Friday, 15 November 2019

My Pick of the New Cookbooks




It’s that time of the year again, my desk is piled high with new cookbooks, pre-Christmas publications, all shiny and glossy and very tempting.


Image result for Jamie Oliver’s Veg"First out of the traps in early September was Jamie Oliver’s Veg. I’m a big fan of Jamie’s and felt a deep sympathy as he faced a whole slew of challenges earlier in the year. He has bounced back in a variety of ways – look out for his YouTube cooking slots and this new book is another must have.

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Another of my food heroes, is the indomitable Fergus Henderson. The Book of St John written with his long time business partner Trevor Gulliver celebrates 25 years of the iconic ‘meaty‘ restaurant that pioneered ‘nose to tail’ eating and happily coincides with the Year of the Pig. Pitty, witty, and structured to mirror the practises and rhythms of St John Kitchen, from butchery to stocks, braise and brine, but St John’s on St John’s Street in London is not just about meat, there’s also an extensive repertoire of fruit and vegetable recipes, all new and a whole chapter on puddings. Lick your lips – steamed syrup pudding, sherry trifle and lots of treats for the eleven o clock biscuit tin, as well as a seed cake and a glass of madeira (Fergus’s favourite tipple), and finally a whole chapter dedicated to feasting… An irresistible publication with gold-edged pages – a very special present.

Image result for let's do dinner cookbook"In the midst of the pile, are two shiny hardbacks written by two Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni. James Ramsden, food writer, podcaster, chef, owner of three restaurants including Michelin-starred Pidgin in Hackney. James’ 4th book, Let's Do Dinner is jam packed with tasty tried and tested recipes. 


Nothing chefy here, just lots of yummy dishes to enjoy that can be prepared ahead for family and friends, so you don’t find yourself racing against the clock at the last moment – lots of really tempting super cool recipes to enjoy with pals around the kitchen table.

Image result for Adventures with Mithai"The second book, a first for Rachel Goenka from India who did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2011, before returning to her native Mumbai where she opened her restaurant The Sassy Spoon. This debut book, Adventures with Mithai, is already a best seller in India and reflects her love of baking. Here again, there are many stunning photos of creations you’ll really want to bake.


Image result for Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible"The Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible – a culinary guide to all things chocolate. With 180 recipes, so difficult to pick a favourite recipe…This may well become the quintessential chocolate book...









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A cookbook makes a brilliant present that keeps on giving – so lots to choose from.



Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Fancy a Sandwich?

Guess what? November 3rd was National Sandwich Day, can you imagine... There’s a special day to celebrate just about everything nowadays so why not cast a spotlight on the humble sandwich, a universally loved fast food, synonymous with convenience and super versatile.

Every country in the world has a range of sandwiches based on a mind boggling variety of breads from sourdough, brioche, challah, pide, foccacia, baguette, burger buns, rolls of various shapes and sizes, pitta, rye, pumpernickel, English muffins, bagels to the ubiquitous squishy sliced pan.



The origin of the sandwich is well documented, it can be traced back to the 18th century when John Montague – the 4th Earl of Sandwich, a notoriously heavy gambler, instructed his staff to bring his food to the table so he could eat it easily with one hand without interrupting his card game... the sandwich was born. Who could have the predicted the limitless number of variations on the theme...

Virtually every county has one and in some cases many more.

Sandwiches can be simple grab, gobble and go, affordable street food, to luxurious combinations created by Michelin starred chefs, sweet, savoury, hot or cold, jumbo or petite...

Some are steeped in tradition; others offer a glimpse into the history and customs of a region. Travel to the East and Far East, Middle East, South America, the Caucasus, the Caribbean, the Nordic peninsula…Chances are you will find multiple variations but sandwiches are for everyone – they bridge the gap between all cultures and can be super nutritious or ‘lay on you like a third mortgage’.

