Buttering up the judges: Tasty fare is top of the Blas

Former chef and publican, Graham Canning, who saw his pub business in Dublin go to the wall during the Celtic Tiger has, along with his wife and business partner Bernie Canning, received the Supreme Champion accolade at the Blas na hÉireann awards at the Dingle Food Festival.

Buttering up the judges: Tasty fare is top of the Blas

Having picked up the Best in Farmers’ Market award for Meath on Friday for their range of compound butters, the Meath-based Blast & Wilde then took gold (Wild Irish Herb & Roast Garlic Pesto Butter), silver (Black Olive & Sundried Tomato Tapenade), and bronze (Zesty Lime, Chilli & Coriander) in the dairy category before being announced as Overall Supreme Champions 2014 for best new product.

“I suppose it’s a story of chef meets farmer and love blossoms,” said a delighted Graham.

“I built up a substantial pub business in Dublin but that went with the Celtic Tiger so we had to re-invent ourselves: my true passion in life has always been food, I’ve been making butter for over 20 years and now that butter is ‘back’ and is seen as healthy once more, we wondered how could we make butter better in a sector where there is a severe lack of tasty offerings or else it is all factory-processed.

“We were pleasantly surprised and shocked by the awards as we’re only in business about seven or eight months and didn’t know what to expect, and we now realise how substantial the awards are, how professional, and the standard of all the competitors was incredible.”

The Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards, which were held at the weekend, attracted over 2,000 entries, making it the largest competition for Irish produce. Final judging took place last Thursday at the Dingle Skellig Hotel, with winners announced at an Awards Presentation at the Phoenix Cinema on Saturday, the judges awarding prizes in 93 categories.

Awards chairman Artie Clifford said, “Blas na hÉireann, The Irish Food Awards, is about recognising passionate, dedicated producers who are serious about marketing their fantastic Irish food and drink into markets at home and around the globe and everyone who took part is a winner.”

One of the primary attractions of the awards is that they take place as part the Dingle Food Festival. Dingle currently holds the Restaurants Association of Ireland Best Food Town in Ireland title.

While the rest of the country succumbed to the inevitable deluge that signalled an end to the Indian summer, the weather gods pulled out one last favour.

Save for the occasional cloudburst, they ensured clement weather for Friday and much of Saturday, as the masticating mobs followed a taste trail featuring over 80 eating and drinking options from venues all around town, along with a whole series of food-related events to entertain all ages.

Lecturer TJ O’Connor, from IT Tralee, whose team of students, ‘Team Beef’ beat off competition from ‘Team Duck’, ‘Team Fish’ and ‘Team Lamb’ in the inaugural Culinary Pentathlon, a combination of cooking, running, and cycling, racing around town to procure mystery ingredients for a final cook-off, declared the event, “a great success and a wonderful new addition to a wonderful festival”.

One of the festival organisers, Martin Bealin, chef-proprietor of the award-winning Global Village Restaurant, said the festival had been “absolutely fabulous, the biggest attendance ever, possibly up to 10,000 people, although we haven’t got the final numbers back yet”.

“The taste trail is always a huge success, and Derry Clarke’s charity [for suicide awareness and prevention] gig in the art gallery was a highlight and the workshops and demos have been very successful.

“The whole thing works really well, it’s about food and there are plenty of inexpensive tasting options, it’s not elitist, it’s all about showcasing the local produce and being proud of it.”

Meanwhile, SuperValu collected 26 awards for its Signature Tastes Range and SuperValu Own Brand products — winning 9 gold, 10 silver and 7 bronze awards.

Aldi’s Irish suppliers collected nine awards — three gold, two silver, and four bronze.

Tesco Ireland took home four gold, six silver and one bronze award for their range of quality meat, bakery, dairy and convenience products.

Winners

- Best New Product (Sponsored by Invest NI): Nusli — Apple and Blackberry breakfast snack, from Dublin.

- Best Artisan Producer (Sponsored by Bord Bia): Inagh Farmhouse Ltd, Co Clare. A small farmhouse cheese company that makes St Tola goat cheese.

- Best Export Opportunity (Sponsored by PanEuro Foods): Tom Durcan Meats. Founded in 1985, and located in Cork’s English Market.

- Seafood Innovation (Sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara): Beara Island Seafoods, Cork, a fifth generation family-run business, specialising in the cultivation and production of rope mussels.

- Rogha na Gaeltachta/ Best Emerging Producer in Gaeltacht area: Saoirse Goat’s Milk & Cheese, Cork, produced in the Muskerry Gaeltacht from a small select herd of pedigree Saanan and Anglo-Nubian goats.

- Rogha na Gaeltachta/ Best Producer in a Gaeltacht area: Dingle Distillery, Dingle, which has grown out of the Porterhouse Brewing Company which opened Ireland’s first brewpub in Dublin in 1993.

- AIB Business Diversification Award: Just Baked, Castlebar and Westport, Co Mayo, which produces a range of confectionery items.

- UCC School Food Nutritional Sciences Best Packaging Innovation: Walshe’s Fruit Salad Bowl, Sunshine Juice, Co Carlow, specialising in fresh juices.

- Producers’ Champion: Chef Neven Maguire of MacNean House and Restaurant, Co Cavan.

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