Every year, the Taste of West Cork Food Festival welcomes visitors of all foodie dispositions and from all over the world to the region in a flagrant display of showing off! What would steal the show? The scenery; the beautiful weather, the abundance of food producers (many of whom are award winning) or the vast array of restaurants, bistro’s, cafe’s and bars all doing their bit to take hold of all the amazing produce around them and turn it into delicious tasty morsels for us to savour? In short, it is all of this!
At this years’ food festival I wanted to focus on the food producers. The programme for the 2014 festival was pages and pages long – it was hard to choose and prioritise. I decided to go on two farm visits: the first being Glenilen Farm in Drimoleague and the other Caherbeg Free Ranger Pig Farm in Rosscarbery. The fact the both of these farms were so close by was a bonus, plus I’d never been to a piggery before so I was curious to say the least!
It was a beautiful clear sunny September morning. The tour of the farm was starting at 10.30. Arriving ahead of time thinking if I would be the only person there, I was thrilled to see that the car park was already full and so I happily parked elsewhere and wandered on down to the dairy entrance and paid my €3.50 fee proceeds of which were going straight back to the Festival. At a guess, there must have been around 40 people there – a great turnout! Before we entered into the dairy, and to take advantage of the beautiful sunshine, Alan Kimpton gave us the full warts and all history of the farm, including the fact that his wife, Valerie, once dumped him to take up a project in Africa…before they were married of course! When, as Alan says, she realised that they were better off together they started experimenting with cheese making using milk from Alan’s cows and making a simple quark cheese in the kitchen of their home. Shortly after they began selling into farmers markets and the rest, as they say, is history!
From their 59 acres of land at their farm in Drimoleague, every one of their 55 cows produce beautiful milk that goes into making their distinct and flavoursome yohurt, cream, milk, deserts and butter. 30% of the products made come from their own cows, the rest is substituted with milk from other local farms that they know and trust.
The dairy has a built in viewing gallery giving a fantastic insight into the bottling and packaging of the yoghurts and deserts. Every single item is handchecked and handpacked before leaving the dairy. Interestingly the production is only running at about 50%. When we asked Alan why they weren’t running at 100% capacity, he replied simply “custom”. By choice, Glenilen does not whitelable products for large producers and supermarkets, despite requests to do so. If growing the business quickly was important to them, they could do that and be running at full capacity overnight. But at Glenilen, they believe that to do such a thing would go against their ethos and distance themselves from their loyal customer base. As Alan philosphically puts it “our customers like not only our product, but the way the company operates”. In this day and age of mass consumption and FMCG, this steadfast refusal to sell their souls to the market place is something unique and special. As long as the business is proftiable doing what they are doing in the way they are doing it, they are more than happy with slow steady growth and to stay true to themselves and their humble roots.
After the tour, we were treated to Valerie’s freshly baked scones with butter and jam or their amazing clotted cream and jam with a cup of tea. A chance to devour the treats and to natter on the lawn with friends and aquantainces, or to make new ones. A quick mooch around their veg patch to take care of the clotted cream consumption and we were all good to go and head off to the rest of our day. A wonderful visit indeed!
My second visit to a primary food producer was to Caherbeg Pig Farm in Rosscarbery. I had never been to a pig farm before and, to be honest, was expecting a lot of noise, a lot of smell (not all good ones) and a lot of mess. When I arrived safely after following Avril’s fantastic directions, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all my expectations were well and truly way off the mark!
With a warm welcome and an enthusiastic recount of the history of the pig farm and Rosscarbery Recipes (the sister company that produces and sells black and white pudding, bacon and sausages made from Avril’s pigs) we were lead to the piggery. And how quiet it was! It was another great morning, bright – a little windy, but dry and the birds were singing away. In fact, when I say that the primary noises from the piggery where of bird song and not much else, you could forgive my surprise! Where there even any pigs here? It’s so quiet! Then all of a sudden the mac-daddy of all pigs was politiely encouraged to leave his sleepy pit and to come and show us bystanders what a magnificent beast he is! Foxy, right down to his eyelashes!
The pig pens themselves were/are spotless! Turns out, pigs are pretty clean animals! None of the pigs are on their own because, as Avril explained, they are extremely social animals and they will get lonely if left on their own. They are also very settled, saying that in their lifetime they will only move pen twice. They like where they are and they are not so bothered about moving around!
Recently they had reduced the number of pigs on the 17 acre farm due to logistical reasons. The pigs are bucket fed once per day, so the need to reduce was to save time on feeding and to make sure all pigs got fed in good time. The pigs eat a purely vegetarian diet and are not fed swill. There has not been a vet onsight to deal with health issues with the pigs for 14 years! 14 YEARS! This is down to the healthy diet, the clean conditions and that the pigs are happy, well socialised, not kept hungry and that a great balance has been struck between human interaction and allowing the pigs to rely on their natural instincts to help themselves. This truly is a story of success in business being achieved through the committment to animal welfare. Happy Pigs = Great Product = Successful Business. It is a fantastic achievement on every level.
At the end of the tour of the piggery, we were treated to some of Avril’s Black Pudding Swirls (recipe here) and her Sausage Meat Fruit Cake for which the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Needless to say it doesn’t taste like sausages at all but is probably the most moist fruit cake I have ever eaten!
There were other events that I attended during the almost two-week long festival, but these are the stand out ones for me! It was simply wonderful to get a glimpse into these places that are usually closed to the general public, to meet the people behind the amazing products and to get a great insight into how they do what they do! If ever you get a chance for a visit to an artisan food producer, I would highly recommend that you take that opportunity with eager hands!
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