Starting with Ireland, let’s take a quick jaunt around the globe – apart from the lunch box staple, processed ham and easy singles, or a grilled cheese toastie, I’m opting for the breakfast roll, a Full Irish crammed into a roll, the Irish equivalent of a Mexican breakfast burrito, immortalised in the comedian Pat Short's song Jumbo Breakfast Roll which topped the charts here In Ireland in 2006.



The UK has its ploughman's, the chip buttie and more genteel crust less cucumber sandwich, cut into elegant triangles. Then there’s the BLT or the BLTA which includes avocado as well as the bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Croque Monsieur, Croque Madame spring to mind in France as does Pain Bagnat or a simple Jambon Beurre. Then let’s jump to Italy for Tramezzino... I love these little ’humpbacked sandwiches bursting with tasty fillings. Then there is Panino and Panini with a myriad of options and have you tasted a Mozzarella en Carrozza, a fried sandwich oozing with bubbling melting mozzarella – a speciality of the Campania region of Southern Italy, home to many different cheeses including mozzarella.

In Germany seek out the Leberkäse, particularly in Bavaria. A crips whote bnun stuffed with pork or pate and drizzled liberally with sweet or hot mustard.


The bocadillo is Spain’s sandwich supreme, a baguette where anything goes from Jámon Serrano (Serranito in Andalucía) morcilla, (black pudding) to fried squid, padron peppers, an omelette or simple, crushed, super ripe tomatoes, sea salt and olive oil on bread, in the unforgettable Pan con Tomate. A Montadito is a bite sized open sandwich or a plugs, a tapas sized version on a dinner roll….



In Greece seek out the delicious gyro, traditionally made using lamb, beef or pork cooked on a rotisserie combined with tomato, onion and a yoghurt dressing , all served on a pita – what’s not to like!

In Holland the most bizarre thing I’ve tasted was a hundreds and thousands sandwich, two slices of squishy white pan, buttered generously, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and sandwiched together – I kid you not…

In Bosnia-Hertzigovina, Croatia, Serbia…Ćevapi is a favourite.

The banh mi of Vietnam, a French baguette filled with barbecued or grilled chicken with lemon grass and veggies and a creamy mayo is now a global craze. There is even a dessert banh mi loaded with ice cream and crushed peanuts.

The doner kebab dates back to the Ottoman Empire – juicy chargrilled meats, sliced from a rotating grill and stuffed into a pitta pocket and then there’s sharma and falafel, a favourite all over the Middle East which has now popped up everywhere. Try the Rocketman’s version of falafel on Prince’s Street in Cork.


The US has seen more than its fair share of iconic sambos, beginning with peanut butter and jelly, the Ruben, a club sandwich, the meatball sub, philly, po' boy from New Orleans, muffaletta, fried chicken biscuit, pulled pork sandwich, grilled cheeses delicious the lobster roll to mention just a few. All of the aforementioned sandwiches are pretty well available in New York as well as numerous ethnic specialities. Including the Barro Luco, the famous Chilean steak and cheese sandwich as is Chivito from Uruguay) Choripán and Tortas from Argentina and all the Mexican favourites, Cemita and Pambazo…



Got to stop soon but can’t forget the Vada Pav in India and the Bombay sandwich, a vegetarian ‘take’ on a club sandwich with that zingy coriander chutney and then there is the chutney sandwich, an Indian riff on the British afternoon tea sandwiches.



China too has many favourites, fluffy steamed boa buns, stuffed with pork belly, coriander, greens and peanuts, Oh my!

Japan’s food scene is totally amazing, you mustn’t miss the Croquette Sando or Karroke Sando - panko crusted croquettes sandwiched between two slices of soft white bread topped with tangy Katsu sauce.

Even more bizarre is the Strawberry Sando....

I’m running out of space there is so much more, there could be 4 or 5 articles on the subject!

