As a Great Taste Award Judge, I get to taste a lot of food and when I say a lot, I mean up to 60 items each judging day and that could be anything from seaweed to chocolate. In the spring of this year I tasted something that truly blew my mind. Judges blind taste food which is then passed to other judges for their opinion. Recorded scores and comments are entered onto a computerised system and anything that’s given a three star is scrutinised further, culminating in a final tasting day with other products of the same calibre and star rating. Fifty, three star products are shortlisted, ahead of the winner being awarded a Golden Fork Award. I’ve written about the judging process before for the Huff and you can read all about it here.
Everyone on my table looked a little upset to be tasting Beef Dripping when we saw other tables full of truckles of cheese, bars of chocolate, and hunks of just-roasted meat. As soon as it had melted on the tongue the frowns turned to large smiles and I even let out a small shriek (totally not cool in the Judging Room). We gave this product, which was full of beef-flavour, and melted in the mouth in seconds, a three star, we were all in agreement immediately, which is very rare. Other Judges in the room agreed and after a further round of tasting it kept its three star badge of honour and made it through to final tasting. The Judging Panel is full of producers, chefs and people who write about great food each and every day and they agreed, the beef dripping was worthy of three stars.
Some months later, when judging is over, the results are published and Judges discover who the producers are and it’s James Whelan Butchers from Clonmel in County Tipperary who makes the dripping.
I appreciate that it isn’t for everyone but I was raised in a family where dripping was slathered on toast (my Nan didn’t waste a thing and my Pop, Irish, so knew the value of good food) it was a taste experience that took me straight back to my childhood and a kitchen full of my family sitting around scooping dripping from a Pyrex dish, drained from the roast the previous day. It was spread onto thick cut, white toasted bread. It was a staple until the Fat Police set their Klaxons to scare and dripping was wiped out eradicated overnight. Now they’re pointing fingers at carbs and sugar as the criminals who stop hearts and make us fat and saturated fat is out on bail, for now. Think the crispiest twice-cooked chips, roast potatoes that shed shards as you crack into the shell to find that super-fluffy centre and the best pastry you’ll ever taste, all cooked in beef dripping.
Dripping is essentially rendered fat, which separates from meat and the connective tissue which at heat turns into a clear liquid, it’s protein-free and has no impurities. What would have made it down the sink is now a useful, tasty, spreadable product. Pat’s beef dripping is made from the suet or the raw meat or fat found around the loins and kidneys, of grass-fed Angus and Hereford beef. Once rendered and clarified, it’s packed into simple wax paper.
Mum was coming to stay for her birthday so I tweeted Pat (@Pat_Whelan) and congratulated him on the win (for the second year by the way) and asked if he could send me some and two packs made it over without liquifying. She couldn’t resist making shortcrust pastry from some of the dripping and after a few attempts with regular flour, we opted for a strong white bread flour. Regular flour produced a pastry that was too short and impossible to roll out. It was to wrap around some sausage meat for picnic sausage rolls. I offered the food processor but that’s frankly swearing at a woman who’s coped well without one for several years, you can throw all the ingredients into one if you like.
BEEF DRIPPING SHORTCRUST PASTRY SAUSAGE ROLLS
225g strong white bread flour
50g butter, diced
50g beef dripping
6 beef sausages
1 free-range egg
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the butter and beef dripping and rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the salt, (normally at this point you’d add 2-3 tbsp water when making regular shortcrust pastry but it wasn’t needed with this mix) and combine ingredients to form a dough. Knead on a gently floured surface, roll into a ball and wrap in cling wrap and place into a fridge for about 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.
While the pastry is chilling, slit the sausage skins and force the meat out.
Take the pastry from the fridge and sprinkle some flour onto the work surface and roll your pastry into a rectangle, you’re looking for the thickness of £1/€1 coin, and cut your rectangle in two. Roll the sausage mixture back into a sausage shape, and place along the centre of each rectangle of pastry.
Mix the egg and brush on the pastry edge, it’s going to be your glue, then fold one side of the pastry over, making sure the filling is nice and secure. Press down the edges with your fingers and make sure you have a good seal. Don’t over wash the pastry or it will be too wet to stick together.
Cut the long rolls into the size of sausage rolls you’d like and put them on a greased baking sheet. Brush with the rest of the egg and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
These are delicious served warm.
Since I wrote this piece, James picked up Supreme Champion – his dripping is now stocked in that small grocery store known as Harrods.
James Whelan Butchers, Oakville Shopping Centre, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary
Telephone: 052 6182477
From overseas: + 353 52 6182477