It didn’t quite compensate for the recent failure to bring back Sam to the Kingdom, but there was great local delight at the crowning of Cahirciveen company Quinlan’s Seafood as supreme champions at the Blás na hÉireann Food Awards as part of the annual Dingle Food Festival that took place in the Kerry over the weekend.
The festival, now in its ninth year, is a celebration of a vibrant food culture in the town and its hinterland with local producers and restaurants to the fore servicing enormous crowds who came from all over Ireland and abroad to soak up the atmosphere. Every available space is turned into a venue for tastings, demos, talks, debates, with quirky pop-up bars and restaurants in boutiques, shops and galleries supplementing the permanent venues, all offering a dizzying range of dishes.
The weather remained dry and warm enough for the crowds to take to the streets for a spot of al fresco wining and dining, most especially outside the myriad Taste Trail venues throughout the town that saw punters sipping fine wines in An Siopa Ceoil music shop, shucking Glenbeigh oysters down by the waterfront or even joining the brave souls prepared to clock up the cholesterol with a deep-fried Mars Bar.
Two of the most popular events of the weekend were cooking demos from an established master, Rory O’Connell, co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School with sister Darina Allen, and from rising young star, Mark Moriarty, the young chef who recently beatfro global competition to win the hugely prestigious San Pelligrino Young Chef of the Year competition in Italy, representing Ireland and Britain.
The party continued on into the night with every pub and restaurant in town stuffed to the rafters, many of the award winners toasting their own triumphs. Australia’s victory over the ‘old enemy’ in the Rugby World Cup only heightened the jovial mood although any stray pockets of English tourists in town for the festival were treated with good-humoured sympathy.
Following hot on the heels of Quinlan’s Seafood’s recent inclusion in a select band of Irish Gold Medal winners at the British Great Taste Awards, there was no doubt in local minds that this accolade, awarded for their fresh crabmeat, was a triumph of equal merit. Liam Quinlan, son of founder Michael, said: “We are absolutely thrilled. This is the biggest award and honour we have ever received and I hope it shows that quality always shines through.”
Best new product went to Wild Irish Foragers of Birr, Co Offaly, for their honeysuckle shrub, while Cork-based gold medal winners included Skeaghanore Duck, Kanturk butcher Jack McCarthy, Stonewell Cider and On the Pig’s Back. Best artisan award went to Bainne Codhladh of Kanturk, Co Cork, for their Lullaby milk.
The Blás na hÉireann Awards is far and away the largest competition for Irish food produce, with chairman Artie Clifford confirming yesterday that once again, entries were up on the previous year.
“They are bigger than ever,” said Mr Clifford, “there was over 106 categories with 2,500 entries.”
Crowds attending the festival continue to grow with Mr Clifford saying, “Although we were hidden away on Saturday dealing with the prize-giving ceremonies, local retailers and outlets were saying their day’s trading was equal to two days last year, suggesting that there could be a good 50% more people in Dingle this year.”
Festival co-chairman Mark Murphy, though still waiting for official figures, said, “Numbers are way up on last year, well over 10,000 visitors and it has been a massive success. Atmosphere keeps growing every year. It’s a cross-section, with something there for everyone at every level of interest, from the professionals in the industry to the ordinary punter, it’s a very inclusive festival with the every one in the town pitching in.”
Though the party poopers at Met Éireann were predicting rain for yesterday, Dingle woke again to warm weather that made it that bit easier for the crowds to negotiate the thronged streets, grazing all the while from the stalls of the street market before the food festival shuts up shop for another year.
Best Artisan Award: Bainne Codhladh of Kanturk, Co Cork, which won for its Lullaby milk
Best New Product: Wild Irish Foragers of Birr, Co Offaly, for their Honeysuckle Shrub
Best Export Opportunity Award: Hannan Meats of Moira, Co Armagh
Best Start-Up: Cornude Artisan Popcorn for its range of gourmet popcorn flavours
Best Seafood Innovation: Kinsale Fare Limited, Co Cork, for Hake in a Mild Yellow Curry
Rogha na Gaeltachta / Best Emerging Producer in Gaeltacht area: Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella, which is produced from a herd of over 150 buffaloes on a farm at Cill na Martra
Best Packaging Innovation Award: Dingle Brewing Company, Dingle, Co Kerry, which hand crafts Tom Crean’s Irish lager.
Producers’ Champion 2015: Minister for Agriculture and Food Simon Coveney, in recognition of his efforts to promote Irish food producers and their products at home and abroad.
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