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Not really such a long, long way to the best of Tipp

A really nice bunch of people gathered together at Inch House just outside Thurles in Co Tipperary recently to show me their produce.

Two years ago, these particular producers banded together to form the Tipperary Food Producers -- the best thing they ever did. It also gave them the opportunity to make new friends, both socially and business wise, and now they have each other with whom to compare notes on marketing, packaging and distribution.

Inch House, Nora and John Egan's fine Georgian mansion, not only has a lovely restaurant but accommodation as well -- great four poster beds! Nora, a former nurse and mother of seven, runs the house and restaurant with daughter Mairin while John and son Joe run the farm. The Egans have diversified with a black pudding devised from an old recipe of Nora's 90-year-old mother, Mary Ryan. Called Nora Egan's Inch House Black Pudding, it goes down a treat and now features on many restaurant menus.

Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers, Clonmel, is a butcher and producer of Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Wagyu beef. But Pat is no ordinary butcher. He is also a broadcaster and author of An Irish Butcher and a great PR man for Tipperary and its food producers.

In 1999, Pat took over the family business, which has been there for 40 years (the breeding and farming end is five generations old). The challenge was to grow demand for products and secondary cuts of meat -- so in 2003 he set up a website with recipes and demos. You can also order your meat online.

Pat believes "local sustainable economies can be the catalyst to actually lift us out of the doom and gloom". The meitheal system of supporting one another is very important, he says, adding that the biggest market is the parish you are in and the 50 parishes around you.

Another butcher and meat producer worth checking out is Crowe's Farm in Dundrum, Co Tipperary, who produce a wide range of artisan lamb, pork and bacon. They do great dry cured pork, ham and bacon, which feature in many restaurants. They also do courses such as sausage-making, and 'Pig in a Day'.

Breda Maher and her family have been winning awards all round them for their fabulous Cooleeney cheeses. The Mahers, in Cooleeney, Thurles, have built their herd to its present standard over four generations, with the first award for quality milk noted in their 1905 records. The awards continue today. Their Gortnamona goat's cheese is fabulous while Dunbarra is made using pasteurised cow's milk and is available in natural, pepper, and garlic.

Hickey's Bakery and Cafe, founded in 1901, is another fourth-generation business located in Clonmel and Nuala Hickey now runs this iconic bakery. Hickey's produce wonderful artisan breads and cakes which have people driving for miles to stock up. And whatever you do, try the Barmbrack, it is the best ever.

Another bakery business is Tipperary Kitchen based at Holycross. Here Annemarie and Brian Walsh use a traditional recipe for their nutty brown soda bread, using rich golden Tipperary butter and locally milled wholemeal flour. Try the cheese and onion bread or wonderful meringues. In Nenagh, Mags and Patrick Bergin of 'Mags' Home Baking,' make brown bread, soda bread, scones and fresh fruit tarts. All of their breads and pastries are handmade in small batches using the best of natural ingredients.

Also falling within the bakery arena is American-born Cate McCarthy of The Cookie Jar at Clonmel who bakes her cookies, cakes, brownies and bars, using the best of locally sourced ingredients. Giant cookies are her signature produce -- chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and nutty buddies -- while her Boston Brownies are scrumptious.

Apple Farm at Moorstown, Cahir, is serious stuff. The Traas family moved here from Holland in the Sixties to grow fruit and Con Traas has 60 varieties of apple on the 40-acre farm (with 15 varieties available in their farm shop). They grow four varieties of strawberries, three of raspberry, four of cherry, three types of plums and two of pears. They also make wonderful juices and in the summer operate a small camping and caravan park which is rated three star.

Fancy some delicious icecream? Well then, try Boulaban Farm Icecream from Roscrea. Michael and Kate Cantwell decided to diversify with milk from their pedigree Holstein-Friesian herd, producing an imaginative range of icecreams including strawberry, rum and raisin, fruit of the forest and honeycomb. They also do wonderful sorbets which they supply to restaurants, including Inch House, and will make up any flavours you want.

Sarah Browne and her husband Michael make delicious soups under the Browne's Soups range with a wide variety of flavours including broccoli and cheddar, carrot and coriander, a shrimp bisque and a New England clam chowder. They also make fresh pasta sauces, condiments and mayonnaise. They started out in 2003 and are now supplying many of the big supermarkets. Sarah says, "Having moved back to Tipperary, being outnumbered by our four children, setting up a food business and now employing 10 people, we are really proud of what we have achieved so far, and we're not finished yet!" They have received no less than six Great Taste Awards.

Crossogue Preserves is a family-run company based on the family farm at Ballycahill, Co Tipperary, where Veronica Molloy and her family now make over 85 varieties of jam, marmalade, chutney, curds and jellies.

To contact the Tipperary Food Producers, go online to tipperaryfoodproducers.com

Sunday Independent