Keeping it local in Lismore

ALL Slow Food events have an educational element as well as a hedonistic one. So when we gathered in Lismore recently we started our evening at Michael McGrath butcher’s shop on Main Street. We were all anxious to learn from this man whose skills have come down through four generations – his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Michael and his wife Mary are one of only a handful of Irish butchers who still finish animals on their own farm, have their own abattoir and consequently are in charge of the process from beginning to end. The skill of butchery is not merely cutting up meat; it starts by being able to judge good pasture and then being able to judge a fine animal in the field.

Good meat is not just about the breed and the feed, although both are crucial. The slaughtering process must be stress-free and humane and then there’s the skill of hanging, butchering and the ability to use every scrap.

Michael kills only Aberdeen Angus and Hereford Cross heifers from about 15 months to 24 months. He, like me, likes a nice bit of fat for juiciness and flavour and favours grass-fed animals with rich yellow fat rather than the white fat of predominantly grain-fed cattle. He sells excellent meat and people are prepared to travel for it.

The Slow Food Feast was held at O’Brien Chop House in Lismore, an old-fashioned pub-cum-grocery shop now minimally converted into a charming bar and restaurant with a beguiling secret garden behind.

Slow Food is all about supporting local. While we sipped our rhubarb bellinis, two local producers also joined us and told us about their product. The Dungarvan Brewing Company is a family affair. Cormac O’Dwyer is the head brewer who makes Helvick Gold, a blond ale, Copper Coast, a red ale and Black Rock, an Irish stout. It’s a relatively new venture and up to recently the beers could just be bought locally but they have big plans and now supply some pubs in Cork and Dublin.

Julia Keane from nearby Cappoquin dropped in some of her Crinnaghtaun Apple Juice freshly made from apples grown in their family orchards. Local cheese makers, Agnes and Wolfgang Schliebitz, originally from Germany, told us how they make their ewe’s milk Knockalara Cheeses.

Justin Green and his head chef Eddie Baguio had planned a delicious menu for the Slow Food feast. We had a salad of Knockalara Ewe’s Milk Cheese with asparagus, toasted hazelnuts and fresh mint leaves. Justin got just one wild salmon from the Blackwater River close by but he managed to do a ‘loaves and fishes’ job so we all got a taste of the new season’s salmon with some buttery Hollandaise sauce.

For main course we had roast butterflied leg of Michael McGrath’s spring lamb with salsa verde, new potatoes and spring garden greens.

For pudding, Jenny Green chose new season’s rhubarb with meringue and cream, then as an extra treat, we finished our meal with a fresh mint tisane.

The asparagus, rocket, baby salad leaves and rhubarb were grown by Justin’s father Jeremy in the walled garden at Ballyvolane House.

It’s so wonderful to find a restaurant that serves local food proudly not only for a special Slow Food event but on an ongoing basis.

To hear more about upcoming Slow Food events go to

O’Brien Chop House 058 53810;

Ballyvolane House 025 36349;

Knockalara Farmhouse Cheese 024 96326

Michael McGrath Butchers Lismore, 058 54350

Dungarvan Brewing Company 058 24000;

Crinnaghtaun Apple Juice 058 54258;

O’Brien’s Chop House Roast Marinated Leg of Lamb, Salsa verde, Boiled New Potatoes with Creamed Spring Greens

Lamb & Marinade:

1½ kg boned leg of lamb

50g thyme leaves

50g rosemary – chopped

50g parsley – chopped

1 bulb of garlic – peeled and chopped

200ml olive oil

Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blend all the herbs, garlic, olive oil and seasoning then spread generously over the lamb, securely wrap with cling film and allow to marinade overnight in the fridge.

To cook the lamb: Remove from marinade and cook in a very hot oven, 250C for 30 minutes (for medium rare) or longer if preferred.

Creamed Garden Greens:

1 York Cabbage

500g baby spinach leaves

Chop cabbage into small strips and blanch with the spinach in boiling water for two minutes.

O’Brien’s Chop House Cream sauce

300 ml cream

½ diced onion

2 sprigs rosemary leaves – finely chopped

100 ml white wine

100 ml chicken stock

Reduce the white wine in a saucepan with the rosemary and onion by half to 50ml. Add the cream and reduce again to about 85ml.

Add the chicken stock and reduce for around 10 minutes. Taste and add a little salt and pepper if necessary.

To serve, toss the blanched greens in a pan with the reduced cream sauce for a couple of minutes, season and serve. Serve the lamb with boiled potatoes, creamed spring greens and salsa verde.

