Thursday, 16 March 2017

Why We Should Eat Less Meat

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, really put the ‘cat among the pigeons’ recently when she called on people from developed nations to consider eating “less meat or no meat at all”, due to the toll its production takes on the environment.  Her address to 1,300 current and future young world leaders from 196 nations at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa caused quite a stir around the world but particularly here in Ireland.

Mary Robinson's address at One Young Word (Image credit: One Young World)
The remarks drew a tirade of condemnation from several farming organisations and rural TDs, who seemed to assume this statement was aimed directly at them.
Irish beef farmers are understandably particularly sensitive having been directly affected by the fall in the value of sterling as a result of Brexit.
Because of the quantity of methane and slurry produced by animals, livestock rearing is seen as a major contribution to greenhouse gases. However, here in Ireland our dairy and beef animals are primarily, though not completely, grass fed so consequently they produce much less gas than grain fed animals reared in intensive feed lot systems. A fact that needs to be repeated loud and clear… We are not comparing like with like, it’s simply not the same thing.

The cows at Ballymaloe Cookery School
Ireland can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so surely it makes sense for our farmers to produce good beef for export to areas that are not so favoured by nature. The quality of Irish beef is highly esteemed. It was served recently at the Breeder’s Cup in California on the invitation of the organisers. Good Food Ireland was partnered by Dawn Meats and Bord Bia to showcase Irish beef at this super high profile event considered to be the ‘richest two days in sport’
However, back to Mary Robinson, we must be careful not to ‘shoot the messenger’. There’s no doubt that many people nowadays eat far more meat than is beneficial for their health.
Much of that meat is produced in extremely intensive units which raise both animal welfare and chemical input concerns.

Our farm shop full of fresh veg from our organic farm
Although I eat mostly plants, copious amounts of vegetables, fresh herbs and wild foods, I’m certainly not a vegetarian. I love good meat but increasingly find myself eating less meat but better quality totally free range and organic. I am happy to pay more to those who are rearing animals and poultry in a more extensive way.
We urgently need a system where food producers can be identified and rewarded for producing a superior product. We also need to create a new paradigm where the contribution of organic and chemical free farmers to the environment is acknowledged in tax breaks.
So Mary Robinson would like us to consider a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for the sake of the planet and future generations. Scientists have confirmed that a widespread change in our eating habits would cut food related emissions by two thirds. However many are reluctant to forego meat altogether.

Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the validity of the arguments so why not seek out an organic chicken. It will cost you €18-€22 as opposed to €3.50 – Ouch… and that’s if you can even find one.  That is the real price of rearing and feeding a chicken with organic GM free feed for approximately three times the length of the bargain chicken without antibiotics, hormones, growth promoters or anti-depressants. Organic always means free range but free range certainly does not mean organic. Free range is a very ‘elastic term’, so ask some questions…
So back to the days when chicken was a ‘once a week’ or even once a month treat and every single scrap was used, liver for pâté, giblets, carcass and feet for a fine pot of stock soup or broth – there’s nothing more nourishing or restorative particularly if you are feeling slightly poorly – it’s not called ‘Jewish penicillin’ for nothing.
Pork, too needs careful sourcing to find organic or chemical free.  Close to us here in East Cork, we have Woodside Farm where Martin and Noreen Conroy and their family work hard to provide us with beautiful heritage breed Saddleback pork and bacon, only problem they simply can’t keep up with demand – catch up with them in County Cork at Midleton and Douglas on Saturday, Mahon on Thursday and Wilton Farmers Markets on Tuesday. 
In Curraghchase in County Limerick, Caroline Rigney and her husband Joe also produce exceptional pork at Rigney's Farm.
Mary’s right in many ways. We have to change; we simply cannot go on with ‘business as usual’. For the sake of our children, great grandchildren and the planet, we all need to commit to the Paris Agreement. Each and every one of us needs to think about our carbon footprint – we can each make a vital difference.

This is one of the reasons that we have chosen to focus on "Responsibility" as our Symposium theme at LitFest this year. We have gathered a tremendous range of journalists, chefs and food producers to discuss all aspects of the topic from 19th-21st May, see my last post for a round up of some of the exciting speakers we have in store for you. Visit the LitFest website to book.

