Local food heroes are keeping it real. . . tasty
A butcher, a chef and a bacon producer are dedicated to fine 'simple' food, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
People are much more aware of "real food" nowadays and I want to focus on three people with small food businesses who epitomise the term. One produces and retails specialist foods, the second is a chef who wanted to make a difference to pub grub in Ireland, and the third is an artisan bacon producer. All dedicated to their craft.
In 1958 the German crane manufacturing company, Liebherr, opened a factory in Killarney, Co Kerry, giving not only local employment but also bringing in many German people to work over the years. One of these was Armin Weise who came to Ireland 30 years ago and stayed. He married a local girl, Carmel, and recognising the need for their type of food in the area, they opened their own business -- the German Butcher's Shop near Aghadoe -- now going for 26 years. This has proved not only enormously popular with the German contingent in Kerry but with local people, and many travel long distances to buy Armin and Carmel's produce, and even order it online.
They have a huge range of cooked meats and charcuterie, produced on the premises, and which are gluten free. They have Bierwurst, Mortadella with Krauterr, Lyoner, Blutwurst Thuringer, Pilzwurst, and even something called Gutsherrenwurst which is Landlord's Sausage!
There are meatloafs and hams, spiced pork fat, smoked pork fat, smoked pork belly, pork and veal sausage, smoked sausage with mustard seed. They have fresh meat products such as wild Killarney venison, boar, and a selection of duck, rabbit and hare.
You won't find any rusks or fillers in Armin's produce, be it fresh or pre-cooked. He also does a selection of gluten-free sausages and beef burgers. Armin can take ham or bacon and, without any artificial additives or preservatives, make it taste quite exquisite -- pure and simple -- just as it should be. Many of his products have received awards including his Kassler -- smoked pork -- which won a gold medal at the Blas na hEireann awards, as have his gluten-free beefburgers.
This is a purists' shop and, apart from his enormous range of viands, they also stock a great range of Maggi products including soups, and other German speciality canned goods, sauerkraut, red cabbage, vegetables, cheeses, and canned fish, fruits, confitures. Among other things, I came home with a lovely big jar of apple and apricot puree -- just that bit different with the roast pork. Armin and Carmel can be contacted on (064) 6633069 or www.germanbutchershop.com
Down at Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, chef Aidan McGrath and his wife Kate Sweeney, who are both originally from Belmullet, Co Mayo, have been making waves with their new 14-bedroomed Wild Honey Inn which they opened only last year. However, in a very short space of time they have distinguished themselves by being awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand 2010.
Aidan graduated from Killybegs Hotel & Catering College in Co. Donegal and then began his career in the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, London. He worked in a number of leading establishments including The Dorchester and The Four Seasons, did time in France and Switzerland, and before returning to Ireland was head chef at Marco Pierre White's L'Escargot restaurant.
Aidan says that when he came back to Ireland for Christmas and New Year he always thought people were having such a good time and knew how to enjoy themselves, so he and Kate returned to work in Adare Manor. He subsequently worked in Sheen Falls in Kenmare before being offered the position of executive chef, launching the total dining experience, at the Lodge at Doonbeg, Co Clare.
In 2008 Aidan and Kate decided to open somewhere for themselves -- "it has never been about the money, it is all about a lifestyle". They have two children, Levi who is 22, and Reece who is aged 10. They wanted to buy a premises but they had a comprehensive criteria. The desired premises had to have living accommodation, rooms for guests, a dining room, and a bar, because Aidan "wanted to do nice food in a pub environment -- it was a big ask to fill all requirements!"
However, they found their current location, which the previous owners had been in for 24 years, and so, the Wild Honey Inn was born in 2009. Aidan has a prestigious pedigree as a chef and he says he is still doing the same type of food "most of the recipes I have used for years -- you can dress them up or down -- simple good local food". He wanted to cook food he couldn't get himself in a pub, not typical pub food for Ireland, but what he thinks it should be. Daughter, Levi, is currently touring Australia but coming home for the summer season.
Aidan said she is brilliant with customers so no doubt they will have a great summer season. Aidan and Kate can be contacted on (065) 707-4300 www.wildhoneyinn.com
In Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, Pat O'Neill produces and wholesales old-style dry-cure bacon which is not only deliciously tasty but what you get is solid meat per kilo for your money with none of that old water seeping out on the pan.
Dry curing is the oldest method of curing bacon and, traditionally farmhouses would develop their own salt-based recipes and kept them secret for generations. It is a time-consuming process as each piece of pork has to be hand-rubbed with the mix and then put in a holding box for up to two weeks before it is ready for consumption. Most of the commercial bacon nowadays contain phosphates, the only function of which are to hold water. Pat says, "when pork loins are cured they lose 15 per cent weight by way of water, but the commercial products are pumped up by 30 per cent".
Pat was quality manager for a number of years with Slaney Meats, and was subsequently with the Callan Bacon Company, both of which do excellent dry-cure bacon products. He developed his own "secret recipe" for a nice sweet dry-cure bacon, with no phosphates, which would not be too salty and just three years ago decided to open up his own business.
Rindless rashers and loin joints would be the main products of O'Neill's Bacon. "The consumer doesn't want the collar and fore end any more." The consumer also nowadays wants a big lean eye on the rasher and a short tail, not much fat.
I, of course, like the tail bit best which appears to be what the chefs want too -- more fat!
Pat recommends that you bake the loins, rather than boil them, with just a little bit of water in the roasting pan and you end up with a good solid joint of meat. You can buy O'Neill's Bacon in farmers' markets in the south east and at Dun Laoghaire market from John Murphy. It is also available at Morton's of Ranelagh, Nolan's in Clontarf, Fenelon's in Stillorgan, A Caviston in Greystones, McArdle meats in Charlestown Shopping Centre, Drogheda and Dundalk, among others.
Pat tells me "hotels have fixed prices for breakfast so it is not always easy to get your product in" but you can now enjoy Pat's bacon at Kelly's Resort Hotel in Rosslare. The first consignment was ready for delivery when I was there. Well done Bill Kelly! The rashers are €4.99 per lb and the loins €8.49 per kilo. Pat is also now doing a new bacon trim product, like pancetta, for use in omelettes and quiches. Pat O'Neill can be contacted on 087 6779803 or email@example.com.
So, have you got a secret recipe that will enable you to start your own business? Don't forget your local Enterprise Board is there to help.