Artisan Food Tour of Northern Ireland

On a recent reconnaissance trip to Northern Ireland, it’s not too strong to say I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers. After three action packed days, I struggled home on the train resembling a ‘bag lady’ with large totes overflowing with produce – so many delicious new finds...

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Image: Ireland.com


My adventure began in the Strangford Lough region. I was collected from lovely Clandeboye after a particularly good breakfast of freshly boiled eggs and unctuous Clandeboye yoghurt made from the milk of Lady Dufferin’s fine herd of Jersey cows – Seek out this yoghurt, its superb and I don’t use that word loosely.

Lady Dufferin painting the cows responsible for the Clandeboye Yoghurt
Image: http://www.clandeboye.co.uk/


After a meandering drive around beautiful Strangford Lough, we arrived at the Echlinville Distillery outside Kircubbin. It’s the first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years. Since its establishment in 2012 it’s at the forefront of Ireland’s spirits renaissance and is the home of some of the North’s best known spirits, including Jawbox Gin, Dunvilles Irish Whiskey and lots of innovative work going on here with barrel aging in various woods... We particularly enjoyed a 12 year old Dunville’s single malt, aged in a PX barrel, the return of an icon originally introduced in 1808.

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Image: https://www.visitardsandnorthdown.com/things-to-do/echlinville-distillery


After our tour and tipple, it was on to the little town of Comber to the super cool indigenous and independent Indie Füde shop. Owner Johnny McDowell bounced out to greet us, his little deli/cum café was packed with small batch artisan products from all over the island of Ireland but particularly the North. 

Fantastic charcuterie from Broughgammon Farm and Ispini, Boerwors from Hellbent, Buffalo Salami from Ballyriff, Buchanan’s Irish peat smoked back bacon with a delicious layer of fine back fat, Abernethy's handmade butter made in Dromara from the cream of the grass-fed cows and then a whole counter of wonderful artisan cheese. Blue Buck, of course, but also several I hadn’t tasted before: a Sperrin blue, a triple cream cheese from Ballylisk of Armagh called Triple Rose. An oak smoked Drumlin Cheddar from Silka Cropp of Corleggy fame in Co Cavan.

I also found some smoked anchovies from East Coast Seafoods and a loaf of french village bakery sourdough - how about that for a picnic?

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Image: yelp.com

Johnny is properly passionate about local foods and loves to do things differently from eco-friendly packaging, bold designs to bespoke gift ideas, always trying to surprise and innovate. Follow Indie Füde (www.indiefude.com) to find out about their cookery demos and pop up supper clubs, Will Brown was cooking up a storm while we were there getting ready for that evenings supper club.

Next day we explored the mid Ulster region – First stop the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Op in Toomebridge, Co Antrim. Several fishermen were sorting their nets under the watchful eye of a flock of herons on the weir over the River Ban which runs through the 45 mile Lough Neagh. I’d particularly asked to visit this fishery.... we’ve been enjoying the tender Lough Neagh smoked eel at Ballymaloe for many years.



Both silver and brown eels thrive in the lough. They love dark and stormy nights before a new moon, the eels become restless and move down the river to start their epic 5,000 mile journey back to the Sargasso Sea, carried along on the Gulf stream. The fishermen wait in their flat bottomed boats, with their traditional cogull nets and hooks to harvest the fat charged eel, carrying on a tradition and passing on the skills that date back to the Mesolithic times

Cathy Chauhan and Pat Close showed us round the interpretive visitor centre and science room where school children learn about the intriguing history and life cycle of the eel.

Over 400 tons of Lough Neagh eel are caught and processed every year in line with careful conservation guidelines. A large part of the catch are shipped to Holland for smoking and to Billingsgate in London for the production of jellied eel. By the way fresh eel is my favourite fresh water fish, and that’s also available from the Lough Neagh Co-op.

