Great Taste judging is a rollercoaster ride of emotions where you can go from trepidation to ecstasy, wonderment to disappointment all in a matter of seconds. Each spoon, or forkful, of the food tasted will either set your taste buds on fire or dull the senses. Judges are looking for the former to award shiny little stars.
Ireland consistently produces some cracking food and at this year’s tasting roadshow in Clonmel in Tipperary, I got to taste some of the great offerings from this wonderful county. A function room in the Hotel Minella had been transformed into a judging arena and would be our home for the week.
Clonmel means the Vale of Honey and here it flows thick and fast. I met quite a few of the food producers who also judged with me.
Some of them entered products into this year’s Great Taste Awards but I have no idea who did and how they fared. No producers would have been allowed to judge their products and judging of their goods would have taken place on another day.
Ailbhe Gerrard is behind Brookfield Farm, who produce amongst other things wildflower honey and beautiful handmade beeswax candles from her farm in Lough Derg.
Crossogue Preserves makes over 85 varieties of jams, marmalades, chutneys, curds and jellies. Its kitchen is on the Molloy’s family farm in Ballycahill. It’s also here that Mark Molloy runs the Crossogue Equestrian Centre. I can vouch for the marvellous breakfast marmalades and the blackcurrant jelly that Veronica Molloy used in a cheesecake I tried at a dinner hosted on her Estate.
Michael Cantwell makes delicious ice cream, (seen above with the cheesecake) with his wife Kate using milk and cream from their Holstein/Friesian herd. Boulabán Farm produces more than 80 ice cream flavours and Michael has invited me back to Tipperary to try them all. Little does he know I’m planning to.
At the Molloy Estate dinner, we had an impressive cheeseboard which included the most amazing mature cheddar. Derg is made by Paddy and Kay Cooney using raw milk from their Friesian/Jersey cows. The soft cheese, as close to a brie as I’ve tasted, is from the Maher family farm. Cooleeney is one of many the Farm now produce – the Dunbarra range is a Great Taste Award product. The honey from Brookfield was a lovely touch and accompaniment for the cheese. Cashel blue is probably well-known around the world and made in Tipperary by the Grubb Family on Beechmount Farm near Cashel. This handmade blue is one of Ireland’s most popular and is both creamy, salty and truly delicious. The gluten-free crackers were from Jenny’s Kitchen. Her artisan gluten-free bakery makes cakes, bread and biscuits. Her lemon drizzle cake and rocky road are award winners.
No stranger to Great Taste, the Tipperary Kitchen, are all about homemade. Their nutty wholemeal brown soda bread is pretty special I’m told and I’ve tried the meringue shells they make. Brian and Marie are the team behind the brand and their passion shines through when you chat to them. Local, fresh and by hand are words they use often and when you try their products, you can taste it.
O’Donnells crisps are produced on Seskin Farm by a seventh generation farmer who wanted to diversify when farming started to look shaky. He saw a hole in the market for an artisan Irish kettle crisp and made crisps from the potatoes he grew on the farm. The Irish sea salt is one of my favourites.
Malachy Dorris is the co-founder and chocolatier behind Lough Derg Chocolates. His handmade offerings include truffles and luxury chocolate bars all using local or Irish ingredients.
Vera Miklas makes modelling chocolate, from the finest Belgian chocolate. It’s easy to work with and a must-have for any professional cake maker.
Nora Egan’s black and white pudding is made from a family recipe passed down from Mother to Daughter. She makes it in her kitchen at Inch House Country House and Restaurant in Thurles.
Pat Whelan from James Whelan Butchers is a Gold Fork winner; he’s got the equivalent of a food Oscar for his beef dripping. At his invite, the Guild of Fine Foods brought a judging team to County Tipperary, specifically Clonmel where he has his butchers. The family have been farming beef for five generations. I was a massive fan of his dripping after I tasted it judging, so when he won the Gold Fork I was absolutely delighted.
For piggy products, John Paul Crowe rears free range pigs on Crowe’s Farm. TJ processes the artisan bacon products on the farm butchery. I can safely say that his streaky rashers are porky, salty and grill to perfection.
I ate Piedmontese beef twice while I was staying in Ireland, once at Chez Hans and again at the dinner at the Molloy’s Estate. Both had been cooked perfectly, totally lean, yet had a deep beef richness. John Commins and Michael Fennelly are two dedicated beef farmers who run Irish Piedmontese Beef where they breed pure breeds. In 2005, they imported breeding stock direct from Italy and had developed a herd in Tipperary and nearby Laois.
A lack of authentic Mexican tortilla in Ireland forced a couple to crowdfund money to set up their company. Now, they run Europe’s only truly authentic corn tortilla factory. Nino Blanco‘s factory in Clonmel produces corn tortillas and pre-cut unfried tortilla chips for the foodservice sector. Take a look at the Nationwide piece I link to below, to find out more about the founder, Philip Martin.
Michael Corbett sows and produces cold pressed rapeseed oil in the heart of Tipperary. He’s a third generation farmer who diversified into growing rapeseed, Michael was certain that the only way to do it right was to carefully manage the entire process from sowing the seed to harvesting, pressing and bottling. Emerald Oils rapeseed oil is golden and has a pure and subtle flavour with no after taste.
I judged with the owner of Longways Cider Company, James and he told me all about his cider made from apples from the family orchard. It’s not just cider he makes in Suir Valley, they produce an Elderflower Frizzante – both are award winners. The Orchard is also hope to sixteen hives of Irish honey bees who pollinate the apple trees and produce honey.
Here’s the complete list of the Tipperary Food Producers.
Our visit caused quite a stir, RTE’s Mary Kennedy’s Nationwide programme made a film about it and you can watch it via this link.