Ireland’s best spuds, cheese, fish and oysters

Chefs name the best food producers in the country, from potato growers to duck farmers

Chefs are only as good as the raw materials they have to work with, and Ireland’s top culinary talent has voted for the homegrown ingredients that have made a difference to their cooking over the past 12 months.

The Euro-Toques Food Awards, supported by EirGrid, were presented on Monday at Ashford Castle to five producers of outstanding food. Irish oysters, potatoes, duck, cheese and smoked fish were the products singled out for the 2018 awards.

In addition, an award was made to food writer and publisher Georgina Campbell for her contribution to the Irish food and hospitality industry. Campbell is president of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, and publisher of Georgina Campbell's Ireland – the Guide.

The Irish members of Euro-Toques, the European community of chefs and cooks, are asked each year to nominate their favourite suppliers, and from this a list is drawn up for the Euro-Toques Ireland Food Council, which independently assesses them and selects the winners. As well as chefs, food producers who are members of the organisation were eligible to make nominations.

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Awards were made this year in five categories – water, land, farm, artisan produce, and craft.

The first was presented to John Ward of Dooncastle Oysters. The oyster farmer went into production in Connemara in 2006 and his bivalves are reared in Galway Bay, in Claddaghduff.

The land winner was announced as Maria Flynn of Ballymakenny Heritage Potatoes. Flynn and her husband David grow a variety of heritage varieties of Ireland's favourite vegetable on their farm in Co Louth, including the distinctive purple-hued Violetta.

Kenneth Moffitt of Thornhill Duck was revealed as the farm winner, for the Aylesbury-Pekin cross-bred birds he has been rearing on his farm in Blacklion, Co Cavan, for the past 30 years.

The artisan produce category winners were named as mother and son, Silke and Tom Cropp, of Corleggy Cheese, also from Co Cavan. Silke has been making raw milk cheese for 33 years and Tom joined the business six years ago, initially concentrating on marketing. But at Corleggy, "Everybody does everything," he said.

Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in west Cork was the recipient of the craft award, presented in recognition of her dedication to the protection of culinary skills and craft. The self-taught smoker won the Great Taste Awards supreme championship in 2006 for her smoked Irish wild salmon. She teaches the art of fish-smoking and is writing a handbook on the subject.

The awards were presented at a ceremony in the walled garden at Ashford Castle, followed by a celebratory feast, including the winning produce, created by head chef Philippe Farineau.

"These awards represent the ongoing mission of Euro-Toques chefs in celebrating the real connections we as chefs have with the growers and makers who produce the exceptional ingredients we are lucky to have access to on this island," said chef Graham Neville, Euro-Toques commissioner general.

“Irish farmers and food producers are inspirational, and we are delighted to annually award the Euro-Toques Food Awards to some of these accomplished and dedicated food talents.”