Friday, 10 March 2017

A Taste of Our Responsibility Symposium at LitFest 2017

Food issues regularly dominate headlines in the mainstream media. What we eat, its impact on our bodies and our environment and the global policies that dictate food production and trade are all hot topics. 

As you may remember, I shared a couple of months ago that we have shifted the focus of our annual Litfest from food literature to food literacyThere are many different definitions for food literacy. We define it as the following:

Food Literacy is about understanding where the food you eat comes from, who produces it and if it is good for you. Essentially it is about understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our economy.

At Litfest we aim to help everyone to have a greater understanding of our food and hope that we can empower people to make more well-informed food choices.

This year's topic for the Litfest symposium is Responsibility. We have spent the past year planning an open, frank discussion about how we can take responsibility for every part of the food cycle - from how we care for the soil, the culture of the kitchens its cooked it and caring for our health.

On 20-21st May, the Grainstore at Ballymaloe will be transformed into an exciting auditorium staging a thought-provoking and inspiring series of short talks and presentations from a dynamic pool of activists, chefs, farmers, experts and authorities from home and abroad.

The symposium is aimed at those who would like to know more - who may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of contradictory information from so many sources. We want the good news stories to be told, hard questions to be asked and experiences shared... so that we all leave empowered and more well-informed to take responsible action in our lives, businesses and communities.

I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a little more about some of the speakers we have lined up for this year's symposium.

Our opening session on Saturday morning - Farm of Ideas - is presented by Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen from Denmark. They are co-owners of the Michelin-starred Relae, which is in the top 50 restaurants in the world and received a Sustainable Restaurant award in 2015 and 2016. Christian was a speaker at LitFest a couple of years back and was blown away by our farm and gardens here at Ballymaloe Cookery School and our farm to fork approach. This inspired him to rethink his restaurants and planted the seed of the Farm of Ideas: a farm where chefs can work, learn and develop new recipes. 
Next up we have a number of young farmers talking about getting the approach to food production right for all parties. I first met Severine von Tscharner Fleming when she did the 12 week cookery course here about 10 years ago. Since then she has become the executive director of Green Horns, co-founder of National Young Farmers coalition, FarmHack and Agrarian Trust and a part-time farmer. We met her again at the Terra Madre conference in Italy last year and just knew we had to have her come and speak at LitFest - she is so passionate about food and production. 

As is one of her co-speakers, Alice Holden - daughter of Patrick Holden - founder of Soil Association who will share her experience of urban farming, having taken on a plot of land in Dagenham London from which she runs a popular veg box scheme.
They will be joined by Irish farmers who focus on biodiversity and feeding the soil.

Ellie Kisyombe will be talking about her experience as a refugee in Direct Provision and the cultural power of food. She speaks movingly about the importance of the right for displaced people to be able to cook and eat familiar food, both in terms of building strong family and community ties, but also as a way of sustaining links to the culture you have been pulled from. If you didn't get a chance to hear her speak at our recent Slow Food event, now's your chance to be inspired by her.

After lunch, journalist and food activist, Joanna Blythman, author of Swallow This: serving up the food industry's darkest secrets will be exploring how overwhelmed and bombarded we all are with the diversity of food labelling, and how supermarkets have cottoned on to clean eating - using buzz words on the front of the packaging - but packing it full of rubbish. 

Professor Ted Dinan from UCC will be giving a presentation on Diet, Stress and Mental Health. Ted is one of the leading voices and professionals studying the human micro-biome. His talk at last year's LitFest was electric and hugely well received, so we are delighted to welcome him back. 

And they're just some of Saturday's speakers - we also have celebrated cookery writer, Claudia Roden and David Prior international editor of Conde Naste Traveller magazine.

There will be scheduled question and answer sessions throughout the day, as well as short films, happenings and readings which connect into the speakers' presentations. Morning coffee break and afternoon tea are included in the ticket price. 

On Sunday we have Karen Leibowitz - co-owner of Mission Chinese in San Francisco, who after having her first child reassessed the cycle of commercialism and waste that she found herself a part of... and decided to lead by example to do something about it. Along with her partner she opened The Perennial, a completely self-sustaining restaurant, which has since won Best New Restaurant awards from Bon Appetit and GQ. At The Perennial they don't just compost and recycle their waste but use aquaponics for their fish and salad production and grow their own produce, championing Kernza, a new perennial grain far more sustainable than wheat. Karen talks about how restaurateurs should think about their food waste, energy use, and ingredients beyond simply seasonality.

Next are Ben Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella. Ben was previously head of the NOMA research lab, he has recently returned to his native Scotland where he founded the Edinburgh Food Studio, a restaurant and research hub, where he is exploring new ways to use indigenous ingredients. 

Michael Kelly, founder of GIY - Grow it Yourself - is a Litfest regular. You will get a chance to hear him speak about his experience of Building a Growing Food Movement.

After lunch Brian McGinn, executive producer and director of the Netflix hit, Chef's Table, will speak about on how and why he picks his subjects and his responsibility as a member of the media to tell the right stories.

Robin Gill from The Dairy, an Irish chef based in London, will speak about his personal experience of being bullied in professional kitchens, and questions the brutal alpha-male culture which dominates restaurant kitchens. Leading by example he runs his kitchens in a different way and speaks to us about the responsibility of chef, owner and boss to create a healthy emotional climate in which food is produced.

Our final presentation - To Eat is a Political Statement - is sure to fire you up and leave Litfest buzzing with motivation. It will address the idea that the food choices you make actually tells a lot about where your values lie. 

What an incredible weekend it will be - I do hope you'll join us.

How do tickets work at Litfest?

There's no such thing as a general entry ticket to all Litfest events because of the varying capacities of the multiple venues. Instead we have individually priced all main programme tickets so attendees can build their own festival weekend package. Tickets range from €5 - €97.

The symposium presentations in the Grainstore, at Ballymaloe will be broken into four sessions over the weekend - Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon. Tickets for the half-day sessions are €50 each or €90 for a full-day. A two-day weekend ticket is €170. 

Buy tickets now on the Litfest website.

There are dozens of other events including foraging walks with Alys Fowler, readings, panel discussions on all aspects of food and wine, book signings and cooking demonstrations with many renowned chefs. 

In addition to this we host a Fringe Festival with over 60 free events taking place within the grounds of the festival. The Fringe Festival gives you access to the fringe programme of free events that take place in The Big Shed, The Garden Tent, The Cully & Sully and GIY Veg About Area and The Book Shop. The entry fee is €5 each day for adults and children under 12 go free. The fringe programme will be released a little closer to the festival weekend.

Attendees who purchase any main programme event ticket or a symposium ticket will gain automatic access to the The Fringe Festival.

Do join us for the Welcome Party in The Big Shed which begins at 7pm on Friday 19th May. There is a €5 entry fee on arrival for this.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Hot, Hotter, Hottest - Food Trends for 2017

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love to keep to keep an eye on - though certainly not slavishly follow - food trends. So I wanted to take some time at the beginning of the year to share what is hot right now in the world of food... and what will be coming your way in 2017.

Clean Eating 
In response to growing consumer unease, food manufactures are scrambling to produce simpler products with fewer more natural sounding ingredients and greater transparency. The clean food frenzy is running out of puff and credibility... but bone broths are huge and fermented foods will get even bigger.

Less Sugar and Salt
Low fat, carbohydrates and sugar rich foods were the villains of 2016. Consumer demand is forcing companies to remove artificial ingredients and to reduce sugar and salt in their products. What was formerly alternative is moving towards mainstream.
Free From…Everything…
The Free From... trend continues to gain market share even among those who do not have allergies or intolerances – the perception that it is healthier. This epidemic of faddism is dangerous for our health, the more we remove from our diet the less diversity we have in our systems.

There is a significant rise in the number of part time vegetarians – people who are reducing their meat consumption because of health, sustainability and animal welfare concerns. The rise and rise of vegan diets continues to confound the sceptics...

