IT HAS tickled the taste buds of Waterford residents for over 300 years, and now the EU has given it a new legal protection against imitators.
A ruling by Brussels means the floury bread roll, soft or crusty, can be called by its famous name blaa only if made in the city and county of Waterford and part of adjoining south Kilkenny.
The Waterford blaa reportedly dates back to the arrival in Ireland of French Huguenots escaping religious persecution during the 1690s.
It was called “blaad”, which the Huguenot bakers used to identify leftover dough, or “blanc”, the French word for “white”. But these were later corrupted by Waterford people to blaa.
Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), the founder of the Christian Brothers, made it at his own bakery in Mount Sion in Waterford City in 1802.
Family bakers also produced it using a traditional recipe handed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition.
The simplicity of the basic ingredients of the blaa made it cheap and popular.
Local legend has it that up to a third of the Waterford population still eat a blaa every day.
It is part of the region’s heritage and has now joined the upper crust of prestigious European food names as a result of being awarded Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status.
The inclusion of the blaa on the list was described by Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney as no small achievement.
He said it will help provide a platform to market and promote the blaa as a unique regional product of Ireland. It will also provide the product with protection against imitation across Europe.
“EU quality schemes identify foodstuffs produced to exacting specifications with proven links to the geographical area in which they are produced,” he said.
Mr Coveney said that the registration follows close engagement between the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association, his department and the European Commission.
The road to the designation began in 2009 when four traditional family bakeries, M and D; Hickey’s; Kilmacow; and Barron’s, formed the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association.
The main objectives of the group are to protect the Waterford Blaa as a traditional Irish food product and to register it for protection in Europe.
With the new designation, the group has an ambitious target to increase sales by 50% over the next three years.
M and D Bakery, Mount Sion Ave, Waterford, is named after two brothers, Michael and Dermot Walsh, who are third generation bakers. Hickey’s Bakery have been making traditional hand crafted bread and blaas on their premises in Barrack St, Waterford, since 1958 using traditional methods handed down from generations.
The longest established bakery in Waterford City, the business is run by owner-manager Brian Hickey, who is also a third generation baker.
Kilmacow Bakery is located at John’s St in Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny. It was known as Harney’s bakery and specialises in the crusty blaas and is run by Paul and Nicky Grace.
Barron’s Bakery, Cappoquin, Co Waterford, which dates from 1887, is owned and managed by Esther Barron and Joe Prendergast, who hand-make their blaas with long fermented dough and bake in Scotch Brick ovens.
The group members are delighted their famous bread product has been successful in its application for PGI status.
Dermot Walsh said the Waterford blaa is now produced under a new traceability scheme which clearly defines recipes and baking processes.
Esther Barron, said to be successful in their application the group had to adhere to stringent traceability and production processes which means the consumer is assured of the best quality and taste.
According to Brian Hickey, the public will have protection against imitation products as a result of the stringent European production guidelines.
“Basically, bakers who are members of the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association are the only bakers that can produce and market the Waterford blaa,” he said.
The Waterford Blaa Bakers received support from Waterford City Enterprise Board, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Ciaran Cullen, chief executive, Waterford City Enterprise Board, said all the hard work of the group has finally come to fruition after four long years.
The blaa which was practically unknown outside of Waterford will now enjoy the revered status of European products such as the Cornish Pasty and Roquefort Cheese.
“This group of four traditional bakers has taken a traditionally indigenous bread product and shone a spotlight on Waterford.
“Achievement of PGI designation for the Waterford blaa can help further develop the local economy, promote local food traditions and enhance the overall image and reputation of Waterford,” he said.
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