Raise up your glass to fine art of dining

Everyone needs to eat several times a day. But during the hectic working week, food is not celebrated, it is a means of survival, to be dispatched as swiftly as possible.
Raise up your glass to fine art of dining

Food, cuisine and gastronomy are irrevocably tied to place and reflect Irish history, geography, culture and landscape. So, visitors and locals alike are exploring communities that farm local breeds and produce local goods, thereby celebrating local culture.

The Fuchsia brand, in West Cork, which is an initiative of the West Cork Leader co-operative, has demonstrated that a strong local economy, driven by food, is a high-value product and an important part of the tourist experience.

Studies have shown that people associate high-quality local food with a natural environment and this appreciation is reflected in food exports to the tourist’s place of origin. Food and drink represent the largest components of visitor expenditure in Ireland.

So how are producers and assorted foodies utilising this growing interest in food? Food trails are popular, and involve a tour of a town or village, with visits to well-known producers who are happy to talk about their operation and answer questions about their food. And, obviously, within that brief, there is the opportunity to meet some great characters and, of course, a chance to sample some delicious foods.

This creates a different relationship between producers and consumers, and brings to life the place of production, the methods employed and the values of the people involved. This has social and environmental benefits for communities. Farmers’ markets are thriving across the country and are a great opportunity to experience the innovation, tradition and individual creativity of Ireland’s growing numbers of artisan food producers.

Some places have established a niche in the market in some unusual ways. Like Voss, a small farming community in Norway that has a population of 13,000, and where farming traditions are based on milk and meat production from sheep and cattle.

A traditional Norwegian meal, known as Smalahove, has become a significant part of their brand.

Described as a “relic of Nordic gastronomy” whose origins date back to 1300, this meal consists of a salted, smoked and cooked sheep’s head, split into two halves.

Developed specifically around the meal, a microbrewery beer has replaced the traditional accompaniment of sour milk.

Approximately 90% of these meals are sold to supermarket chains and catering companies, while the other 10% service retail customers locally and abroad.

But the enterprising people of Voss haven’t left it at that. They have developed a range of sheep’s head jewellery, cutlery, glasses and books that feature sheep’s head songs, and, for people attending the meal for the first time, a code of conduct. The meal includes storytelling, a guided tour of the farm and the unique production facilities, and even a specially grown Voss potato.

Kate Ryan is a popular food blogger, organiser of supper parties and the instigator of the recently launched Food Adventure Trails.

And while she might not be contemplating serving up sheeps heads any time soon, this Clonakilty woman is, nevertheless, on a mission.

Q&A

Kate, how did this interest in all aspects of food come about?

I grew up in a family who always believed in growing your own vegetables, even in a modest back garden. It meant that I was always exposed to an abundance of fresh, in-season vegetables and fruit. We always made the most of everything and nothing was wasted. I have kept that ethos in my everday food activities. My parents used to take us on holidays to India, Africa. They wanted us to experience local food, culture traditions, so I grew up used to lots of different tastes.

What is it that inspires you about the food in West Cork?

I’m originally from Bristol, in the UK. I married an Irishman, who’s originally from Cork. When we moved over here, my husband took me to the English Market, in Cork City, and I was blown away by the quality and variety of food. Then, we bought a house in Clonakilty and I quickly realised that there is an incredible amount of artisan food producers in this area. Flavour.ie introduces local and visitors alike to the people behind great, local artisan food, their stories and traditions. It’s a chance to taste your way round Clonakilty.

Do you think people are more interested in food these days?

Definitely. It wouldn’t be that unusual to find a stalk of lemon grass in someone’s fridge. People want to buy quality, locally sourced produce and reconnect with food. They want to know where it comes from, what’s in it. And this benefits the environment and creates jobs. We’ve run three tours, so far, and they have been fabulous. We’ve had great support from local people and at our recent launch, so we are looking forward to a successful year.

Kate’s tasty recipe for culinary success

Rosemary & Salted Dark Chocolate Tartlets with Candied Walnuts

This recipe, a popular recipe taken from Kate’s blog, will make either one large tart or approximately 12 muffins.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

300g unbleached flour

150 chilled butter, diced.

½ tsp salt

100-150ml ice cold water

1 tbsp fresh chopped

rosemary

For the Ganache filling:

75g salted dark

chocolate (Kate recommends Clonakilty Pink Himalayan Sea Salt dark chocolate)

Same quantity double cream

For the candied walnuts:

100g walnut halves

25g sugar

½ teaspoon unsalted butter

Method:

With pastry, everything should be as cold as possible — hands, butter, surfaces.

Put flour, salt, shredded rosemary and butter into a food processor and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed throughout; don’t overdo it.

Add water a bit at a time and pulse in between until it comes together but again, don’t overdo it.

Take out the pastry, push it all together in a ball, using the palm of your hand then flatten into a disk, cover with parchment paper and place in fridge for a couple of hours.

While the pastry is chilling, make the candied walnuts. Heat up a pan and add walnuts, butter, and sugar. Keep tossing the nuts in the melted butter and sugar until they are coated and hot. When ready, roll out the pastry onto a cold work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a €2 coin. Cut out disks to fit your muffin tin and push gently down then prick the bottom with a fork. Place in a fan oven — 180 degrees for a minimum of 15 minutes until golden. When cooked, turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the Ganache:

Gently warm through the cream, then take off the heat and stir in the chocolate until the mixture becomes dark and silky. Pour the ganache into the pastry cases and top with a candied walnut. Leave to cool. The ganache will set a little but when you bite into it it will be soft and yielding. Enjoy!

Pastry recipe: Lettercollum Cookbook; www.flavour.ie/foodadventures

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