Plant Proteins
Perhaps the strongest food trend of all, not just vegetables but also expect to see more and more fungi and algae. (low cal, high in nutrients). And yoghurt with vegetables... of course.
Brussels sprouts are having their moment; move over kale. Beets are all the rage – the flavour of 2017. Kaleina, a mini version of kale and swede turnip chips are already with us. Meat and fish substitutes abound. A veggie burger that bleeds launched in 2016 and is only the beginning. The term ‘plant butcher’ has already been coined according to the sustainable food focused media.

Insect Protein
Bugs will be the next big thing in protein. I’ve seen this coming for a number of years now. I’ve eaten ants in Copenhagen, grasshoppers in Mexico and tarantulas in Laos, but despite the convincing nutritional arguments I can’t see it coming ‘mainstream’ in this decade.
Sports Nutrition is moving mainstream with its energy balls, power drinks... The virtuous triangle of great food, exercise and great sleep rings true. Turmeric climbs and climbs in popularity. It contains curcumin, a super healthy compound, and you see it now in health sports drinks as well as food. 

Drink Up
Flavoured waters are exploding. Watermelon water is set to take over from coconut water in 2017, or how about birch water or cactus water! Kombucha, water and milk kefir and raw organic jersey milk and cream are virtually mainstream but there are increasingly bizarre flavours. And we mustn't forget the rise in drinkable meals and regional cocktails.
Rise and Rise of Online Shopping
Traffic chaos in towns and cities is fuelling the phenomenal increase in online shopping and home deliveries.

Organic, Antibiotic Free, Hormone Free, GM Free...
Demand is steadily rising as consumers become more aware and educated through the internet, media, films and YouTube. Healthy kids' meals are attracting a huge R & D budget as the obesity challenge deepens.

Is the new juicing…did wonder about that craze, surprise, surprise! It turns out that soup contains the fibre, seeds, rind and pulp that juicing often discards.
The Home Delivery Revolution – Meal Kits
Technology continues to play a greater role in our cooking and eating. Home delivery is well established in most major cities. The trend for ‘dining in’ instead of ‘dining out’ is beginning to cause concern to restaurateurs.
Meal Kits with all the ingredients prepped in a box complete with step by step instructions for how to finish the dish at home ticks all the boxes for busy commuters and parents who want the convenience and feel-good factor without the hassle and waste. What’s not to like about that? Drones may soon be delivering our meal kits and takeaway food… Both Google and Virginia Tech are trialling this in the US.
Restaurants Evolving
Fine dining continues to lose out to casual neighbourhood places doing edgy reasonably priced food.
Chefs are either buying or renting land themselves or partnering with farmers so they can use what is freshest and best in season, as well as having the option to use all parts of the plant or animal. 

We are seeing the rise of Artisan Butchery – with many restaurants proudly serving house-made charcuterie. Chefs are using more unsung cuts of meat and experimenting with grass-fed jerky, seafood jerky, pickles, artisan condiments.

The Sous Vide Craze is waning at last (cooking food in a plastic bag in a temperature-controlled water bath). Have to say, I was never convinced and am so delighted to see this particular practice slipping out of favour in favour of cooking over fire.

Cooking over Fire
We can’t get enough of charred, blackened, torched and smoked food not just fish but meat, vegetables, drinks, even cordials and cocktails...

Food Trucks and Shacks
Street inspired foods are hot! Authentic ethnic both in cafés, restaurants and in food trucks: pierogi, boa buns, multi ethnic dumplings and Japanese crepes – okonomi yaki...
Bowl Food
We love serving food in bowls everything from ramen to noodles, pasta, curries, congee, tagines, rendang… Check out Bowls of Goodness by Nina Olsson published by Kyle Books.

Build Your Own Pizza
Pizzerias are inviting customers to build their own pizza from a range of toppings laid out like a salad bar. I can certainly see the appeal of this….

Hot, Hotter, Hottest…
Our appetite for heat continues. Sri Racha chilli sauce is now virtually looked on as a sauce for wimps! We are loving and having fun with shichimi ogarashi from Japan; sweet and spicy, gochujang from Korea; sambal oelek from Indonesia; harissa from North Africa; tsire, a spice mixture from West Africa; zhoug a Yemeni green chilli sauce and spicy berbere from Ethiopia...

