Thursday was a break from routine – a road trip around the South West of Ireland to visit a farmers market and local food producers. So 8am saw all sixty-something of us pile into 2 coaches and set off to explore the countryside.
Before we even left the school though we went and checked out 2 locals who run 2 very different kinds of food businesses.
First up was a local Salmon smoker Bill Casey, who runs the Shanagarry Smokehouse. This operation is actually based in a building on the Ballymaloe Farm. Bill uses organic Salmon from Kinsale and cold smokes sides of salmon. It was so interesting to hear his story and see his set up and was our introduction to the theme of the day – passionate people who love what they do. Totally inspiring.
We also had a really interesting chat from Philip, who besides running butchery classes at the school is also the man behind Saturday pizzas. A pop up restaurant which runs out of Ballymaloe school on (unsurprisingly!) Saturdays afternoons. The sourdough style pizzas are also sold in local shops and supermarkets. The story about his decisions on expansion and the type of business he wanted to have were really interesting. Such as deciding not to outsource production so he could stay in full control, to produce for the local market rather than wider export and to not let the business become a lifestyle was a nice example of some of the decisions small, successful producers need to make.
We then hit up a Farmers Market called Mahon Point in Cork. The story of the Farmers Markets and the part they have played in supporting local food producers is a really interesting ones. (And Darina, armed with the bus microphone and a captive audience told us all about it as we drove to Cork) All over the country these markets provide a platform for farmers and producers to sell directly to customers. It sounds crazy, but up until Farmers Markets started popping up, local people couldn’t easily buy local food. Supermarkets and chain stores moved to centralised ordering systems, meaning stores had to stock their shelves with whatever Head Office told them to sell. It was hard for smaller scale, local producers to get a look in, let alone shelf space.
Back story told, we then arrived at the market. The fact it was only 10am didn’t stop this from being our lunch break. The food stalls were diverse and delicious, I could probably have eaten 2 lunches.
The afternoon saw us visit an artisan cheddar cheese producer in Co. Waterford, called Knockanore Farmhouse Cheese. Although on a much much larger scale to the Dairy at Ballymaloe, the production methods all felt very familiar! We saw the separator for the fresh milk, the large basins where the curds get cut, the packing and storing rooms, the smoker for their smoked variety… Eamonn the owner was so passionate about his product. Outside on the farm the herb of Friesian cows live a happy life. Lots of green grass… made even greener by the fact they water the grass with the whey left over from the cheese making. A nice touch.
The next stop (although an hour later than scheduled) we did a whistle stop visit to the next door neighbour farm and met Thomas Baldwin, of Baldwin’s Farmhouse Ice-cream. Another artisan business which originally came about through necessity… Thomas needed some additional income as the family’s diary farm was not making enough for him and his parents to earn a living. So, using a percentage of the milk produced on his family’s dairy farm Thomas started making ice-cream. And they now sell to local restaurants, farmers markets and have a little ice-cream truck they take to festivals and weddings.
Our final 2 stops were in the seaside town of Dungarven. First up NudeFood cafe, a local cafe which has been in the town centre for over 10 years. Longstanding and familiar now, they were seen as new and innovative when they began. Offering an all day, loosely Middle Eastern inspired menu, they have a small deli up the front and in a manner which Darina obviously totally approves of, they make all their own breads, jams etc. In fact, the owner Louise has a very similar food philosophy to the Ballymaloe one. It was so lovely to see something offering such good, quality but not fussy eating experience doing so well, even in a relatively small town community. And then amidst the rain our final stop was at the Dungarven Brewing company.
Although craft beers are now everywhere, this brother and sister duo along with their wife and husband set up their brewery over 5 years ago, so were one of the first in the area.
They showed us around the brewery, we peered into vats and smelt different kinds of malted barley and hops. We tasted a number of their beers, an Irish Stout, an IPA, a red ale…and my favourite; an American Pale Ale called Minehead.
What a day! So many great stories and so inspiring to see people really getting out there and doing it. Making a living from their passion. Care and craftsmanship. Connection to the local area. It might not always be glamorous, it might always be hard work – but we were lucky these people opened up their factories and shared their stories with us.