It was a feast for the senses as Tipperary Food Producers hosted Great Taste Awards judging for the first time.
The spirit of meitheal was alive and well in Tipperary this week as the Tipperary Food Producers Network welcomed the Guild of Fine Food and a host of Irish and international judges for the Great Taste Awards with a series of special events.
Following Clonmel’s own James Whelan Butchers Supreme Champion win last year at the Great Taste Awards, the Guild of Fine Food took their show on the road and for the first time ever held the Irish judging process in County Tipperary.
Welcoming a whole host of food experts such as Charles Campion, BBC Radio 2’s Nigel Barden and many of the best chefs, buyers, restaurateurs and writers in the business, the Great Taste roadshow were given a true taste of Tipperary and a genuine sense of Ireland’s impressive and diverse collection of food and drink producers.
Starting on Tuesday after the day’s tasting with an evening at the famous Coolmore Stud, judges and guests were taken on a behind the scenes tour of the stud generally acknowledged to be the world’s biggest and best thoroughbred racehorse breeding operation. During their tour they were treated to a special audience with Galileo, the crown jewel of Coolmore, followed by a relaxed BBQ supper featuring local products such as the famous James Whelan Butchers burgers and The Butcher’s Daughter sausages, freshly made corn tortillas from Blanco Niño, breads and from Mag’s Home Baking and meringues from The Tipperary Kitchen, all accompanied by delicious wines selected by Gary Gubbins of Clonmel’s own Red Nose Wine. After supper, guests were brought to McCarthy’s of Fethard for some craic agus ceol in the form of the rousing Pheasant Pluckers who soon had the whole crowd singing along.
Aside from the evening entertainment and feasting, there was serious business to attend to during the day. The annual Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food, are considered the ‘Oscars’ of the food world and the ‘epicurean equivalent of the Booker prize’, being an acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink. The business of tasting is a thorough and rigorous one with over 1300 products entered into Great Taste 2016 from Ireland including cider, beer, tea, preserves, meats and cheeses and over 850 products were judged in Tipperary this week. The Great Taste Awards have seen a large increase in Irish companies entering the awards since last year alone, a jump from 157 in 2015 to 215 in 2016.
On Wednesday evening, following the second day of tasting, guests enjoyed a tour of the spectacular Rock Of Cashel and some traditional Irish dancing by local children. A five-minute stroll downhill and guests arrived at Chez Hans for a Long Table Dinner. Set in a converted Victorian Gothic church, Chez Hans was the perfect setting in which to showcase the excellent standard and quality of Tipperary produce, with a stunning and sophisticated six-course tasting menu.
The menu included pulled pork ravioli using magnificent Crowes Farm pork, with swede puree, almonds and lovage butter, followed by deep fried brie and beetroot salad with black pudding and watercress courtesy of Cooleeney Farm, O’Donnell’s and Inch House. One of the key dishes was a fillet of Irish Piedmontese beef, with beef dripping fondant potato, made using last year’s Great Taste Award Supreme Champion winner, James Whelan Butchers Beef Dripping. There was also Crozier Blue, pearl barley, cider and celeriac with onion marmalade and rapeseed oil from Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers, Longways Cider, Crossogue Preserves and Emerald Oils, and guests enjoyed some exceptional French wines from the Languedoc, again carefully chosen and provided by expert Gary Gubbins of Clonmel’s own Red Nose Wine.
Finally guests were treated to something sweet from The Apple Farm, Boulabán Farm and Lough Derg Chocolates and something soulful from the wonderful Kathy Nugent. Her dazzling performance of Broadway classics roused the crowd to song, and she even made a few misty-eyed with her rendition of As She Moved Through The Fair.
On the final evening, following three and a half very successful days of tasting new flavours, forming new friendships and falling in love with Tipperary, guests and judges could choose from four separate intimate dining experiences. Each as personal and authentic as the other, one dinner was served in Crossogue House and Farley Castle, home to the famous Crossogue Preserves, a second dinner in Inch House, home of the renowned black pudding, hosted by owners John and Nora Egan, a third in Hickey’s Bakery and Café hosted by fourth generation baker, Nuala Hickey, and the fourth in elegant Greenane House.
Guests and judges spent a warm and welcoming evening with their respective hosts before retiring for their final night’s sleep to Hotel Minella, who looked after all the judges throughout their entire stay with charm and professionalism, and in cosy comfort.
Last year’s overall Great Taste Awards champion, the Harrods Trophy Supreme Champion 2015, winner of a coveted Golden Fork and three gold stars, was James Whelan Butchers’ magnificent Beef Dripping. Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers is the current Chairperson of Tipperary Food Producers, so his passion for the area and his enthusiasm for having the opportunity to introduce these important international opinion-makers to the best of his home county were a major factor in this year’s judging roadshow decision.
“The judges, from all corners of the food world, have had busy days of judging in Tipperary, but have also had three evenings packed full of flavour, colour, welcome and fun in the capable hands of Tipperary Food Producers,” says Pat Whelan, Chairperson of Tipperary Food Producers. “This was a wonderful project to be involved with, and it has been made possible by the generous support of all the local and national agencies whose collaboration is immensely appreciated by all at Tipperary Food Producers. Our sincere thanks go to Tipperary County Council, Bord Bia, Local Enterprise Office Tipperary, Tipperary Tourism Company, Department of Agriculture Food & the Marine, North Tipperary Leader Partnership, and South Tipperary Development Company.”
For further information, please see www.tipperaryfoodproducers.com