Ancient Grains
Ancient grains, chillies and pulses are taking centre stage after years of being forgotten: kamut, einkorn, teff from Ethopia and amaranth the ancient grain of the Aztec. Sorghum is the new quinoa. Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain and is used for food, animal fodder and the production of alcoholic beverages. It is regarded as the fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world. Some of the health benefits of sorghum include its ability to prevent certain types of cancer, help control diabetes and improve digestive health. 
Who knew that porridge would become so cool? In 2017 we’ll see porridge served at breakfast, lunch and any time in between with sweet and savoury toppings.
Sprouting Seeds (I remember that well!) is predicted to be another strong food trend. Not just seeds but nuts, beans and grains. This hugely increases the nutritional value and creates enzymes that make plant proteins, essential fatty acids, starches and vitamins more available to the body.
Quest for Less Familiar Flavours
Expect to see more Eastern European food, Georgian, Middle Eastern, African flavours particularly Ethiopian... Poke (pronounced po-kay) is sweeping across the US - cubed fish or shellfish often yellow fin tuna or octopus with soy sauce, cucumber, spring onions, sesame oil served over rice. 
The taco craze continues unabated for 2017.

So there you have it, a few of the hot trends for 2017. And my advice for the year, for what it’s worth is Keep it Real. Eat a wide variety of real food and NO, food products are NOT the same as real food. We need lots of bio-diversity to feed and nourish our gut biome – the health of our gut flora has a phenomenal impact on both our mental and physical health.
When I say real, I mean unprocessed, unpasteurised organic, chemical free, vegetables directly from our garden or from a real farmer or gardener in your local Farmers or Country Market.

Friday, 3 February 2017


It's spring again and the 12-week course is in full swing - 13 nationalities this time. Dark and dreary when they arrived, but now the evenings are getting longer and the birds are singing and snowdrops, crocus and tiny daffodils are bursting in flower. For the past few weeks I've spent many cosy evenings by the fire flicking through seed catalogues, choosing varieties of vegetables, fruit and herbs to plant during the coming season. I can't wait for the ground to warm up enough to get some seeds planted. Our 12-Week Certificate students are equally impatient to get started. On the first day when they arrived, we showed them how to sow a seed and then gave them a lettuce seedling to plant into the ground so we've whetted their appetite to think about growing some of their own food. 

Every now and then one comes across a natural leader, a person with an impossible vision who has the tenacity and charisma to make their vision a reality against all the odds. Michael Kelly, founder of GIY Ireland is certainly such a person and it can be a tiny incident that sparks an idea – this whole movement which supports the growing efforts of 150,000 people and 6,000 food communities both in Ireland and the UK, all started with garlic.

Michael Kelly (Image Credit
Michael was busily doing the food shopping one dark evening, not his favourite task, he picked up a bulb of garlic – 50 cents, he was outraged to discover that it had come ‘all the way from China’.
It set him thinking surely to goodness we could grow garlic in this country.
Out of this outrage was born, what is now one of the most important social grass roots movements in the country: GIY – Grow It Yourself. 

Michael shared his discovery with some of his friends; they decided to arrange a meeting to ‘test the waters’. Did others feel the same? Was there any interest in this topic? Was there a hunger for knowledge? Over 100 people turned up to the initial meeting in the Waterford Library one September evening in 2008, standing room only – obviously there was an appetite to learn what for some was a ‘forgotten skill’ for others a longed for skill to learn how to sow a seed and grow even a little of their own food.
Michael had inadvertently stumbled upon a longing, among a significant number of people to discover the magic of sowing a seed and having the satisfaction of watching it grow into something they could eat and feed to their families in the secure knowledge that it was nourishing, wholesome and free of chemicals. Since that small beginning in 2008, Michael and his messianic team many of whom have soldered by his side voluntarily since the very beginning has travelled up and down the country starting branches, organised eight
GIY Gathering Conferences in Waterford, supported over 6,000 local champions, inspired and encouraged and continued to dream.
Michael was invited to deliver a DO lecture in Wales in 2012, during that event he became even more aware that the movement needed a headquarters, a centre where people could visit, see edible gardens bursting with vegetables, herbs and fruit, learn how to grow, eat and gather together to share the fresh seasonal food from the garden.
On the ferry boat back, he scribbled a ‘note to self’ on his pad – ‘must do, GIY HQ’ and stepped off the boat at Rosslare with an enhanced mission.
He shared his vision, it resonated with many people.
A vision is one thing, but raising €1.4 million to realise that vision is quite another – a massive fund raising campaign ensued over 4 years and on 8th October, GIY HQ was opened to a joyous reception from hundreds of supporters, well-wishers and local businesses and the passionate GIY team. It’s rare enough to find a work force so totally committed to an ideal as the group of twenty six super charged individuals who are overjoyed to be part of this project.

