Who makes Ireland’s best food and drink?

Irish Food Writers’ Guild name their top things to eat and drink in 2017

 

Pasture-reared chicken, smoked duck breast, farmhouse buttermilk, smoked trout and gin: Guillaume Lebrun, executive chef/owner at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud couldn’t have asked for a better basket of ingredients with which to create the winners’ lunch for the Irish Food Writers’ Guild 2017 awards on Tuesday.

The awards, now in their 23rd year, honour producers of outstanding Irish food and drink, as well as those who have made special contributions to the sector and enhanced the reputation of Irish food and drink at home and abroad.

“This year’s award winners are representative of so much that is great about the food and drink industry in Ireland. Our winners have created sustainable family businesses, continued and built upon the work of their forefathers or collaborated with like-minded people to create products of an exceptional standard,” said Guild chairperson Aoife Carrigy.

Pioneering work

The Guild’s first posthumous award went to Oliver Hughes, whose family accepted the Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his pioneering work in the Irish craft beer industry, as well as his achievements in establishing Dingle Distillery. Hughes died last July, at the age of 57, leaving behind his wife Helen, son Elliott and daughter Holly.

Mag Kirwan, who runs Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny with her husband Ger, was the recipient of a Special Contribution to Irish Food award. As well as producing fresh trout, Kirwan has also developed a range of cold-smoked and barbecued trout products, trout pâté and trout caviar. Last year she published a book of recipes, Fishwives, to raise funds to support the work of Hospice Africa Uganda.

The Little Milk Company, formed in 2008 by 10 organic dairy farmers from Munster and Leinster, produces eight different cheeses that are exported to 16 countries, as well as having a strong presence in the home market. Adding value to their milk was the farmers’ initial objective, and the cheese production now uses 70 per cent of their milk. The company was awarded the Environmental award for “demonstrating that environmentally responsible small producers can thrive by working together”.

Food awards

The first of three food awards was made to Ronan Byrne, for his Friendly Farmer chickens, raised on his farm in Athenry, Co Galway. Byrne also rears free-range pigs, beef cattle and other seasonal poultry including turkeys, geese and ducks, and has recently added an on-site abattoir.

Anthony Creswell received the second of the food awards, for his Ummera Irish Smokehouse Smoked Silver Hill Duck Breast, produced in Co Cork. Silver Hill is a previous recipient of a Guild award, and Creswell favours their ducks for their tenderness, delicate flavour, “and its generous layer of fat that helps to keep the hot-smoked breast moist”.

In 2007, Ummera won an IFWG award for its smoked eel, and the company also smokes organic salmon, chicken and dry-cured bacon. Creswell has recently been working on smoking picanha, a cut of beef popular in Brazil, sometimes called sirloin cap or rump cap.

The final food award was made to Cuinneog Irish Farmhouse Country Butter and Buttermilk, produced by Breda Butler in Co Mayo. Butler took over the butter company from her parents Tom and Sheila, who started making butter in their farmhouse kitchen in 1990. Making the butter is a four-day process at the end of which it is shaped, cut and wrapped by hand, and the buttermilk is collected.

Milk is also an ingredient in the Guild’s drink award, which Justin Green of Ballyvolane House along with his school friend and business partner Antony Jackson claimed for their Bertha’s Revenge Gin, made with whey alcohol sourced from Carbery dairy. Bertha’s Revenge launched in 2015 and is now exported to the UK and Europe, and will be on sale in the US later this year.

Winning menu

Using the winning products, chef Lebrun devised a five-course menu for the awards lunch. Goatsbridge cold smoked trout was matched with Bertha’s Revenge gin and tonic foam and pickled ginger as a starter.

Salad of Ummera smoked Silver Hill duck breast with beetroot and horseradish was the second course. The Friendly Farmer’s chicken was served with lemon Viennoise and sweet potato puree.

Cuinneog buttermilk ice-cream with pear and white chocolate café au lait was the dessert course, followed by a Little Milk Company Irish cheeseboard.

The IFWG awards are decided after a series of nominations made by members and a formal tasting session.

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