The Darina Allen Column

The Irish Food Writers’ Guild, which I’m proud to be a member of, meet occasionally to do reconnaissance trips around the country. We visit artisan producers to see their process and hear their stories. Our most recent Summer Outing was to the Boyne Valley and wow, what an action packed day we had...!

First stop, Drummond House, where Marita and Peter Collier welcomed us warmly onto their farm outside Drogheda, where they grow 5 varieties of garlic and several acres of green asparagus on their rich sandy soil. This enterprise, like the nearby Ballymakenny Farm in Baltray, was born out of desperation to find a different way to earn a living on the land and the family farms they all love. Marita and Peter told us the story of the roller coaster voyage of trial and error they embarked on to source varieties of garlic to suit their land and the Irish climate. Six years later, through sheer hard work and help from Marita’s friends at the Termonfeckin NS gate who initially volunteered to help with packing the garlic in their spare time. They now have a thriving business and have introduced the Irish market to a wide variety of garlic types and garlic scapes (tender shoots) which I’ve hitherto only seen in my own garden or in the Union Square Market in Manhattan Marita and Peter, like Maria and David Flynn of Ballymakenny Farm had high praise for the chefs who encouraged and supported them initially and continue to do so. Drummond House Garlic is now widely available around the country.

Ballymakenny Farm also needed to add value to their produce so Maria, who has a business background, and her husband David decided to trial some unusual potato varieties, much to the amusement and scepticism of their neighbours and friends. They now grow six heirloom varieties, Violetta, Red Emmalie, Mayan Rose, Mayan Twilight, Mayan Gold and waxy Pink Fir Apple plus beautiful crops of long stem broccoli. The chefs go crazy for the deep purple Violetta, the mottled pink varieties and the fingerling potatoes, Ballymakenny can scarcely keep up with the demand. It was an extra special treat to meet David’s parents, who were commercial potato growers in the past...

Our next stop was the impressive Listoke Gin Distillery and School north of Drogheda, where Bronagh Conlan gave us a spirited talk on gin production and the wide range of botanicals that can be added to the raw spirit to give it a unique flavour. Visitors can make their own unique blend at the gin school in the individual copper stills arranged around the edge of the room. At the end of their visit, they take home their very own bespoke bottle of gin, a unique and hugely sought after visitor experience for corporate events too. Loved the psychedelic owl street art which has become the Listoke Distillery logo created by Dean Kane of Belfast art company Visual Waste

Just a few miles to lunch at Tankardstown House near Slane in County Meath. Appropriately named after the original owner of Tankardstown, the charming fine dining Brabazon Restaurant is set in the 'Garden Village' at Tankardstown. It opened on a Monday especially for our group visit and the young Romanian head chef Janos Sarkozi (aided by Claudiu Gal and Duty Manager, Tadhg Carolan) cooked us a superb seven course feast, using his considerable skills to showcase the wonderful produce in season in their extensive walled gardens and from the local area... Such a lovely place (with a terrace for summer dining and a cosy open fire during the winter months), no wonder it is also a favourite venue for weddings... But no time to dawdle, still lots more to see....

Next stop, The Cider Mill at Stackallan. I’ve been a fan of Mark Jenkinson for several years now; he is a complete purist, grows a variety of cider apples in his own orchards, gently presses them in small batches in the time honored, traditional way between timber slabs. He makes five different styles of cider including his famous Cockagee name after an ancient cider apple variety that was thought to be extinct for over 125 years. . . Mark managed to trace it to an old orchard in Gloucestershire and has now recovered and saved it for posterity. Cider is the wine of our land and there has been a rich tradition of cider making in the Boyne Valley for hundreds of years.
Mark is the only Irish cider producer to make keeved cider, a slow natural, painstaking process which results in a superb cider. His tasting room which also houses his eclectic collection of vernacular chairs, hardening stands and other rural artefacts is worth the trip alone.

Carina Conygham (wife of Alex Mount Charles) brought along her gorgeous organic eggs and salad leaves from their nearby property Rock Farm and farmhouse cheese maker Michael Finegan from Mullagh Farm delivered over his Boyne Valley Bán and Blue goat cheeses for us to taste.... a new find for me and I loved it so much that I bought a wheel to bring home for the Ballymaloe House cheese trolley.