A Salad of Knockalara Ewes’ Milk Cheese with Asparagus, Toasted Hazelnuts and Fresh Mint Leaves

500g local Irish asparagus

300g Knockalara ewe’s milk cheese

100g unsalted peeled hazelnuts

3 tbsp olive oil

Bake the asparagus, hazelnuts and olive oil for 15 minutes at 200C and allow cool.

Mint Salad:

200g baby spinach leaves

200g rocket leaves

100g mint leaves

Simple Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt & freshly ground pepper

Toss all the above leaves in the simple vinaigrette, mix with the cooled asparagus and hazelnuts and top with crumbled Knockalara cheese.

Steamed Wild Atlantic Salmon, Sauce Hollandaise

900g wild salmon fillet (Ask your fishmonger to skin and cut your fish into six equal pieces)

½ onion

2 stalks of celery

1 chopped leek

2 spring onions

4 bay leaves

8 whole peppercorns

1 litre water

Salt & pepper to taste

Boil all the above ingredients (except the salmon) together for one hour.

Then add the salmon pieces and poach for 10 minutes. Remove the fillets and drain.

Hollandaise Sauce:

3 egg yolks

1 dstsp of cold water

150g diced butter

1½ tsp lemon juice

Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring a pan of water to the boil and place a stainless steel bowl over the water. Into the bowl put the egg yolks, add the water and whisk.

Add the butter, piece by piece, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens. Season to taste.

Serve the warm fillets of salmon with the hollandaise.

Ballyvolane House Walled-Garden Rhubarb Mess

500g rhubarb

Zest of ½ orange

Juice of ½ orange

150g sugar

6 scoops vanilla ice-cream

200g homemade meringue

150ml cream, whipped

Method for rhubarb: Cook all the ingredients until the rhubarb is soft and tender. It should have started to break up a little.

Scoop out 6 portions of vanilla ice-cream and return the scoops to the freezer to harden.

Crumble the meringue into the whipped cream with ¾ of the cooked rhubarb and mix. Remove the deep-frozen ice-cream scoops from the freezer, break into pieces and stir into the above mixture.

Portion this mixture onto your serving plates and pour over the remainder of the cooked rhubarb.

Rhubarb Bellini & Rhubarb Lemon Fizz

The base for both of these is a rhubarb purée.

Rhubarb Purée: (Makes 1 litre)

1kg local Irish rhubarb

300g sugar

Zest of ½ orange

Juice of ½ orange

Cook all the above ingredients till rhubarb is soft and tender. Blend this into a purée.

Sugar Syrup:

1kg (2¼lb) sugar

1 litre (1¾ pints) water

Slices of half a lemon

6 cloves

Boil all ingredients until sugar has dissolved, remove lemon slices and cloves. Add 300ml (10fl oz/½ pint) of sugar syrup to the rhubarb purée and store in a jug.

For the Bellini: Pour some of the purée/sugar syrup mixture into a glass then top up with a nice dry Prosecco and stir. The amount of purée is to your own taste.

For the Fizz: Pour some of the purée sugar syrup mixture into a glass, add a dash of lemon juice, ice cubes and top up with sparkling water. ‘Muddle’ and serve.


Ballyvolane House Spiced Nuts

800g mixed nuts (peanuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia, cashew nuts, almonds)

3 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp garlic (2 cloves)

2 tsp olive oil

Bake in oven at 160 degrees for 20 minutes or until brown.


- Clare Food Scene: Lots of excitement on the food front in Co Clare. Ballyvaughan Farmers Market has launched their new cook book compiled from recipes using produce from the market. The recent Burren Slow Food Festival highlighted the wealth of local produce – Burren lamb, smoked salmon. I loved staying at Sheedy’s hotel (; tel 065 7074026).

- The Wild Honey Inn is another option, where you get to enjoy chef and owner Aidan McGrath’s creative classics using lots of local produce. Look out for the ham hock terrine with celeriac remoulade and crab royale with seared scallops. Phone: 065 7074300; email:

- The Crescent Farmers Market in Limerick is going from strength to strength after their recent relaunch; there is a wonderful range of stalls with delicious fresh local and organic produce. I picked up some really good loaves of organic spelt bread from Coolfin Organic Bakery. Contact Jonas on 087 2045593. Market every Wednesday, contact market manager Gar Granville 086 8069605.

- Mani–Bläuel olive oil have now notched up five awards this year after recently winning a Gold Award at the Expo and Competition ‘Monocultivaroliveoil’ in Milan and a Diploma di Gran Menzione in Parma at the 4th International Olive Oil Competition ‘Armonia’ – the first time a Greek oil was among the winners at this competition. Available in Ballymaloe Cookery School shop and Midleton Farmers Market.

More in this section