Michael outside Grow HQ (Image Credit - Waterford in your Pocket)

Michael thanked the myriad of people who had helped and supported his vision along the way but reserved extra special mention for Waterford County Council who had unanimously voted to donate the 3 acre site at Farronshoneen on Dunmore Road opposite the University Waterford Hospital and the Solas Centre to GIY.

Myself and Rory with Michael at the opening. 
The sustainable building on was designed by Solearth Architecture and encompasses class room, café, shop and cooking school –and now the work really begins. Check out the Grow HQ website... and come and see him at this year's Litfest in May, at Ballymaloe.

Monday, 30 January 2017

In Praise of Real Bread

A freshly baked loaf of Ballymaloe Cookery School sourdough bread

I’m totally in despair at the quality of our squishy sliced bread and deeply concerned about the effects on our health and waistline. Many, not least the Bakers Association of Ireland, would disagree with me and I certainly hope they are right. I myself can’t seem to find out what exactly is in the bread, an enormously important staple for many people. Flour, yeast, salt, water, so far so good but what else to speed up the process and produce a loaf at this price?
The term ‘processing aids’ seems to cover a multitude of enzymes, improvers and preservatives which don’t all have to be put on the labels as ‘processing aids’ are exempt, so much for transparency….
The good news however is that in pockets here and there around the country, artisan bakeries are bubbling up in response to the craving for real bread.
In Cork City, Declan Ryan came out of retirement in 1999 and started to bake real bread in his garage which morphed into a large bakery employing eight full time bakers in Mayfield.

Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread with some of his beautiful loaves

Declan sells his Arbutus Bread at Farmers Markets and specialist shops as far away as Dublin. He, like many others who were inspired by him can scarcely keep up with demand.

ABC Bread (Image: Tom's Foodie Blog)
Also in the Cork area – ABC Breads in the English Market and Pavel Piatrousky from Pana Bread in Midleton have their loyal devotees.
Seagull Bakery

Another of the pioneers, Sarah Richards who established Seagull Bakery in Tramore in 2013 was also inspired by Declan Ryan.
In January 2015, Real Bread Ireland was started by a small group of craft bakers as a support network for those who wished to learn how to make real bread either professional or at home.

And we sell our own homemade breads here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop.

Our Ballymaloe Cookery School sour dough bread

So what exactly is Real Bread? Well, in its purest form, it is bread without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives. Real Bread is made without improvers, dough conditioners, preservatives, chemical leavening (baking powder or bicarbonate of soda) any other artificial additives or the use of pre-mixed ingredients. 
That pretty much rules out 90% of the bread on our supermarket shelves.  And buyer beware, much of the bread that’s sold as ‘sourdough’ contains yeast which is not at all the same as a natural sourdough.

