There was a super buzz at the 30th Irish Food Writers Guild Awards at Suesey Street restaurant in Dublin‘s city centre recently. This was the first in-person award ceremony since 2020 and we were all thrilled to see each other once again.
The great and the good of the Irish food media were gathered together to celebrate the award winners…. Artisan producers – farmhouse cheesemakers, brewers, charcutiers, fish smokers…… plus two remarkable organisations.
The inspirational and much loved, Field of Dreams in Cork won the Community Food Award. This organic vegetable garden project used as a catalyst for learning and personal development has enriched the lives of the Cork Downs Syndrome community for many, many years.
Hero brothers, Kevin and Sheamus Sheridan, who have done so much for decades to encourage, support and promote Irish farmhouse cheesemakers won the Lifetime Achievement Award. From one small stall in the farmers market in Galway to 21 establishments in less than 30 years is quite the achievement.
In the early 1980’s, we were a nation of Calvita eaters…. Kevin and Sheamus have not only provided a shop window for Irish Farmhouse cheeses but helped in no small way to change the image of Irish food both at home and abroad and opened up a brave new world for the distinctive cheeses of Ireland.
The food writers who hadn’t met each other for over three years were delighted to catch up again and to meet the overjoyed award winners whom they had independently and anonymously proposed.
Nowadays, there are so many awards it’s difficult to keep track but crucial to the integrity of the IFWG Awards is the nomination and judging process. No company or individual can enter themselves but rather are nominated in a confidential process by the IFWG members. Products are bought and paid for, and a formal tasting meeting takes place where members vote, using proportional representation.
Consequently, the IFWG awards are arguably the most coveted and prestigious of all the food awards.
Apart from the last two winners, there were six others whom you really need to know about.
Two from Northern Ireland, both personal favourites of mine.
Ballylisk Triple Rose is a white mould ripened cheese, made by Mark Rice from a single herd on the family farm in Ballylisk in County Armagh, a gorgeous gooey feisty cheese… Watch this space, there’s already a range of accompaniments and several other cheeses with several more in development.
Lough Neagh smoked Eel is one of my all-time favourite traditional Irish foods with a wonderful backstory. Fishermen have been catching eels on Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in these islands since the Bronze Age. The young elvers are born in the Sargosso sea and gradually make the long and perilous journey across the wild Atlantic Ocean to mature in the unique habitat of Lough Neagh. In 1965, the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-Operative was set up with the express intention of safeguarding the traditional methods of catching eels and it has steadfastly maintained its focus on building a sustainable and viable future for succeeding generations of fishers.
It was a world that fascinated Sheamus Heaney, who wrote A Lough Neagh Sequence for the fishermen.
In 2011, Lough Neagh eel was awarded a coveted PGI (protected geographical indication) by the EU. I love to enjoy it simply and savour it slowly with a little brown bread and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, perhaps a little horseradish. The chef at Suesey Street made a beautiful starter plate of Smoked Lough Neagh Eel with Sheep’s Yoghurt Mousse and Dill. I also love therecipe for Jeremy Lee‘s iconic smoked eel sandwich at Quo Vadis in Dean St in London’s Soho (see Examiner column 5th March 2022). This recipe with many of Jeremy’s other classic recipes come from his new book ‘Cooking Simply and Well for One or Many’ published by 4th Estate.
The Environmental Award went to The Wooded Pig.
Coppa from a range of artisan charcuterie made by Eoin Bird from ethically raised, rare breed pigs reared on his family farm near Tara in County Meath. The pigs roam freely in the woodlands in the time-honoured way though the ash, oak and beech trees snuffling up oak mast and acorns, which add immeasurably to the flavour of the charcuterie.
