Friday 20 April 2018

Artisan producers take a bite out of the food industry

With the recession in the rearview mirror, these entrepreneurs really put the pedal to the metal

Bite at the RDS for Lucinda O'Sullivan. Dorene Mallon (Farmers Daughter), Graham Kearns (Graham Condiments), Biddy McLoughlin (Biddy's Cottage Oat Cakes), Tom Keightley (St Patricks Distllery) and Leoine Ferguson (Lainey's Handmade Foods).
Bite at the RDS for Lucinda O'Sullivan. Dorene Mallon (Farmers Daughter), Graham Kearns (Graham Condiments), Biddy McLoughlin (Biddy's Cottage Oat Cakes), Tom Keightley (St Patricks Distllery) and Leoine Ferguson (Lainey's Handmade Foods).

Lucinda O'Sullivan

It's been a really great year of growth for innovative artisan food producers around the country, and I have no doubt that 2016 will be even better. Over the past few years, I have met countless people, who, having lost their jobs during the recession, set up their artisan food ideas and began selling their produce at market stalls.

One producer I met four or five years ago, who was selling from a simple trailer, now has a 26,000 sq ft production unit. Restaurants, hotels and supermarkets have embraced and indeed boast of their artisan produce in a big way because this too is what the consumers want to see.

At the recent BITE food fair in the RDS, I spoke to people who had only recently come into the foodie arena. The first person I encountered was Dorene Mallon of The Farmer's Daughter, who is only two months in business. Aptly named, Dorene is selling attractively packaged beef burgers, coming from the family farm in Kells, Co Meath.

"I've launched two varieties of burger. The first one is a mighty beef burger and it has really good quality, fully traceable beef, a little bit of onion, salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of parsley. The second has caramelised onion and cheddar cheese," said Dorene.

"I'm a real foodie at heart. For the past couple of years, I've been working in exports for big food companies and then I decided I might as well try and do some for myself."

Dorene says the feedback has been amazing and she won a gold medal for Best Value Added Product at the recent Taste of Cavan with her caramelised onion and cheddar cheese burger. "I think the fresh beef burger market is growing. There are burgers on every menu in every restaurant, even Michelin starred restaurants. I think a lot of people love them but don't eat them at home. There are two burgers in a pack and there's a 10-day shelf life. It's early days and I'm not listed yet with any retailers, but every new business needs all the help they can get."

What's a burger without a bit of mustard or another snazzy condiment? Graham Kearns of Kearns Foods Limited, based in Slane, Co Meath, launched his business about two months ago, with the recipes for 'Graham's condiments for condiment lovers' having been handed down from his grandmother, Vera Graham, to his mother Geraldine, who is also involved in the business.

Graham's potent Dijon mustard has already won a silver medal at the World Mustard Awards in Napa Valley, California, being commended for its kick and subtlety of flavours in the finish.

"I was using a wholegrain mustard that cost about €10 a jar. I loved it but I could never understand why you couldn't get it at a more reasonable price", said Graham.

I can second that sentiment and every time I go to France I come back with 915g jars of mustard for about €3.50 each!

"So, that's why I started messing around and I made this wholegrain mustard. We then decided that we'd give the Dijon and the horseradish a go. It's 55pc horseradish, so a grade more than anything else on the market."

Graham laughed as he told me he was an accountant. "The rumours are true, it's very boring." Graham's condiments are retailing in Fallon & Byrne, Morton's of Ranelagh, Cavistons of Glasthule and a number of smaller retailers.

Leonie Ferguson started her Lainey's Chocolate Biscuit Cake business two years ago.

"We set up in Cabinteely and started supplying local coffee shops, as well as Thomas's in Foxrock and Cavistons in Glasthule,"she said. "We've moved down to Kilquade, Co Wicklow, and we also supply SuperValu now.

"I'd been making cakes for years for friends and family, doing quite a few parties, and then I decided to set it up properly. It's all the one product, dark chocolate biscuit cake, and we have individual biscuit bars. We do bite size pieces and boxes with four slices and we'll be bringing out a milk chocolate range after Christmas."

Lainey's cakes are also available in Fresh in the IFSC, Smithfield, Grand Canal and Camden Street, as well as Listons on Camden Street and Morton's of Ranelagh.

Tom Keightley, managing director of St Patrick's Distillery in Cork, told me how he and his business partner, general manager Cyril Walsh, started their business just nine months ago.

"We're based in St Patrick's Mills in Douglas," said Tom. "We have potato vodka and four potato gins, sloe and honey, extra dry, elderflower and a classic juniper gin. We also have an Irish whiskey. We launched the vodka and gin first but we kept being asked for a whiskey because our name, St Patrick, is obviously quite a popular name and, particularly for the export market, we hope it will do very well."

This is a new venture for Tom. He said: "We had three products this year at the Blas na hEireann Awards which reached the finals and were recommended. We got a bronze medal for our classic juniper gin, and a silver medal for our elderflower gin in the white spirits category, and we also got one for our whiskey in the dark spirit category.

"We are conscious of coeliacs and people like that out in the market and because our vodkas and gins are made from potatoes they'd be gluten free.

"All spirits, to be fair, would have a lot of the gluten removed during the distillation process but, nevertheless, ours are gluten free."

Finally, writer and artist Biddy McLaughlin of Biddy's Irish Cottage in Dalkey is making oatcakes from an old Donegal recipe.

Her interest in baking came about by chance. She is making oatcakes from her Donegal great-grandmother's recipe using whole rolled oats. "I had to do a bit of investigation, and oats are much older than potatoes, having been here for thousands of years.

"I make gluten-free versions and I make them with dillisk. They're not on the market yet because I'm looking for some wonderful American entrepreneur to come along and take me off my feet," laughs Biddy.

So, my advice is, if you have a great idea, stop thinking about it and just do it.

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life