True characters


Peter Ward, shopkeeper

I describe myself as .. . a country shopkeeper. Country Choice is an artisan food business that’s been in Nenagh in Co Tipperary for the past 30 years.

My typical day is . . .very long and very interesting. It’s always a whirlwind of great produce and appreciative people. Never dull or boring but often a challenge.

The best advice I was ever given was . . .you can’t fatten the pig on the day of the fair. I think it’s great, but my children always hated it.

I love what I do . .. except when I see our beautiful market town dying because of out-of-town shopping.

If I wasn’t doing this . . .I would probably be a Gaelic-speaking farmer in rural Co Meath, albeit one with very diverse interests.

When I’m not working . . .I’m walking my dogs in the Silvermines Mountains, or making some great artisan cheese or wine in Spain, France or Italy. I love to escape, but never more than one step from a farm and food.

My dream dinner party guests would be a . . .sort of a Slow Food collection of family and friends under the old fig tree in the yard at home on a fine bank holiday Sunday evening.

Guests would include the Arnolds because Hugo always makes the best fish soup with rouille and aioli. The Lewises because Ross will bring the shellfish. The Allens because Darina will wow us all with her home-made mayo from her 57 varieties of free-range hens. Nora Egan and TJ Crowe, because he will bring a bucket of fresh pig’s blood and she will make some fresh black puddings in a flash.

Mary Ward will bring some big slabs of hot griddle white soda with country butter. Claire Nash of Cork, because she will organise us and make sure all goes to plan.

Maurice Keller of Waterford will bring a few mature fillets and he will sing Galway Bay. Michael Horgan of Mitchelstown, who is like a Medici prince when it comes to good food and is everybody’s dream host himself.

Lots more people would come and . . .what the hell anyway, as we could always get a ham in the shop.

My ideal weekend . .. is a bit seldom. I work in our shop in the Milk Market in Limerick most Sundays, and I am enjoying working with my daughter’s business, Country Choice on Tour, at festivals and fairs all around the country.

I’m passionate about . . .fair play in food in Ireland, including finding other ways to sell food rather than through the multiples.

I’m really good at . . .communicating with people.

I wish I was better at . . .listening and taking criticism. My heart is in Country Choice and sometimes I can get a bit wounded by comments.

I often imagine myself . . .being a bit more tolerant of people who could not care less about their food and its origins.

Not many people know this about me . . .but while I love business, I have little or no regard for money.

My guilty pleasure is . . .thick chips, bad chocolate and hot, sweet custard.

In conversation with MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBY