I was at a lovely function on Saturday night last in Clonmel. It was an event called the Long Table Dinner which was held outdoors and hosted by Tipperary Food Producers. The premise of the evening was that an entire sit down meal, from the pre dinner canapés to the dessert and coffee, would be created using food produced by members of Tipperary Food Producers.
The brains and driving force behind the event was Pat Whelan from James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel town. (While Pat has his business in Clonmel, I can reveal that his family is originally from County Waterford!) Pat took the twenty or so producers involved, looked at their products and then created a menu that, while gorgeous, would be easy to recreate at home. The whole point of the evening was to show that you can buy local while still enjoying a huge variety of flavours. The other message of the evening was quality and taste. It was quite funny to think that I had travelled further to attend the meal than most of the ingredients.
At the dinner I happened to be sitting beside Peter Ward. While the name might not mean anything immediately, you might know his face from TV. Peter is the chairman of the Bord Bia Taste Council; he has his own acclaimed artisan food store in Nenagh and has often appeared on the Late Late Show championing home grown, farm produced food. He is very passionate about artisan food production in Ireland and we chatted about his concerns that the present economic climate poses serious challenges. Obviously the main dispute is over the price. He acknowledged that consumers are often faced with a difficult choice in a recession and when cash is in short supply we can be tempted with supermarket offers. He urged us all to keep in mind that by supporting local producers today we are creating tomorrow’s food industry (jobs) for the next generation. It is possible that with our cash strapped busy lifestyles we don’t give enough attention to the fact that the value of a product should be measured in more than just monetary terms. There is quality, taste, nutrition, service and, of course, sustainable future business to be considered.
Before the meal on Saturday evening there was an opportunity to mingle among the producers and look at what each of them do individually as they all had a stand at the event. Talking to the various people you just knew they were following a passion. Florrie Purcell of Scullery Fine Foods even joked that ‘love’ was one of the ingredients in her products. Veronica from Crossogue Preserves had a lovely story about how her thriving range of jams, marmalades and curds started with two small preserving pans and her mother in law’s recipes. Indeed many of the producers, from the cheese, sausage and black pudding makers to the meat producers, spoke about mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes and old fashioned methods of preserving flavours. It was highly interesting and made me wonder if the hair netted, rubber booted brigade of clean rooms in the larger food producing factories the world over would be half as enthusiastic about their products? I have to say I am a total sucker for people who love what they do and do it with excellence; it is a rare quality and when you find it, it practically shines. The Tipperary Food Producers are big on excellence. You can’t become a member just because you produce food; while you can be doing the same or similar to anyone else in the group, you must be adhering to best practice and excellence as well.
But enough about Tipperary, what is going on here in Waterford? Well, as it happens on Friday last the Waterford Harvest Food Festival was launched. This should be of interest to everyone as, let’s face it, we all need to eat. Scheduled for the weekend of the 11th to the 13th of September it might be a chance for us to get out and explore what is available in our own local environment. Looking at the brochure for the festival, there are some great events. I like the idea of a talk and demonstration entitled, ‘Slow Food on a Budget’. There is a book launch ‘Tales from the Home Farm’ by Michael Kelly at City Library. GIY (Grow it Yourself) Ireland is hosting a conference all day on Saturday September 12th and also on Saturday evening there is the Waterford Harvest Festival Feast at St Olaf’s Hall. I think this is probably close to the Long Table Dinner event I attended as it is listed as a “6 course tasting menu using local, fresh produce”. There’s a Picnic and Play in the Park scheduled for families on Saturday and a Farmers Market in John Roberts Square on Sunday. There are plenty of other talks and events, including a traditional Harvest Thanksgiving Mass at the Cathedral, so get your hands on a brochure and make some plans. Most of the family themed items are free. Let’s just hope that the weather holds up.
Also while on the subject of buying local, on Friday last I discovered the indoor market in Tramore. It’s a little oasis of food producers, craft workers and generally nice things to buy along with a sit down coffee area. This market is relatively new and has already triumphed over a few challenges, but it will be the consumer support that will see it thrive and grow. It’s well worth a visit.
All in all we can probably thank the recession for forcing people to come together and do things to light the spark of local trade. From local markets to small food and craft producers, people are being creative and getting off their behinds and actually trying new things. Nobody would wish a recession on any country, but if that’s what it takes to create this swell of old fashioned innovation then let’s embrace it. The key is we have to back it up with our own individual action of support. A word of caution though; excellence is the key. While there is a responsibility on the part of us as consumers to support local produce, there is also a duty on the producers for excellence. I know I won’t be able to do it with everything, but this week I will make a conscious decision to buy local and as we are constantly told, “every little helps”.