It’s back to basics this year, as staples take centre stage at the 2021 Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards.
“In a year in which there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life, it is perhaps no coincidence that the winners of the 2021 Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards reflect the basic foundations of Irish food,” said IFWG Chair, Kristin Jensen, who announced this year’s winners today.
Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and are the cornerstone of many an Irish meal. The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these storecupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason.
The IFWG Food Awards are unique. No business or individual can enter, nor do they know if they have been nominated or shortlisted for an award. With the exception of the Community Food Award, for which the Guild invites nominations, the Guild is the sole nominating and decision-making body whose members nominate and anonymously buy products for tasting. Proportional representation voting is then undertaken at a Guild tasting meeting. Winning products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be Irish grown or produced.
Now in their 27th year, the IFWG Food Awards celebrate local producers and food heroes who have brought joy to the lives, livelihoods and tables of so many, before and especially during covid-19, but whose commitment to producing great food and drink will endure long after the pandemic.
The winners of the 2021 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards are:
- Food Award: Abernethy Butter, Co. Down.
- Food Award: Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and Specialty Potatoes, Co. Louth.
- Food Award: Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef, Co. Cork.
- Irish Drink Award: Kinsale Mead Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged, Co. Cork.
- Outstanding Organisation Award: NeighbourFood, Co. Cork.
- Environmental Award: Ballymore Organics, Co. Kildare.
- Community Food Award: The Green-Schools Food & Biodiversity Theme.
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Marion Roeleveld, Killeen Farmhouse Cheese, Co. Galway.
“The past year has seen a seismic shift in how people are thinking about their food with a renewed focus on traceability, sustainability and most importantly this year, supporting local. These have been the three key tenets of the IFWG Food Awards and the work of the Guild for almost 30 years,” said Kristin Jensen.
“If this pandemic has any silver lining, it is the light that has been shined on the incredible, resourceful and innovative food producers of Ireland that have responded to the challenge, giving back to communities and ensuring a continued supply of and access to the highest-quality home-grown produce. Today’s winners have an innate passion for food and their commitment is nothing short of vocational. This is our way of recognising their achievements and our way of saying well done and thank you.”
On behalf of the IFWG, Kristin Jensen paid tribute to Bord Bia for its continued support of the awards and its tireless work on the home and export markets to promote and develop the Irish food industry.
Una Fitzgibbon, Director of Marketing and Communication at Bord Bia, said, “It’s fantastic to see such an innovative line up of Irish producers and initiatives celebrated at this year’s IFWG Food Awards. Seeing their resilience and creativity throughout an incredibly challenging year, I know we can be confident that our local food producers will continue to thrive in 2021. These enduring and respected annual Food Awards are an important opportunity to recognise local food producers for their distinctive and delicious products, which are the hallmarks of the Irish food and drink sector. Congratulations to all the very deserving winners.”
About the winners
Food Award: Ballymakenny
Allison and her husband, Will Abernethy, are custodians of a near-lost tradition of handmade, hand-rolled butter in Ireland, having begun producing Abernethy Butter around 10 years ago and growing it into the award-winning brand it is today, with a variety of flavours as well as handmade fudge and lemon curd. A unique dairy product, commercially unlike any other in Ireland in terms of process, their small-batch, slow-churned, hand-rolled butter shaped with wooden pats is made using Draynes Farm grass-fed, single-herd cream, resulting in the driest, best butter. Abernethy Butter is frequently listed on menus and a star ingredient in dishes of the best restaurants in Ireland and the UK, with a slew of stockists and their walls covered with prestigious awards.
Food Award: Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and Specialty Potatoes
Ballymakenny Farm potatoes have developed a cult-like following in Ireland over the last few years for good reason, and despite the challenges of 2020 they continue to be the spuds everyone wants on their plates. Maria and David Flynn started out growing the usual potatoes for supermarket retail until Maria, unenthused by what they were doing, decided to literally inject a bit of colour into their farming by trying out the ‘purple spuds’ they have become best known for. They planted these purple Violetta potatoes along with Red Emmalies, Yukon Golds and Pink Fir Apples. She had spotted a gap in the market for heritage potatoes to be grown in Ireland with an idea to target chefs and restaurants directly. Through a combination of Maria knocking on restaurant doors, word of mouth and savvy social media posts, Ballymakenny became the most sought-after potatoes by high-end chefs and restaurateurs in Ireland. During COVID, with some quick thinking the farm opened the Spud Shack, a drive-through shop on their farm which garnered plenty of attention on both social media and in the news. Maria credits the support of the hospitality industry and friends as playing a huge part in this. The success of the Spud Shack led to an online shop to sell the spuds nationwide and small independent shops started to reach out and ask if they could stock the potatoes. They now sell out week on week and Maria says the Spud Shack is here to stay.