And there was still more, a whistle-stop tour of Slane Castle Distillery where Henry Mount Charles and his son Alex have converted the stable yard into a highly impressive distillery in partnership with Brown Forman (makers of Jack Daniels) After an excellent tour and tasting we sped down the road to Boann Distillery  where Peter Cooney had cans of several versions of Gin in a Tin for us to taste. At this super exciting innovative company in the heart of the Boyne Valley the Cooney family brews beer and also make non-alcoholic drinks, whiskey, and cider from apples grown in their own orchards near Tara. The Boann Distillery, named for Boann the Irish Goddess of the Boyne is just off the M1 on the southern edge of Drogheda and housed in an amazing building repurposed from a car showroom. Book a tour and tasting if you are in the area.

Finally we had supper at the Eastern Seaboard Bar and Grill. Jeni and Reuvans Diaz’s award winning restaurant across town in Bryanstown. Seek out this place in the suburbs of Drogheda, super innovative food made with many of the superb local ingredients. And not only did we have a brilliant day out discovering Boyne Valley Flavours but they sent us all off with goody bags containing samples of a whole lot more of the region’s best, including products from STUDIO Coffee Roasters of Bettystown, Co. Meath; sauces from Great Northern Larder, Dundalk; a sticky treat from Catriona Flaherty’s Whats For Pudding at Kilmessan, County Meath; and spuds in compostable bags from the Meade Potato Company’s zero waste farm at Lobinstown, Co Meath.

Who knew the magic that awaits in an area that has been hitherto been regarded as a mere corridor between Dublin and Belfast. . . It was an eye opener to discover so many artisan food and drink producers flourishing in this historic area... Well, take my advice and take time out to explore this intriguing part of Ireland’s Ancient East....


Medjool Dates with Boyne Valley Bán and Blue Goats Cheese
A tasting of Boyne Valley Bán and Blue Goats Cheese was presented to the Irish Food Writers’ Guild group by dairy goat farmer and cheesemaker Michael Finegan, of Mullagha Farm near Slane. Makes 20

Medjool dates
Boyne Valley Bán and Blue Goats Cheese (or similar blue cheese)

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse gueule.

Ana & Laura’s Kitchen Family Borscht
Very special thanks to Jeni Glasgow of Eastern Seaboard Restaurant for sharing this delicious recipe.
Serves 4
150g (5oz) beef striploin cut into small cubes
70g (3oz) diced onion
100g (3 ½ oz) grated organic carrots
70g (30z) celery diced
150g (5oz) potatoes peeled and cubed small
300g (110z) grated organic long beets
1 litre (1 ¾ pints) good quality homemade chicken stock
500ml 18fl oz) water
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to season
Oil for frying

NOTE: We use long beets for a milder flavour

First sauté sliced beet in a large pot, add the diced onion, grated carrot, diced celery and potato cubes and sauté until just tender. Add the chicken stock, water and bay leaves. Simmer on a low heat for 40 minutes. Taste and check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required.

To serve ladle into preheated bowls and add a dollop of sour cream, a handful of elderberry capers and a drizzle of salsa verde (if available).

Clare McQuillan’s Elderberry Capers

Pick & wash green elderberries and pat dry. Cover with sea salt and store in a jar for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks rinse the elderberries, pat dry and place in sterilised kilner jars and top up with good quality apple cider vinegar. These can be stored in the fridge for months and enjoy as you would capers.

Clare McQuillan’s Salsa Verde

Pick a handful of nettles (lightly blanched) sorrel, clover, broadleaf plantain & rosebay willow herb leaves - all foraged edible finds from the garden.
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 small handful of wild capers (elderberry or wild garlic is also great)
Whizz with 3 – 4 tablespoons of rapeseed oil for a tangy, fresh & wild salsa verde.

Violetta Potato and Scallion Salad
The delicious dark purple colour of Violetta potatoes makes this an impressive salad to serve at any table.
Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) freshly cooked Violetta potatoes, diced, allow about 1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) raw potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion
110ml (4fl oz) French Dressing (available on the Examiner website)
110ml (4fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (available on the Examiner website)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Toss in the coarsely chopped nasturtium leaves and two thirds of the flowers. Scatter the remaining nasturtium flowers on top of the salad.
Best served fresh but keeps well for about 2 days.
Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise. Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, eg. add cubes of chorizo, cooked mussels or cockles or even diced cucumber.


POETRY READING Ballymaloe Terroir: On Home Turf - Judy O’Kane
Judy, past Ballymaloe Cookery School Student, award winning poet and prose writer, is very excited to be returning to her alma mater to read her work and talk about her inspiration from Ballymaloe and beyond.
Ballymaloe Cookery School, Tuesday 15th October 2019 at 7pm
Slow Food Members €6.00; Non Members €8.00
Proceeds to East Cork Slow Food Educational Project

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