Monday 9 February 2015

A Food Lovers' Tour of County Cork

Once a term on the 12 Week Certificate course, all the students pile into a bus. There’s always great excitement as we head off on our Ballymaloe Cookery School tour. Everyone reverts back to giggly school kids but although it is a super fun day, it’s all about garnering ideas that inspire the students. We visit a farmers market, artisan producers, fish smoker, farmhouse cheese maker, maybe a café, restaurant or food truck…

This term, we started at Mahon Point Farmers Marketa sizzling ferment of brilliant ideas on the outskirts of Cork city, which hosts a myriad of stalls selling predominately local food.The market is celebrating its ten year anniversary this month and there will be events, tastings and music every Thursday this month... so be sure to go and visit.

Where to start when you get there? The Old Millbank Smokehouse has a wonderful range of potato and fish cakes as well as gorgeous pies: chicken and chorizo, steak and Guinness, roast vegetable and goat cheese…  Scotch eggs in many flavours from the West Cork Pie Company, The Good Little Cook make arancini to make even Italians weep, Middle Eastern falafel and hummus. And the marshmallows from Cloud Confectionary are to die for.

Marcus Hodder makes homemade gelato and serves it with  crispy waffles made fresh on the stall. There are irresistible  cake pops from Treat Petite. Carl Fahy’s Galway Bay Bagels and pretzels are made from scratch. Mick’s homemade nut roasts from Nutcase Food Company. Spanish temptations, La Cocina from Silvia and Olga – super authentic Spanish style baking including their Portuguese custard tarts. 

Gluten free treats from Gan Gluten for the fast growing wheat intolerant and coeliac market. Fumagalli’s fresh pasta, lasagne and pasta sauces, numerous cake, preserves and cookie stalls,  Arbutus artisan bread...

And I haven’t even mentioned the farmers, fishermen, local veg or herb growers, Lolo’s steak sandwiches, Arun’s Green Saffron spices, Volcano pizzas, Rocketman salads on and on …

From there we headed for West Cork to visit the Ferguson family farm at Gubbeen outside Schull. The multi ethnic student group loved driving through the beautiful Irish countryside and little towns with gaily painted pubs and shop fronts.

The milk from Tom’s herd of Friesians and Jersey cows goes to the dairy to make the now famous Gubbeen cheeses,  the whey from the cheese-making gets fed to the pigs for Fingal’s Gubbeen bacon and charcuterie. 

Three generations of the Ferguson family live on the 150 acre dairy farm and add value to the produce in a variety of ways. 

Clovisse grows the organic herbs to flavour the sausages and salad leaves and edible flowers for local restaurants. Giana also has a collection of fancy fowl, geese, ducks and chickens and Fingal in his ‘spare time’ makes hand-made knives when their three little boys have snuggled down for the night. The produce is sold at five  farmers markets and specialist shops around the country. The students were gob-smacked by the entrepreneurial spirit of the whole family.

We had a picnic and food from the farm in the conservatory and gardens and then off to Ummera Smokehouse near Timoleague. There Anthony Creswell told us about the trials and tribulations and triumphs of running an artisan food business. We tasted his award winning smoked salmon, duck, chicken and dry cured nitrate free rashers – a wonderful story which started in 1980’s.

Our last stop was at just a few minutes away close to the beautiful Timoleague Abbey in the village of Timoleague  where Gavin Moore and Michelle O’Mahony opened a  pub/café (Monk's Lane Wine Bar & Café) last May. The revamp took just five weeks of super hard work with lots of help from family and friends. Their simple menu reflects the fresh local produce of the West Cork area where let’s face it they are spoiled for choice. 

My students from seven different countries were thrilled and inspired by their brief interlude in West Cork and are already talking about planning a longer trip to discover even more West Cork Magic.