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Lough Neagh pollan - which has a special European status. bbc.co.uk

But what I didn’t know was that Lough Neagh is also home to many other species including dollaghan, a wild brown trout, perch, roach, bream, pike and pollan, an ancient fish species which dates back to the Ice Age and is unique to Ireland. I tasted it both fresh and smoked by North Coast Smokehouse and love it. 

Monday, 21 October 2019

In Praise of the (not-so) Humble Spud

Drat, I’ve just discovered that I missed National Potato day. It was on Friday 4th of October. Somehow it whizzed by without me registering but I really want to write a blog post extolling the virtues of my veggie hero - my top pick for a desert island staple.



Why do we insist on calling it the humble spud when for me it is the most versatile of all vegetables. It can be dressed up or down, boiled, fried, sautéed, mashed, pureed, roast, layered up in a gratin, served as a side or presented as the main attraction. Like on the menu at terroir-based café, Tartare in Galway.

Multi award winning chef JP McMahon served new season potatoes in sea herb butter on the dinner menu. The oval potatoes came in a viscous broth sprinkled with dillisk seaweed and fresh mint – an inspired contemporary celebration of freshly dug organic potatoes from Beech Lawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe where JP gets many of his fresh organic vegetables.
A present of Skerry Champions, my favorite variety of heirloom potatoes from @dermot.carey @avocaireland to celebrate National Potato Day, 


This week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland meeting artisan food producers and visiting some ‘off the beaten track’ tourist attractions. I was particularly intrigued by two enterprising women, Tracey Jeffrey from Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen and Bronagh Duffin at the Bakehouse in Bellaghy.

Tracey welcomes visitors and small groups who would like to learn the simple art of bread baking to her farmhouse. She made wheaten farls and fruit bannocks and taught us how to make fadge (potato bread) - a real taste of Ulster baking. I really wanted to learn how to make this traditional Ulster favourite. Turns out Tracey and Bronagh make it in quite different ways. . . . .

Tracey explained how potato bread was originally made as a way to use up leftover mashed potato. She kneaded the well-seasoned mash into some flour. Rolled it into a ¾ inch thick round and then cut it into 4 farls (quarters) these were originally cooked on a griddle over a turf fire but Tracey cooked them on an electric crepe pan (an ingenious idea), but of course, a dry frying pan also works perfectly. When they were speckled on both sides, Tracey slathered them with Abernethy’s dillisk butter churned down the road in Dromara, Co Down.

Bronagh had invited five children from the local St Mary’s Primary School, to her kitchen for a class. The smell of turf smoke from the fireplace filled the kitchen while the children mixed the warm mashed potato and flour in a bowl with a fine dollop of butter and a dash of milk. Some of these children had never even eaten this traditional dish before but were super excited to learn that they could use a variety of cutters to cut out fun shapes to cook on the pan or the griddle over the open fire.

I stayed at Ballyscullion Park, Richard and Rosalind Mullholland’s beautiful Regency house, now a favoured wedding destination amidst the gardens and parkland. George, son of the house, cooked us a delicious country house dinner, the starter of home-grown tomatoes, fennel and halloumi had a drizzle of truffle flavoured Burren balsamic on top – which added an extra delicious ‘je ne se quoi’ to the dish. A buttery potato gratin was served with slow cooked lamb, kale and runner beans.

A potato gratin is such a versatile dish, it can be a meal in itself or a just ‘pop into the oven’ accompaniment.

I’m particularly fond of Indian potato dishes too, a few spices elevate potato cakes to a new level. , try these . . . .

And who doesn’t love a smooth and silky potato soup? The children will love it too and it can be dressed up for a dinner party with a slick of scallion oil or watercress pesto.


Finally we need to talk about variety, there are ‘potatoes and potatoes’ but it is good to realise that if you are interested in flavour, the variety really matters. . . seek out traditional and old varieties, Golden Wonder, Kerrs Pink, Pink Fir Apple, Charlotte, Alouette, Carolus, Setanta. . . so much nourishment and flavour for just a few euros.