Making bread at the Ballymaloe Cookery School

The good news is there’s a quiet revolution going on at grass roots level, small craft bakers are popping up here and there around the country, the use of organic and heirloom flours is increasing significantly, the general public is becoming aware that something is amiss as the number of people with a gluten intolerance continues to sky rocket.
A growing body of disquieting research is emerging on the effects of the random use of glyphosate on wheat both as a herbicide and before harvesting on our health and the environment.
Ellie Kisyombe from Malawi kneading dough at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Making a long and slowly fermented sourdough is certainly a mission’ but a loaf of soda bread, the traditional breads of our country is literally mixed in minutes. A few scones will be out of the oven in 10 or 12 minutes while a crusty loaf will be ready in 35 or 40. 
Few things we do, give so much pleasure and nourishment for so little effort. A truly nourishing, wholesome national loaf would do much to enhance the health of the nation. This was done in Norway in the 1970’s with remarkable results.
Check out the Real Bread website
Many bakers including the Ballymaloe Cookery School will share some of their sourdough starter free with keen beginners. (Please telephone ahead - 021 4646785).

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Slow Food - Direct Provision Scheme

We are delighted to welcome Ellie Kisyombe, an immigrant and asylum seeker from Malawi, to share her experience of the Direct Provision Scheme and how it impacts on food and education. 

At Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, East Cork.
Wednesday, February 1st.

The talk will start at 7pm. Join us for a cup of coffee and some of Ellie's homemade treats from 6.30pm.  


This is part of our series of East Cork Slow Food events.

Spread the word to family and friends, we'd love to see you...

Slow Food Members €6.00/Non Slow Food Members €8.00

For more information call us at 021 4646785 or

For more on Ellie see here. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Veronica Steele - matriarch of Irish cheesemakers

We were all deeply saddened by the recent passing of one of our Irish food heroes, Veronica Steele, the matriarch of the Irish cheesemakers. So I want to write a little tribute to an extraordinary woman who has touched so many of our lives and whose legacy will continue to remind us of this, bright, beautiful, charismatic, self-deprecating character who unwittingly started the artisan food movement in Ireland.
Image: Farmer's Journal
I can’t begin to improve on this wonderfully description of how it all began in Veronica’s own words on the Milleens website.
“The origin of the initial concept is fading in the mists of time. Hunger and shame. There was nothing to eat: nothing interesting. The old shop in Castletownbere with its saucepans and shovels and Goulding’s Manures clock wagging away the time, and smoked hams hanging from hooks in the ceiling and huge truckles of cheddar on the wooden counter with their mouldy bandages the crumbs of the cheese strewn around, scrumptious, tempting, melt-in-the-mouth crumbs which you could nibble at as you queued to be served, with your message list. And then she would cut a fine big chunk, golden or white and what I missed the most is the way it crumbled. So they closed it and gutted it and extended it and re-opened it. Enter the trolley. Spotless, sterile, pre-packed portions sweating in their plastic. Tidy piles. Electronic scales. Keep moving. Don’t block the aisles. No idle chatter. Big brother is watching you. Don’t ask for credit. Oh boy!
And then one day in a different shop that jolly French pair of geriatrics asking for the local cheese and being given Calvita.

And then we bought a farm and a cow. Her name was Brisket and she only had one horn. She lost the other one gadding down a hill. tail-waving, full of the joys of Spring. Her brakes must have failed. We had to put Stockholm tar on the hole right through the hot Summer. And all the milk she had. At least three gallons a day. Wonder of wonders and what to do with it all. And then remembering those marvellous cheddars. So for two years I made cheddars. They were never as good as the ones in Castletownbere had been but they were infinitely better than the sweaty vac-packed bits.
Veronica in the early days of Milleens - Image - Good Food Ireland
Very little control at first, but each failed batch spurred me on to achieve, I was hooked. Once I had four little cheddars on a sunny windowsill outside, airing themselves and Prince, the dog, stole them and buried them in the garden. They were nasty and sour and over salted anyway. Those were the days.

So one day Norman said, ‘Why don't you try making a soft cheese for a change’. So I did. It was a quare hawk alright. Wild, weird, and wonderful. Never to be repeated. You can never step twice into the same stream. Now while this was all going on we had a mighty vegetable garden full of fresh spinach and courgette’s and french beans, and little peas, and all the sorts of things you couldn’t buy in a shop for love or money. And we would sell the superfluity to a friend who was a chef in a restaurant and took great pains with her ingredients. She would badger the fishermen for the pick of their catch and come on a Monday morning with her sacks to root through our treasure house of a garden for the freshest and the bestest. Now I was no mean cook myself and would have ready each Monday for her batches of yogurt, plain and choc-nut, quiches, game pies (Made with hare and cream – beautiful), pork pies, all adorned with pastry leaves and rosettes as light and delicious as you can imagine, and fish pies, and, my speciality, gateau St Honore.

