Crowds wowed by tantalising Tastes of Cavan
Food festivals are far from dead, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, as she meets with some of Ireland's most innovative artisan food producers
Some people are questioning whether there are too many festivals in Ireland today. However, if the recent Taste of Cavan was anything to go by, straightforward food festivals with modestly priced tickets are going from strength to strength.
Having been at the second Taste of Cavan festival in 2013, I was gobsmacked to find the festival had trebled in size - attracting some 38,000 visitors to its new location at Cavan Equestrian Centre and adding an estimated €1.5m economic boost to the area.
Our introduction to this year's Taste of Cavan was by way of a very special dinner in Gearoid and Tara Lynch's Olde Post Inn, in the sweet little hamlet of Cloverhill, not far from Belturbet, showcasing produce sourced from within a six-mile radius.
Gearoid and Tara opened The Olde Post in 2002, extending it in recent years with two superb New Hampton-style conservatories in which to dine, or chill out, with the paper and a glass of whatever you fancy.
With six very comfortable bedrooms, it's really lovely for people wanting not only good food, but to escape from the hustle and bustle of our busy world, and enjoy the superb hospitality, peace, and the personal attention they extend to all their guests.
An interesting fact, too, about Gearoid is that, having been diagnosed a couple of years ago as coeliac, he adapted a new approach to his cooking, devising ways around gluten. He is also writing a coeliac-friendly cookbook which is set to be published by Gill & MacMillan in 2016.
We kicked off in the front conservatory over a glass of Carles Andreu Cava Brut Reserva with nibbles of chicken caesar croutons using chook from Alo Mohan's poultry farm. Wines, throughout the evening, were paired with each course by Owen Murphy from Wines Direct.
Moving into a private dining room, Paddy Gaynor's beef was up next, in the form of a delicious beef carpaccio, topped with broad beans, asparagus, Parmesan oil and rocket leaves, paired with a glass of an excellent, crisp Italian Pecorino, Ciu Ciu Le Merlettaie.
We then had the chance to try McCarren's bacon, by way of a bacon and cabbage terrine with a baby leek cream, paired with Domaine Nicolas Maillet Macon Villages.
A delicious sorbet, which was attributed to Ethel Rudden's elderflower from St John's Church in the village, cleared the way for the next course - Felix Cropp's organic lamb, served in two elements - herb-crusted loin, and a delicious pithivier - accompanied by a cracking Bordeaux, Chateau Sainte Marie Alios.
Next up was a great rhubarb trifle, being served in a little copper saucepan, accompanied by an aromatic Bera Moscato D'Asti DOCG, which put a final sparkle in our eyes!
The evening finished off with coffee and delicious chocolate honeycomb petits fours utilising Eamon Hand's honey. theoldepostinn.com
Next day, it was down to the Cavan Equestrian Centre, where we met a number of food producers, including Caitriona and Rory Flaherty from Kilmessan, Co Meath. They produce 'What's for Pudding': three varieties of traditional handmade puddings - sticky toffee, lemon blueberry and chocolate - with no additives, colourings or preservatives.
"Having cooked for my family for years, I was looking for a new venture," Caitriona told me. "My mother came from Belfast and after she died, I was reminiscing about how we always referred to dessert as pudding - although all my posh friends called it dessert or sweet! However, the first thing I would always ask at home when I came in was, 'What's for pudding?'
"So that was my idea for the business," she says.
Nuala Gilsenan, from Bridgefield Farm in Virginia, told me how she had created a little sideline business at their family-run dairy farm.
"We did an ice-cream making course at Loughry Campus in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. We also got help from the people in Moore Park in Cork, so between the two, we got our own recipe right. It's egg-free, so it's suitable for younger babies and pregnant ladies also."
Nuala attends events and parties and says her ice-cream trailer and indoor cart go down a storm at weddings. Facebook.com/bridgefield.icecream
Gordon Greene, from The Wild Irish Foragers & Preservers at Millhouse Farm in Birr, Co Offaly, had a wide of syrups, such as nettle, hawthorn, elderberry, gorse flower, created from old recipes attributed as having "individual health benefits". Facebook.com/thewildirishforagersandpreservers
Melanie Harty had travelled up from Tralee with her Harty's Hot Pepper Jellies.
"I started these in the States 20 years ago. That's how I got the name Hot Pepper Jelly - because hot pepper over there would be chilli here, and jelly is jam. So, I brought home the name and started making them. We supply nationwide with Dunnes, and also the gourmet shops around the country."
She has many flavours but look out for her 'ginger hot pepper jelly' if you like things with a kick. hartysfoods.com
Elaine Coholan from Cork, and Jenny Synnott from Boston, set up The Dublin Cookie Co in March of last year, starting out with a stall at the market in Malahide.
"We cooked up a batch of cookies and went from there. We use American-style cookies, so they're crispy on the outside and chewy in the centre. And we use as many Irish ingredients as possible - in fact, the American-style cookie is even better with Irish ingredients, especially the butter, eggs and flour."
They're based in Smithfield in the Spade Enterprise Centre and are going into Supervalu stores in September with their cookie dough. thedublincookieco.com
These are but a few of the good people I met at the Taste of Cavan - and if you have a great food idea, get moving on it and I might see you at next year's festival!