Food Award: Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef
Tom Durcan has been selling his traditional spiced beef at his butcher’s stall in Cork’s English Market since 1985, but the recipe he uses dates back to his teenage apprenticeship in Jim Kidney’s butcher shop in Carrigaline. Tom’s adapted recipe involves a slow cure for at least a month in a salt brine with brown sugar and saltpetre and a secret spice mix that includes pimento, cloves and cracked black pepper. It’s a lengthy and labour-intensive process requiring regular stirring of the cure to ensure absorption of all the flavours. He uses local Irish Hereford heifer beef that has been finished on maize for three months to produce a particularly tender meat with good layers of fat. Durcan’s Spiced Beef can be found in stores and restaurants nationwide, and can be ordered and delivered ready-to-cook or ready-cooked, whole or sliced.
Irish Drink Award: Kinsale Mead Wild Red Mead — Merlot Barrel Aged
Established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017, Kinsale Mead is Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. Kinsale, with its long-standing reputation as Ireland’s premier gourmet destination and its historical trading routes to Spain, is reflected in the ingredients crafted into their white and red mead: Spanish orange blossom honey, local botanicals and fruits grown in Ireland. In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead — Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. This mead may well have influences of Spain and France, but to taste it is to experience a contemporary expression of the original wine of Ireland.
Outstanding Organisation Award: NeighbourFood
NeighbourFood is an online marketplace where a range of local producers can sell what they grow, rear and create. A “virtual” farmers’ market, customers order online. On a designated day, customers who have ordered online can collect their order of vegetables, meat, fish, sauces, cakes, bread, condiments and ready-made meals from their local host. Started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty and Martin Poucher, there are now 40 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK, each with its own local suppliers, managed by local hosts who collate each online order for collection. Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste, and minimal packaging is used. NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.
In 2020 there was an influx of suppliers to NeighbourFood, which in turn provided further choice for customers who wanted to support local enterprises. This award goes not just to co-founders Jack Crotty and Martin Poucher, but to NeighbourFood nationwide, from its suppliers and collection point hosts to its appreciative customers.
Environmental Award: Ballymore Organics
Set up by James Kelly, Ballymore Organics was the first mill to open in Kildare since Odlum’s 200-year-old Leinster Mills closed in 1989. After growing his first organic crop of ‘smashing wheat’ in 2015, James convinced Andrew Workman of Dunany Flour to mill 20kg of the grain. Positive responses meant that James decided to build a mill on the farm and produce his own stoneground wholemeal flour. The single-varietal, single-origin flour is expensive to grow and mill, but James’s sales pitch was simple: he got in contact with hotels and restaurants telling the chefs about the way that he farmed and got them to try the flour. The hook was the flavour.
With wholemeal flour selling well, James expanded his range to plain flour and semolina at the beginning of 2020. He also started milling the oats that he grows, becoming Ireland’s only grower and miller of both wheat flour and porridge oats. As well as selling direct to chefs, he invested in a small webshop, selling small amounts of 5kg, 10kg and 20kg bags of flour and porridge oats – until everything changed in March 2020. While James’s trade customers disappeared overnight, online orders skyrocketed. Consumers in lockdown now actively wanted to buy Irish and support Irish farmers, and James credits COVID-19 with putting his products on the map.
Community Food Award: The Green-Schools Food & Biodiversity Theme
Within the school system, we teach language with which to communicate and we teach maths with which to navigate, but we do not teach crucial skills associated with food and commensality. This two-year food education programme aims to change this for a portion of students throughout Ireland. Devised to teach children about food in an engaging and creative way, the programme was successfully piloted in eight primary schools and is now being expanded nationwide, with 45 schools joining this year and a further 65 joining next year. The programme is wide-ranging, taking an expansive, hands-on approach to education, fostering inquisitiveness about where food comes from, how it is grown and how it affects all our lives. Green-Schools provide cooking kits to all the participating schools as well as the seeds for the garden, teaching resources and ongoing support from their staff. The cooking kit provides children with the equipment to practise skills during the cooking workshops such as peeling, grating, knife safety and different chopping techniques. Many chefs from around the country have also come on board and are helping reiterate the learning from the cooking workshops by doing their own cooking demonstrations with the children. The programme is a welcome addition to Ireland’s food education landscape.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Marion Roeleveld, Killeen Farmhouse Cheese
‘The cheesemaker’s cheesemaker’ is a good description of Marion Roeleveld. In 2004, using milk from her partner Haske’s goats, she started making Killeen Farmhouse Cheese on their 50-acre farm near Portumna, Co. Galway. The main Killeen Farmhouse Cheese production is a semi-hard goats’ cheese Gouda, made from pasteurised milk and traditional rennet and available plain or with fenugreek. With curds washed and pressed in the Gouda style and with a smooth white paste, the 5kg cheeses are covered in a thin breathable plastic coat and sold from two months of age, when the flavour is fresh and clean with a hint of nuttiness that develops as the cheese ages. A cows’ milk variety is also made, using milk supplied by a local farmer, and it comes in plain, basil and garlic, cumin seed and an Emmental style called Kilmóra.
A holistic philosophy informs the whole production process and the running of the farm, where quality and traceability are paramount. Consistency and an absolute commitment to quality have led to awards aplenty for Killeen Farmhouse Cheese, including Best Goat Cheese (twice) in the British Cheese Awards and Supreme Champion (three times) in the Irish Cheese Awards.
On behalf on everyone at Easy Food, we would like to offer huge congratulations to every one of these winners for their continue contributions to Ireland’s food landscape.