Monday, 14 October 2019

A Trip to West Clare



I just love to take short breaks in Ireland. Choose an area, spend a couple of nights in a local country house or B&B and explore.

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Image: Ireland.com

This time it was West Clare, and boy is it all happening in West Clare! I steer well clear of the prime tourist spots, been there, done that a long time ago when they weren’t overrun with tourist buses and often truly shocking fast food. Is it really the case that bus tours only want that kind of food? I find that really hard to believe and wince at the damage to the reputation of Irish food. . . 

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On the other hand there’s much to be excited about. In Lahinch we found Hugo’s Deli, a tiny bakery cum café, where Hugo Galloway, a brilliant young baker was turning out dark and crusty natural sourdough loaves, warm sausage rolls, focaccia and warm Portuguese custard tarts to die for. 


I can’t imagine how they do it in such a tiny space. Hugo is self-taught, learned by trial and error. The counter is made from recycled packing cases, a few wooden seats around the edges. A nonstop stream of cool young hipsters, surfers and grateful locals poured in for a ‘made to order’ focaccia sandwich that looks properly delicious, while I was sipping a double espresso and nibbling one of the best pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) I’ve ever eaten. That was it – a short menu of delicious things – bravo Hugo and team!

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Another exciting discovery for me was Moy Hill Community Farm where Fergal and a whole group of friends and volunteers have developed an inspirational food producing project on 70 acres of mixed land, with 55 CSA’s / members, which supply 13 restaurants, and two Farmers Markets, Ennistymon and Kilrush and a REKO Ring in Ennis, on Wednesday 6:30 and 7:00 at 9 Lower Market Street, Clonroad Beg, customers meet producers and pay cash to collect their spanking fresh food. Another brilliant route to market where local farmers and food producers get paid full price for their produce rather than the circa 33% they would get through the ordinary retail system.

The energy and enthusiasm was palpable when we visited unannounced as preparations were being made for the Farm Gathering - three days of workshops, music, food, foraging farm tours, regenerative agriculture talks, crafts and dancing – a wonderful celebration on the Harvest Equinox.

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Moy House, a Blue Book property overlooking Lahinch Bay also had a beautiful garden bursting with fresh produce grown by Sarah Noonan and her team Matt Strefford to use to make magic in the kitchen.
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On the main street in Ennistymon you’ll find Niamh Fox, chef and owner of The Little Fox, a super cool spirited café serving the sort of fresh quirky creative plates that I’m happy to drive all the way to Clare for. We washed it down with thalli kombucha made by Avery Maguire a brilliant young forager whom you’ll occasionally find in The Aloe Tree health food shop on Main Street or on her stall at the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturdays. We were there for lunch but check out Little Fox delicious dinners and ‘pop ups’.

Bespoke handmade knife lovers, of which I am certainly one should link up with Niamh’s partner Sam Gleeson (also a furniture maker) to explore the options. While we are on the subject of handmade, just across the road under the stone arch you’ll find Eamon O’Sullivan who carves handmade spoons and will give his next course in Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday November 16th 2019, from 9.00am to 5.00pm, and the course includes lunch.

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Image: The Irish Times

Just next door you’ll find The Cheese Press run by Sinead Ni Ghairbith where you’ll find among other temptations the superb St Tola goat cheese in its many variations made by her sister Siobhan Ni Ghairbith.
If you have a little more time to linger in Co Clare, drive across the Burren, treat yourself to a stay at lovely Gregans Castle and enjoy Robert McAuley’s food. Swing by Flaggy Shore for some oysters, then on up to Hazel Mountain Chocolate, the most remote chocolatier in Europe - making chocolate from the bean to the bar and yet one more absolutely must do – check out where Julia’s Lobster Truck will be that evening (maybe Bell Harbour) – you absolutely mustn’t miss Julia Hemmingway’s barbequed lobster, lobster roll, steamed clams and mussels, traditional fish and chips and briny Flaggy Shore oysters.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Limerick Milk Market


The Limerick Milk Market was buzzing on Saturday morning, throngs of eager customers on a mission to fill their shopping bags with goodies from the more than 70 stalls tucked into the market square, protected from the elements by an elegant canvas canopy.