Eoin and his family fundamentally believe that as custodians of the lush verdant landscape, they must champion a biodiverse way of farming that is sustainable, places the animals welfare at the heart of what they do and is good for nature and wildlife also. www.thewoodedpig.ie
The Notable Contribution to Irish Food Award was won by Gabriel Flaherty of Aran Island Goats Cheese in County Galway. Gabriel became intrigued by cheesemaking after his wife gave him a birthday present of a course. He bought a herd of frisky Nubian, and Saanen goats who love the beautiful herby pastures on the island, he started to experiment and the rest is history. Gabriel combines his love of cheese with bespoke tours on the history, culture, and food of his beloved Inis Mór …www.arangoatcheese.com
And last, but certainly not least, the Irish Drink Award went to Béal Bán from Beoir Chorcha Dhuibhne also known as West Kerry Brewery. The Brewery is based in the garden of Adrienne Heslins pub, Tig Bric in Ballyferriter on the lovely Dingle peninsula. It was the first brewery in Kerry and the first in Ireland to be founded and managed by a woman. Still proudly independent, Adrienne brews what she calls ‘progressive, traditional’ beers… Besides Béal Bán, they now have 17 beers in their portfolio so be sure to call in to the pub on your next visit to the Dingle peninsula.
Continue to seek out beautiful Irish artisan
products to support those food heroes who enrich our lives so much….
Aran Island Goat’s Cheese and Thyme Leaf Soufflé
We bake this soufflé until golden and puffy in a shallow oval dish instead of the traditional soufflé bowl; it makes a perfect lunch or supper dish.
75g (3oz) butter
40g (1 1/2 oz) flour
300ml (10fl oz) cream
300ml (10fl oz) milk
a few slices of carrot
sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks and a little scrap of bay leaf
1 small onion, quartered
5 eggs free range organic, separated
110g (4oz) crumbled Aran Island goat’s cheese
75g (3oz) Gruyère cheese
50g (2oz) mature Coolea farmhouse cheese, grated (Parmesan – Parmigiano Reggiano or Regato may also be used)
a good pinch of salt, cayenne, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
thyme flowers if available
30cm (12 inch) shallow oval dish (not a soufflé dish) or 6 individual wide soup bowls with a rim
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with melted butter.
Put the cream and milk into a saucepan, add a few slices of carrot, a quartered onion, 4 or 5 peppercorns and the fresh herbs. Bring slowly to the boil and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the flavourings, (we rinse them off and throw them into the stockpot if there is one on the go.)
Melt the butter, add the flour and cook for a minute or two. Whisk in the strained cream and milk, bring to the boil and whisk until it thickens. Cool slightly. Add the egg yolks, goat’s cheese, grated Gruyère and most of the grated Coolea (or Parmesan if using.) Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Taste and correct seasoning. Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold them gently into the mixture to make a loose consistency. Put the mixture into the prepared dish, scatter the thyme leaves on top and sprinkle with the remaining Coolea or Parmesan cheese.
Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the sides and top are nicely puffed up and golden, the centre should still be creamy. Garnish with thyme flowers.
Serve immediately on
warm plates with a good green salad.
The Wooded Pig Coppa-Wrapped Monkfish
Head Chef Deniss Laskeno of Suesey Street, kindly shared this recipe with me.
800g (1 3/4lb) monkfish
100g – 120g (3 1/2 – scant 4 1/2oz) The Wooded Pig Coppa
For the brine:
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) granulated sugar
30g (1 1/4oz) salt
15g (generous 1/2oz) light brown sugar
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) water
2g ground black pepper
1g garlic powder
10g (scant 1/2oz) Worcestershire sauce
1 fresh bay leaf
For the morel sauce:
100g (3 1/2oz) fresh morels
10g (scant 1/2oz) butter
10g (scant 1/2oz) garlic, finely diced
10g (scant 1/2oz) shallots
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) Madeira
10g (scant 1/2oz) salt
2g black pepper
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) double cream
For the vegetables:
150g (5oz) peas, blanched and refreshed
150g (5oz) broad beans, blanched and refreshed
12 baby leeks, trimmed, blanched and refreshed
a little white wine
To prepare the monkfish:
To get your monkfish ready for brining, trim the tail, hold the skin with a towel in your hand, and pull it from the flesh like you would remove your socks.
