The Irish food world yesterday descended en masse on the town of Dingle for the eagerly anticipated return of the Dingle Food Festival and the Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards after a three-year Covid hiatus.
All the initial action was taking place in the new Blas Food Village, in the heart of Dingle town, opposite the legendary Dick Mack’s pub, and featuring Eat Ireland in a Day, four pagodas — one for each province — showcasing the finest Irish food and beverages from finalists and winners entered in this year’s awards.
Not only was it the lively location for Friday night’s awards ceremony, but it also serves as a gathering point for the weekend, enabling finalists and winners to showcase their products, to engage with the general public and network with key industry buyers.
In a break with tradition, the awards were announced on Friday night, allowing winners the whole weekend to indulge in celebrations, and it seems repeated lockdowns have inspired Irish food producers because there was a huge increase in entries this year, some 3,000 products, in this, the 15th year of the awards, coming from all 32 counties.
As ever, the food county of Cork was to the fore with multiple winners including White Rabbit Ltd, Ballyvolane House Spirits, and Durrus Cheese amongst others, including serial winners since the early days of the competition On The Pig’s Back, McCarthy’s Butchers and Skeaghanore West Cork Farm.
The BIM Seafood Innovation award was won by Bantry Bay Seafood, while the Irish Butcher’s Award was picked up by Tom Durcan Butchers and Gloun Cross Dairy also won Best in Munster.
Most prized of all are the two key awards: Artisan Champion and Supreme Champion. Ten Watch Chocolates from Co Antrim was crowned Artisan Champion for their PB&J Bar, while Bart Pawlukojc and Nicole Server-Pawlukojc were crowned Supreme Champions for their Arán Spelt Sourdough Bread, baked in their Arán Bakery & Bistro in Kilkenny City.
“We have had great success previously in the Blas awards but winning Supreme Champion is wonderful for us all at Arán Bakery & Bistro,” said Bart Pawlukojc.
“Everything we do is inspired by using the best local Irish ingredients we can get our hands on,” said his co-owner Nicole Server-Pawlukojc, “and it’s really rewarding as that loaf of bread epitomises our entire approach at Arán — start with the very best and then add a little love and skill.”
Blas na hÉireann Chairman and Founder Artie Clifford said: “After a three-year hiatus from an in-person event, I am really proud of what we hosted online but one thing that was repeated over and over was that people missed being in Dingle.
“It has been an intense and fantastic few days of focused networking, catch-ups and meeting new people and connections.
"It has been great to welcome our Blas family back to Dingle.”
The awards may have been handed out but the weekend is far from over as the baton is now passed to the Dingle Food Festival which hosts a whole weekend of wonderful food events, demos and wining and dining opportunities, best of all the renowned Food Trail, featuring over 70 special food offerings from restaurants, pubs, shops, random pop-ups and the street stalls that snake throughout the entire town for what locals and visitors alike agree is the best weekend of the year in a town that specialises in “best weekends”!
ABP Food Group, Barbara Russell Catering, Blanco Nino, Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers, Cooleeney Cheese, Emerald Oils, Glenpatrick, Golden Vale, Mushrooms Ltd TA Clonmore Farm, James Whelan Butchers, My Tasty, Oakpark Foods, O'Donnells Crisps, Slievenamon View Organic Farm, Stapleton's Bakery, Tullahay Farm, and Crowe Meats Dundrum Ltd (which was also awarded Best in County).
Antarctic Kerryman Supply Co. Ltd, Dick Mack's Dingle Brewhouse, Dingle Distillery, Dingle Sea Salt / Salann Mara an Daingin, Kenmare Fine Foods, Rusticboowa, Subh na Sceilge Teoranta TA Skellig Jam, Tango Street Food Limited, West of Dingle, O'Sullivan's Bakery and Quinlan's Kerry Fish (also awarded Best in County).
Dawn Meats, Pipin Pear, Planté, Slice Wood Fire Pizz Ltd, Viking Irish Drinks Walsh's Bakehouse and Irish Gourmet Butter (also awarded Best in County).
Ballyhoura Apple Farm, Glen Aine, Kearney's Home Baking Ltd, Leahy Farmhouse Foods, Sodalicious, Old Irish Creamery, McMahon Quality Meats and Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, (also awarded Best in County).
Burren Smokehouse and The Clare Jam Company Ltd, (also awarded Best in County).