalls in Limerick and Dublin, O’Kelly’s core focus is the food service sector. Production has increased from three tonnes in the first year to three or four times that last year. This year Island Seafoods have come on board as co-producers, allowing Silver Darlings to increase output while giving Kirsti the time to build and maintain customer relations with leading chefs around the country. www.silverdarlings.ie

Click here to view recipe with winners’ product

White Gypsy Russian Imperial Stout: Cuilan Loughnane, Co. Tipperary: Irish Drink Award

This is the first time an IFWG Award has gone to an Irish beer – appropriately a stout, being something of a national symbol. But although White Gypsy’s Russian Imperial Stout is produced in a traditional style, its innovative brewer, Cuilan Loughnane, introduced it to the White Gypsy stable with a non-traditional drinker in mind: to be served in restaurants as a great value, local alternative to imported wine. Aged in new oak barrels built and toasted to order by a French cooper, it is complex, with big roasted chocolate and burnt malt flavours, light carbonation and an ABV of 7%. It pairs brilliantly with robust cheeses, rich game and well-marbled beef as well as chocolate desserts.

Described as a brewer’s brewer, Cuilan Loughnane opened Templemore’s White Gypsy brewery in 2009 with 12 years of craft brewing under his belt. He has actively supported newcomers to the sector, has experimented with growing Irish hops for use in occasional brews and has worked closely with Kildare-based maltsters to develop a malt to craft beer specification. Cuilan takes pride in being the longest-serving hands-on Irish craft brewer, happily leaving the business side to his trusted employees and keeping his own focus on producing the best beer he can. www.whitegypsy.ie

Click here to view recipe with winners’ product

Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye, Co. Tipperary: Notable contribution to Irish Food Award

Joe Fitzmaurice is a man on a mission: to actively foster in Ireland what is a fast-growing culture of bread produced without the use of industrial additives or chemicals – or ‘real bread’, as many devotees define it. Two years ago and together with his wife and business partner, Julie Lockett, Joe transformed Cloughjordan Wood-fired Bakery into its current incarnation, Riot Rye Bakehouse & Bread School.

Three times a week Joe fires up sustainably sourced local beech and ash timber in his self-built, Alan Scott-designed masonry oven and bakes 200 organic loaves for the local community in Cloughjordan Eco-Village and neighbouring towns and villages. The couple deliberately limited their production output in order to dedicate time to education and advocacy.

The aim at Riot Rye is to give everyone access to good, wholesome, nourishing and delicious bread, both by increasing its widespread availability and by teaching people how to bake it themselves. For those unable to visit the bread school, Joe has developed The Common Loaf: a straightforward sourdough recipe and demo video accessible from the Riot Rye website.

Joe has been a member of the UK’s Real Bread Campaign since 2008, when he ran the baking side of Blazing Salads, his sisters’ Dublin-based whole food business. In 2015, he became one of the founding members of the Irish Real Bread network, which seeks to support professional craft bakers. www.riotrye.ie

Click here to view recipe with winners’ product

Rod and Julie Calder-Potts, Highbank Organic Orchards, Co. Kilkenny: Environmental Award

Rod and Julie Calder-Potts of Highbank Organic Orchards won an IFWG Food Award in 2013 for their Irish Orchard Syrup, which is made purely from apples with no added sugar or sweeteners and is grown, distilled and bottled on Highbank Farm. This year they are being presented with the Guild’s Environmental Award.

Originally planted by the family in 1969 to complement the former hop gardens, the orchards and farm were converted to organic production in 1994. This began the process of returning the farm to a more environmentally inclusive husbandry. Over time, they have added two small lakes, woodlands and various wildlife habitats. No chemicals are sprayed on the apples, while herbicides, chemical fertilisers and manure from animals fed on GM food are strictly avoided.

But the focus at Highbank is on maximising output as well as minimising input. A variety of apples are transformed into everything from organic apple juices and ciders to a range of apple-based spirits (Crystal Apple Gin, Organic Pink Flamingo Gin, Organic Apple Vodka, Organic Orchard Liqueur and a calvados-style Organic Orchard Spirit). Even the waste by-products from the distillery are put to good use, with the acetone going to Brooklodge Hotel in Co. Wicklow to be used as organic nail varnish remover. www.highbankorchards.com