The Darina Allen Column

Darina Allen

This month Darina talks about “an extraordinary fortnight of random events dreamed up by a small committee of super charged individuals” at the annual Taste of West Cork festival

I spent what I like to think were the last few days of summer in West Cork but of course in reality it was most definitely Autumn no matter how hard I tried to kid myself.

My ‘last hurrah’ before I threw myself into the Autumn term coincided with the Taste of West Cork festival, an extraordinary fortnight of random events dreamed up by a small committee of super charged individuals who are determined to celebrate and highlight what is unique about West Cork and lengthen the tourist season for as many people as possible in the greater area.

I’ve watched this festival develop gradually over the past 6 years, ebbing and flowing, but this year there were 188 events taking place in 32 towns and villages and on eight islands, an inspired mix of themed dinners, cookery demonstrations, storytelling, foraging, cocktail making, Ilen River cruises with afternoon tea...

You could roam with the buffalo on Johnny Lynch’s Farm near Macroom and taste the tender mozzarella, good enough to rival anything coming out of Italy. Learn how to smoke fish in Ummera or Union Hall smokehouse who scooped the top awards at the West Cork Artisan Food Awards. I learned how to save seeds with the seed saving hero Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds.

Over 400 people turned up to St Patrick’s National School in Skibbereen to hear Mary Clear, the dynamic founder of the Incredible Edible project in Todmorden. I went along to visit and met Alan Foley and Brian Granaghan, the people behind the school’s impressive and award winning garden.There’s a Geodome, willow tunnel, amphitheatre, wormery, composting area, insect hotel, raised beds...

John Desmond of Island Cottage gave a demonstration of how to make a classic chocolate mousse on the pier on Heir Island.

The artisan food producers flung open their doors and travelled to share their stories and their produce with their many fans. There were cycles and walks on the wild side, golf events, kayaking and sailing all connected to food and the beautiful seafood of West Cork.

In the midst of it all the prestigious West Cork Artisan Food Awards included Gubbeen Farmhouse and Woodcock Smokery, joint overall winner of the Awards. Union Hall Smoked Fish took the top award, West Cork Pies were also award winners, Newcomer Award was West Cork Eggs, and others included Mella’s Fudge, O’Neill’s Allihies Sea Salt, Claire’s Hummus, Thornhill Organics, Tess and the Glebers at Glebe Gardens, John and Sarah Devoy, Rosscarbery….see for the full list.

Susan Holland and Ian Parr, formerly of the Custom House in West Cork, came back from France to cook a dinner at the Boat House at Inish Beg – a ‘sell out’ of course and a nostalgic trip down memory lane for their many fans.

Glebe Café hosted Danni Barry from EIPIC in Belfast, we loved the meal she cooked as a celebration of the food from Glebe Gardens and superb beef from Walsh’s butcher shop in Skibbereen.

Visitors flocked into the West Cork area. Many events were totally sold out, over 400 people turned up to a tour of the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen. ‘An Afternoon of Michael Collins’ included a demonstration of griddle baking over the open fire.

Visits to farms – Glen Ilen and Devoys organic farm, fermentation and pickling workshops, beekeeping including an inspirational workshop at Gurranes with Trevor Dannann, a certified natural beekeeper at the age of 16 and owner of 12 hives.

Numerous cookery demonstrations and several food forums including one attendees described as ‘life changing’. Our Farms, Our Food, Our Future organised by Majella O’ Neill. Among the speakers were Professor Ted Dinan of UCC who spoke about the connection between our gut flora and the brain. Dr Don Huber award winning international scientist and Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, Indiana, USA, leading GM expert in the world who shared research into the effects of glyphosate and GM on public health, all presentations were recorded and will be available.

So many brilliant events to choose from, impossible to get to more than 2 or 3 into a day. Every town from Clonakilty to Bantry, Rosscarbery to Sherkin Island, Castletownshend to Bandon and everywhere in between was ‘rocking’.

Skibbereen is on a roll, one can feel the energy and optimism. There was something happening in every parish, every pub, restaurant, café, farm and dairy. West Cork was bursting with pride and justifiably celebrating what is unique and magical about this extraordinary part of Ireland.

There are food fairs, festivals and carnivals all over the country nowadays so it’s really tough to have a USP to attract an almost jaded public but the Taste of West Cork is certainly a model worth looking at. Congrats to each and everyone involved.

Taste of West Cork RECIPES:

Danni Barry’s Beetroot Baked in Salt and Rye with Goat’s Curd and Toasted Seeds

Danni Barry’s Beetroot Baked in Salt and Rye with Goat’s Curd and Toasted Seeds

Danni cooked a deliciously simple meal at Glebe Gardens during the Taste of West Cork Food Festival

Serves 4

2 large red beetroot
2 large golden beetroot
200g Leggygowan Farm goat’s curd

For the salt and rye crust

300g strong flour
200g rye flour
200g coarse sea salt
6 juniper berries
1 orange zest
200-250ml cold water

For the beetroot and raspberry dressing

120ml Broighter Gold rapeseed oil
30ml raspberry vinegar
50g red beetroot trim
Rainbow chard

For the toasted seeds

60g sunflower seeds
50g brown linseeds/flaxseed

Heat the oven to 200C.

For the salt dough, crush the juniper seeds and add to the flours, salt and orange zest. Make a hole in the middle and add the water in three stages, mixing until a dough forms. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Wash the beetroots and dry them thoroughly. Roll out the dough and wrap around each beetroot individually, place on a baking tray and put straight into the hot oven. (It is important not to leave the dough wrapped beetroots sitting for too long before baking, as the salt will start to draw out moisture from the beetroot and the dough will breakdown.)

After eight minutes, turn down the oven to 180?C and continue to cook for 40 minutes.

When ready, crack open the crust and peel the beetroots while still warm. Cut into five-inch discs and place 50g of the excess in a saucepan with the raspberry vinegar.

Warm gently for ten minutes and pass through a sieve. Mix with the rapeseed oil while warm to make the dressing.

Toast the seeds on a tray in the oven and season.

To assemble the plate, layer the beetroots and goats curd, and dress generously.

Wilt some rainbow chard in a hot pan with a little oil and dress with the raspberry vinegar. Place on top of the beetroots, then spoon over the toasted seeds.

Danni Barry from EIPIC Restaurant in Belfast


John Desmond’s Classic Chocolate Mousse

125g dark chocolate
125g milk chocolate
50g unsalted butter
5 eggs yolks
8 egg whites
50g sugar
1 espresso cup of strong coffee
Cleaning of Copper bowl
5g salt
10 ml red wine vinegar

Break up 125g dark chocolate and 125g milk chocolate, put into large bowl with 50g of unsalted butter, place over a larger bowl of boiling water. Separate 8 eggs, keeping 5 yolks and 8 whites for the mousse.

If using a copper bowl, thoroughly clean it with salt and vinegar, rinse and dry. Put 8 egg whites into whatever you are using and whisk until stiff, add 50 g sugar, keep whisking until sugar has dissolved.

Add espresso coffee and 5 egg yolks to chocolate mixture, gentle whisk until incorporated, then add a quarter of the beaten egg white mixture, whisk thoroughly, gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture. Put into a flat bottom container and refrigerate overnight. It can also be put into individual bowls. It will keep refrigerated for a few days.


 '30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013


Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolOnce again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2016. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.

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