Place all ingredients for brine in a large pot and bring to the boil.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Submerge monkfish in brine and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
After removing monkfish from the brine, wash in ice cold water for a few minutes. Pat dry and place in the fridge to air dry for 2-5 hours.
Wipe down the workstation with a damp cloth to keep the surface slightly wet. This will help the cling film to stick to the table, preventing it from sliding around as you work.
Place a layer of cling film onto the working surface, ensuring that it covers the surface completely. Lay an even layer of coppa on top of the cling film, making sure that it is at least twice as wide as the thickness of your fillet. This will ensure that the coppa evenly covers the entire fillet.
Using the cling film, carefully roll the coppa and fillet into a tight roulade, being sure to squeeze out any excess air as you go. Once you have rolled it to your liking, tie off both ends tightly.
Steam at 63°C for 7 minutes. Once it has been cooked, place it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. When it has cooled, cut into four portions.
To make the morel sauce:
Start by cleaning the morels with a soft brush to remove any dirt or debris. Cut off the bottom part of the stems if they are tough and discard.
Heat a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced garlic and shallots and sauté until softened and fragrant.
Deglaze the pan with Madeira and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the cleaned morels to the pan and stir to coat them in the sauce. Season with salt and black pepper.
Pour in the double cream and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the sauce for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened and reduced by half. Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
Transfer the morel sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, you can add a little water or more cream to thin to your desired consistency.
To prepare the vegetables:
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Pan fry the monkfish portions to a golden colour on a hot pan, ensuring a delightful sear on all sides.
Carefully transfer monkfish to an oven tray and add a drizzle of lemon, a splash of white wine, and a dollop of butter on top of each piece. Place the monkfish in the oven and cook for 7-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. We aim to reach a temperature of 73°C, probing the fish close to the bone to ensure the entire piece is cooked to perfection.
Reheat the broad beans and peas in a sizzling sauté pan over medium high heat with a touch of butter or olive oil and season them with salt.
We prefer to char our baby leeks over an open flame, but feel free to use your preferred method of cooking.
Place the morel sauce on the
plate and lay the vegetables on top. Add with the coppa-wrapped monkfish and
delicate, fresh microgreen leaves.
Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream
If you can’t source Velvet Cloud, use the very best natural yoghurt that you can find.
225ml (8fl oz) milk
110g (4oz) caster sugar
200ml (7fl oz) cream
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground – you’ll need about 8-10 green cardamom pods depending on size
3 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine
425ml (15fl oz) Velvet Cloud natural yoghurt
Garnish: fresh mint leaves
8 moulds or serving dishes
Put the milk, sugar and cream into a stainless-steel saucepan with the ground cardamom, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and leave to sit to infuse while you dissolve the gelatine. Sponge the gelatine in a small bowl with 3 tablespoons of cold water. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine has melted and is completely clear. Add a little of the infused milk mixture and stir well and then mix this into the rest. Beat the yoghurt lightly with a whisk until smooth and creamy, add into the cardamom mixture.
Pour into individual moulds. Allow to set for several hours, preferably overnight.
Just before serving.
Unmould a cardamom cream onto a cold plate and
garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Alternatively, serve the cardamom cream in individual bowls and garnish
with mint leaves.
Ballylisk Triple Rose with Homemade Crackers
We love these homemade crackers with Ballylisk Tripe Rose cheese.
Makes 20-25 biscuits
Ballylisk Triple Rose cheese
225g (8oz) plain white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
25g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoons cream
water as needed, 5 tablespoons approx.
Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter and moisten with the cream and enough water to make a firm dough.
Roll out very thinly to one sixteenth of an inch approx. Prick with a fork. Cut into 9cm (3 1/2 inch) squares with a pastry wheel. Bake at 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 for 30 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: For Wheaten Crackers – use 110g (4oz) wholemeal flour and 110g (4oz) plain white flour.