A Taste of Wexford

A highlight of the year for the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, of which I am a founder member, is our summer outing – and this time we had a ball visiting north Wexford. The sunny South-East lived up to its name in fine style and we had a lovely day immersed in the food culture of the area thanks to IFWG Chair, Caroline Hennessy, and local food, travel specialist and chef Anthony O'Toole, who worked out a fascinating showcase of food and producers, focusing on the area around Gorey.

With Anthony and Lorraine O'Dwyer from https://gallivanting.ie/ as our hosts and tour guides, we first visited IFWG Award Winner and Blás na hEireann Supreme Champion Wild About to meet with Fiona and Malcolm Falconer, where we were also joined by Marisa Roche of Meadowfield Goat Cheese. After being shown around their wild, permaculture gardens and learning all about the value of many overlooked wild foods – and nettles, in particular, which are now growing happily in their polytunnel as well as in the wild - we tasted some of their range of sparkling drinks, syrups, jellies, and chutneys, most notably their best-selling Nettle Syrup, which is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (and has a great reputation for easing arthritis) and then made a quick visit to see where the nettle waste gets reused nearby, at the wonderful Dots Plots Donkey Rehoming Hub where donkeys are lovingly cared for until they are ready for their forever home.

On then to Salt Rock Dairy a short distance away, where Catherine Kinsella showed us the travelling vending machine that enables her to sell the pasteurised, unhomogenised milk of their own Holstein cross dairy cows direct to local customers in order to minimise the food miles. She currently sells fresh flavoured and unflavoured milks, and will soon be extending that to offer homemade yoghurt and butter as well. We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at Catherine's kitchen table, catered by Anthony, and featuring her milk, butter and yogurt, and vegetables from Anthony's garden along with a selection of foods from other local producers.

After lunch, we visited Tara Hill Honey, donning bee keeper suits (much to the amusement of all) alongside Michael and Anne Wildes to harvest some of their wildflower honeycomb. That certainly was an experience, as was getting to eat the honeycomb while it was still warm from the hive. Sticking with the sweeter side of Wexford, our stop at Bean and Goose chocolatiers in Gorey’s Ballyloughan Business Park saw us learn about their ethical sourcing from Original Beans, check out some experiments that they're working on and taste some of the original flavours that sisters Karen and Natalie Keane produce. Inspired by the Irish landscape and traditions, they make a wide range of bars including Gorse, Toasted Soda Bread, Umami Seaweed, Smoky Sea Salt, Salty Almonds, Sour Cherry Orchard – and you can visit the premises by arrangement.

Our base in Gorey was the Ashdown Park Hotel where we had the opportunity to relax over a glass of locally produced Jackford Irish Potato Gin with Poachers mixers (made in Dublin, but with a strong Wexford connection) and a tasting of beautifully reared and matured beef while we learned from GM Paul Finegan, horticulturalist Andrea McCann and head chef Andrew O'Gorman about the hotel's sizable farm to fork operation at their own Redmond Family Farm.

And so to the grand finale, the producers' dinner at Andrew Duncan’s gem of a restaurant Table 41 He cooked a superb meal using many ingredients from producers and guests, including Anthony O’Toole’s founding partner in Taste Wexford, Jean O’Connell, who joined us for dinner, in a tasting menu that complemented our tastings through the day. Once again seasonality and local – and, in most cases that means Wexford - were key. And, as always with this talented chef, there were some surprises, as in a deliciously innovative buffalo carpaccio with Mount Leinster raw milk cheddar, pickled baby carrots, basil aioli and hazelnuts, for example…

It was a lovely way to round off the day and, for anyone who wants to learn more about Wexford food, the Taste Wexford food tours, trails, workshops and tastings would be a great place to start.

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