I love the way every Farmers Market has its own vibe and unique collection of stall holders – yet the banter is the same, customers so grateful for the opportunity to buy beautiful artisan produce directly from local producers and what a choice. . . . 



Mimi Crawford was all out of raw milk by 11 o’clock but still had just a few joints of her organic beef and pork and a couple of beautiful chickens from her regenerative farm in Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary. Delighted to find Oliver Beaujouan from Castlegregory with his brilliant selection of charcuterrie from happy outdoor Tamworth pigs “no vaccines, no GM or soy in the feed”. I also bought some dilisk and a delicious guanciale as well as the garlic salami. Sefik from Turkey was busy juicing fresh pomegranates and oranges and had a tantalising array of borek. 


Country Choice was humming and loaded with temptations. Round the corner, people were bonding in the long queue for the Country Choice toasted baps, sandwiches and rolls – well worth the wait. Peter and Mary Ward’s daughter Evie’s also award winning NutShed stall is close by, selling what many consider to be the very best nut butters available in Ireland.


The Sushi Truck was also doing a roaring trade, luscious cannoli across the way, artisan breads, tempting home baking, beautiful bunches of flowers, floury British Queens potatoes all the way from Wexford side by side with bric a brac. A tremendous selection of local homegrown vegetables and fruit. Crunchy Spiralaetos anyone? Tiermoyle honey with hazelnuts or walnuts.

Upstairs, Ciara Brennan was all smiles on her Happy Food at Home stall with a selection of plant based, vegetarian and vegan salads. A mesmerizing selection of olives, Toonsbridge Buffalo Mozzarella and many other good things on the Olive Stall.


Round the side of Country Choice, I made another exciting discovery Foragers called Thalli foods was behind her hessian covered stall, with an intriguing selection of wild foods from land and seashore - fat rosehips, wood and sheeps tongue sorrel, sea blite, water pepper, yarrow, wild garlic pickles, fennel and sea blite kraut, elderflower vinegar . . .

There were many more stalls around the perimeter of the market, including pork and bacon from Cloncannon Bio Farm in Moneygall.  

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By then my bags were laden with many good things for a picnic but I really wanted to check out Sodalicious on Lower Cecil street owned by Ballymaloe alumni, Jane Conlan. An inspired concept where virtually everything on the menu is based on, or served with brown or white soda bread or scones in their many incarnations. Delicious food in a contemporary space, worth seeking out.. . .

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Alexander Findlater & Co Food Hall is another contact for your list. If you visit Limerick, find time to head to the Hunt Museum for their latest exhibition. Then back to Glin Castle, one of Ireland’s loveliest places to take a relaxing break.

Monday, 30 September 2019

A Grand Day Out in Ireland's Ancient East


The Irish Food Writers Guild, which I’m proud to be a member of, meet occasionally to do reconnaissance trips around the country. We visit artisan producers to see their process and hear their stories. Our most recent summer outing was to the Boyne Valley... and wow, what an action packed day we had!

First stop, Drummond House, where Marita and Peter Collier welcomed us warmly onto their farm outside Drogheda, they grow 5 varieties of garlic and several acres of green asparagus on their rich sandy soil. 


Drummond House

This enterprise, like Ballymakenny Farm in Baltray, was born out of desperation to find a different way to earn a living on the land and the family farms they all love. Marita and Peter told us the story of the roller coaster, voyage of trial and error they embarked on to source varieties of garlic to suit their land and the Irish climate. Six years later, through sheer hard work and help from Marita’s friends at the Termonfeckin National School gate, who initially volunteered to help with packing the garlic in their spare time. They now have a thriving business and have introduced the Irish market to a wide variety of garlic types and garlic scapes (tender shoots) which I’ve hitherto only seen in my own garden or in the Union Square Market in Manhattan. 

