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Oats are among the most important crops grown in Ireland and, while we tend to take them for granted, we should value this simple, wholesome food for its goodness, notably its special slow-release energy and cholesterol reducing qualities - and, providing they are pure (ie uncontaminated by previous crops grown on the same land, or during the milling process), oats are suitable for most people with gluten intolerance.
New artisan cheeses have been coming onto the Irish market in a pleasingly steady flow in recent years and, every now and then, something really unusual comes along. That can certainly be said of the latest cheese made by Helen Finnegan at the family farm in Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny, where the famous Knockdrinna range is produced.
Apples grow well in many parts of Ireland and the limestone-rich soil of Co Kilkenny, where Rod and Julie Calder-Potts have farmed since1969 (organically since 1994), is particularly suitable. Beginning with farm-gate sales of surplus apples, they produced fresh apple juice and apple concentrates to make wine - a product that attracted the interest of poteen-makers.
"Oats Produced from Ballard Organic Farm, owned and operated by the Lalor family since 1844" is the proud proclamation on the Kilbeggan Organic Foods website and it says a lot about the principles of stewardship that Pat Lalor values so highly, and which saw him start the conversion to organic certification in 1999.
Ronan Byrne - AKA The Friendly Farmer - is a familiar figure at Galway and Moycullen farmers’ markets, where he sells the free range meat and - especially - poultry - produced on the 35 acre farm outside Athenry in East Galway where he grew up, and which once belonged to his grandparents.
A surprising number of small producers are bucking the system at the moment, doing well in businesses that you’d never expect to succeed in recession. One of these success stories is still in the making in deepest Kilkenny, where Ger and Mags Kirwan continue to develop the Goatsbridge Trout Farm at Thomastown, building on the established success of their excellent quality fresh and smoked rainbow trout.
Gubbeen Farmhouse Products are made by the Ferguson family at their beautifully located dairy farm near Schull in West Cork. Tom and Giana Ferguson are the fifth generation to care for this lovely place, which is now synonymous with their beautiful semi-soft Gubbeen cheese - and, increasingly, the Gubbeen Smokehouse products made by their son, Fingal.
Guanciale (pronounced gwan-chalie) is an unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig's jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia, Italian for cheek, and it is a delicacy of central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio.
Triskel Cheeses are hand-ladled French-style soft goats cheeses and a semi-hard cow’s cheese, made by Breton woman Anna Leveque in a small production unit at her home in Portlaw, Co Waterford, using locally sourced milk. Recently recognised by Euro-Toques in their 2012 EirGrid/Euro-Toques Food Awards, the Triskel cheeses are already popular with discerning chefs and were nominated by Euro-Toques chef Michael Quinn, of Waterford Castle Hotel.
Glebe Brethan is a superb gruyère-style cheese, handmade by the Tiernan family in the lush grasslands of Co Louth, where David Tiernan farms the land that was farmed by his father and grandfather before him. Named after the founder of a local monastic settlement, Glebe Brethan is an unpasteurised, thermophilic, artisan cheese made from the milk of Montbeliarde cows, a breed which originates in the mountainous of the Jura region of Eastern France, where their milk is also used to make cheese.