So Irish artisan producers, the unsung heroes of the food industry in Ireland, need support from the commercial sector to ensure their survival. This was the message from Myrtle Allen, a pioneer of the movement to promote locally-produced Irish food, who addressed guests at the Irish Food Writer’s Guild Food Awards recently.
Five Irish Food Awards were presented at a ceremony attended by The Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney, who admitted that he’d become a “real foodie” since taking on the Ministry.
The winners were: Castlemine Farm for Castlemine Farm Free Range Pork (Roscommon); Patrick & Carol Rooney for Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil (Louth) and David Tiernan for Glebe Brethan Cheese (Louth). McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Cork, was presented with a special award for the family’s notable contribution to Irish food throughout the year. Finally, renowned fruit grower and active chairman of the Irish Apple Growers Association Con Traas of The Apple Farm in Tipperary was honoured with the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Together with IFWG Chairperson Orla Broderick Simon Coveney presented the awards (which were held in association with Bord Bia) for standards of excellence and for their exceptional contribution to Ireland’s reputation as a top food-producing country.
Now in its 18th year, the event took place at Dublin’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Ecrivain where Derry Clarke created a lunch incorporating all of the award-winning products.
The criteria for eligibility for these awards (where nominations come exclusively from IFWG members) are straightforward: products must be home-produced and the company behind them must have been trading for over three years. Indeed, a company never even knows that it’s being considered for an award, Orla Broderick pointed out.
Representatives from the food industry including food agencies, critics, food writers and retail buyers attended the lunch and Derry Clarke’s winners’ menu was complemented by a selection of wines from Gleesons incorporating Gilbeys and Tipperary Natural Mineral Water and hand-made Irish chocolates provided by Kenmare-based artisan chocolatier Benoit Lorge.
Myrtle Allen, Honorary Life Member of the Guild and also a Guest of Honour at the Awards, told those present, “There is a serious anomaly in that we have some of the highest quality produce in the world and yet, it is often a challenge to find something as simple as an Irish apple in our shops”.
Guests heard that only 10 per cent of the apples we consume are grown here in Ireland.
“Why is this? If we don’t support and buy Irish, we will ultimately witness the demise of the small to medium-sized local producer to the benefit of imported and sometimes sub-standard substitutes. We cannot let this happen and I am appealing to all stakeholders, including retailers, to recognise their responsibilities in supporting home-grown industry”.
Simon Coveney explained his own take on the awards: “An award opens up new opportunities for expansion at home and abroad,” he said, adding that with the rise in prices the attitude of the consumer is changing and the demand for good food is rising globally.
It’s as well then that Irish companies like Cashel Blue figure prominently in Ireland’s €12 million cream cheese industry of which some €5 million is now exported.
These producers are shifting away from producing large volumes of commodity product and targeting the premium market as in the case of Glanbia/Kerry, so the target of €12 billion a year for food exports by 2020 is “highly achievable”, according to the Minister.
The importance of locally-grown food is also reflected in the 27 per cent rise in the numbers of those wanting to study Agricultural Food Science last year, he added.
After all, the potential is there. Some 41 per cent of our food exports go to the UK alone so Government agencies and Government policy is now supportive of artisan food producers, claimed the Minister as one or two of those at our table muttered that this supportive scenario wasn’t reflected by the banking industry…..
But as we then tucked into the long-anticipated lunch, the careful preparation of the beautifully presented award-winning food by Derry Clarke gave me pause for thought.
Isn’t it about time that Bord Bia and the IGFW got together to repeat this exercise – this time with a room-full of foreign food journalists specially invited to Ireland to learn about the quality of Irish food and top-class cooking first-hand?