Marita and Peter, like Maria and David Flynn of Ballymakenny Farm had high praise for the chefs who encouraged and supported them initially and continue to do so. Drummond House garlic is now widely available around the country.



Ballymakenny Farm also needed to add value to their produce, so Maria who has a business background decided to trial some unusual potato varieties, much to the amusement and scepticism of their neighbours and friends. They now grow six heirloom varieties, Violetta, Red Emmalie, Mayan Rose, Mayan Twilight, Mayan Gold and waxy Pink Fir Apple plus beautiful crops of long stem broccoli. The chefs go crazy for the deep purple Violetta, the mottled pink varieties and the fingerling potatoes, Ballymakenny can scarcely keep up with the demand. It was a extra special treat to meet David’s parents who were commercial potato growers in the past...


Our next stop was Listoke Gin Distillery and School. Bronagh Conlan gave us a spirited talk on gin production and the wide range of botanicals that can be added to the raw spirit to give it a unique flavour. Visitors can make their own unique blend at the gin school in the individual copper stills around the edge of the room. At the end of their visit, they take home their very own bespoke bottle of gin, a unique and hugely sought after visitor experience for corporate events too. Loved the psychedelic owl street art which has become the Listoke Distillery logo created by Dean Kane of visual waste.

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Just a few miles to Tankardstown House where the young Romanian head chef Janos Sarkosi cooked us a seven course feast to showcase his considerable skills... Such a lovely place, no wonder it is also a favourite venue for weddings...

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No time to dawdle, still lots more to see... Next stop, The Cider Mill at Stackallan, near Slane in Co. Meath. 


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I’ve been a fan of Mark Jenkinson for several years now; he is a complete purist, grows a variety of cider apples in his own orchards, gently presses them in small batches in the time honored, traditional way between timber slabs. He makes five different styles of cider including his famous Cockagee, named after an ancient cider apple variety that was thought to be extinct for over 125 years. . . Mark managed to trace it to an old orchard in Gloucestershire and has now recovered and saved it for posterity. Cider is the wine of our land and there has been a rich tradition of cider making in the Boyne Valley for hundreds of years.

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Mark is the only Irish cider producer to make keeved cider, a slow natural, painstaking process which results in a superb cider. His tasting room which also houses his eclectic collection of vernacular chairs, hardening stands and artefacts is worth the trip alone.


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Carina Mount Charles brought along her organic eggs and salad leaves and nearby farmhouse cheese maker Michael Finnegan from Mullagh Farm delivered over his Boyne Valley Bán and Blue goat cheeses for us to taste...a new find for me.

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And there was still more! A whistle-stop tour of Slane Castle Distillery where Henry Mount Charles and his son Alex have converted the stable yard into a highly impressive distillery in partnerships with Brown Forman (makers of Jack Daniels).

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After an excellent tour and tasting we sped down the road to Boann Distillery where Peter Cooney had cans of several versions of gin in a tin for us to taste. This super exciting innovative company in the heart of the Boyne Valley brews beer, non-alcoholic drinks, whiskey and cider from apples grown in their own orchards in Tara. The Boann Distillery, named for Boann the Irish Godess of the Boyne, is housed in an amazing building repurposed from a car showroom. Book a tour and tasting if you are in the area.

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Finally we had supper at the Eastern Seaboard Bar and Grill, Jeni and Reuvans Diaz’s award winning restaurant in Bryanstown. Seek out this place in the suburbs of Drogheda, its super innovative food is made with many of the superb local ingredients.

Who knew the magic that awaits in an area that has been hitherto been regarded as a mere corridor between Dublin and Belfast? It was an eye opener to discover so many artisan food and drink producers flourishing in this historic area... Well, take my advice and take time out to explore this intriguing part of Ireland’s Ancient East....