So there was this soft cheese beginning to run. We wrapped up about twelve ounces of it and away it went with the vegetables and the pies and all the other good things to Sneem and the Blue Bull restaurant where it made its debut. Not just any old debut, because, as luck would have it, guess who was having dinner there that very same night? Attracted no doubt by Annie’s growing reputation and being a pal of the manager’s, Declan Ryan of the Arbutus Lodge Hotel in Cork had ventured forth to sample the delights of Sneem and the greatest delight of them all just happened to be our humble cheese . The first, the one and only, Irish Farmhouse Cheese. At last, the real thing after so long. Rumour has it that there was a full eclipse of the Sun and earth tremors when the first Milleens was presented on an Irish cheese board.
The product had now been tested and launched. Its performance, post launch left nothing to be desired. The very next night Ms Myrtle Allen, accompanied no doubt by other family members, of Ballymaloe House, similarly engaged in testing the waters of Sneem, polished off the last sliver of the wonderful new cheese and was impressed by its greatness. And then began the second phase of research and development. Improvement.
For eight years, this was written in 1986, now we have devoted our energies to the continued improvement and development of Milleens cheese, and show no intention of stopping. The changes in the product have been gradual and subtle and in line with increases in production which are always kept in line with the growth in demand.
Image: Good Food Ireland

As the product developed so too has the packaging which is both simple and highly sophisticated. As Milleens must travel by both post and refrigerated transport a package had to be strong enough for the rigors of the postal system yet with sufficient ventilation to avail of the benefits of refrigeration where available. Our strong wooden boxes met these requirements. It was also thought necessary that the box serve as an attractive display for the cheese ensuring that the name Milleens was displayed prominently, and differentiating it from other products. It has been most successful in this area too and customers invariably display the cheese in the box. Very clever altogether. The boxes are made and stenciled here in our workshop by ourselves and members of the staff. Apart from growing and felling the timber all the phases of their manufacture take place at Milleens. They compare most favorably in price with any box on the market.
When Milleens was first made we knew enough about cheese making to write a slim volume, vast quantities of knowledge have since been ingested form all available sources form Scientific American to the Journals of Dairy Science and pamphlets from New Zealand on Bacteriophage. Grist to the mill. Making Milleens is no longer a slap-happy matter but has become a carefully controlled scientific process. thermometers have replaced elbows. Acidometers play their part now. But most of all milk quality is carefully monitored. Starters have long been recognized to have a most important influence on cheese flavor and quality, and are as well looked after as the crown jewels and to better effect.”
Oh, to be able to write so evocatively – I too remember when Annie Goulding at the Blue Bull in Sneem gave me a taste of her ‘friend over the hills’ cheese in the early 1980’s. At the time, as Veronica said we were a nation of Calvita eaters and one can but imagine the excitement when we discovered this feisty flavourful cheese that tasted of that place and tasted of Ireland. A new cheese was born – the beginning of a new era that has totally changed the image of Irish food both at home and abroad and has us bursting with pride.
Veronica had a vision for Ireland – farmhouse cheesemakers in parishes all over the country making cheese from their rich milk of their pasture fed cows. As she continued to experiment herself, she generously shared her knowledge, and encouraged so many others to get started. Jeffa Gill of Durrus, Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen, Mary Burns of Ardrahan and a whole host of others lovingly acknowledge Veronica’s influence. We visited Milleens many times and brought students and dignatories from all over the world to meet Veronica and her equally charismatic husband Norman. Always an open door, always a warm welcome. Nowadays their son Quinlan, the next generation, continues to make Milleens and build on his parents work.
And here at Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School we still serve Milleens cheese proudly and give thanks for the life of Veronica, the matriarch of all the Irish farmhouse cheese makers.
Veromica receiving the inaugral Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers Association at Ballymaloe House in 2015 - Image - Good Food Ireland