IN the 1980s the Twomey family in Carrigaline considered discontinuing their signature black pudding to focus on other business goals. After an outcry from customers, they realised just how popular it was, and turned it into one of the best known Irish food products on the market.
Clonakilty managing director Collette Twomey tells us the history of West Cork’s most prominent butchers and what’s in the future, like their new black pudding sausage and a visitors centre.
The food company dates back to the 1980s, but the recipe goes back to the 1880s. It was made by the Harringtons for generations, and Paddy McSweeney bought their butchers in 1969. His nephew, my late husband, Edward Twomey, bought it off him in 1976. I got involved a year later when we got married. It started as a butcher shop, but it was the black pudding that people came for. The name over the door changed to Twomey’s but people still asked for the black pudding, so we kept using the same recipe and the same secret spices. It was much loved and that was the only place it was made and where you could buy it.
A few years later, supermarkets were starting to take off, and we had an idea that we would have a mini-supermarket with a meat counter. We thought about giving up the black pudding. It was very labour intensive. It was difficult to make. We had a more modern idea, or so we thought. But people loved it. So we thought about it more, and thought we could take it to other places. At the time, every butcher needed to have its own signature black pudding, so we thought if it was troublesome for us it was troublesome for them, so we started selling it wholesale, with no label. Then we thought we should brand it, and we designed our logo, calling it Clonakilty Black Pudding, with ‘Harrington’s Original Recipe’ underneath.
Now, people work off of business plans and focus groups. We had to put together a business plan for a loan off a bank once, and neither of us had that background. We didn’t have a plan, but we did have a vision. It was that anyone who loved black pudding as much as we did could buy our pudding in their local shop. If you have a vision, you at least have a direction to work towards.
We thought, if we had vans driving around with black pudding, why not have white pudding and sausages, so we went to the test kitchens that used to be in UCC and developed recipes. Then we used to go around with Bord Bia during their events, showing people how to cook the pudding. So we were getting it out to more people, and they got a taste for it. We were in different butchers, but we would try our level best to get it to people if they couldn’t buy it. That might have meant putting it on a van down to Kerry to bring it to them. It might seem uneconomical, but that’s how we spread the product.
It’s success has been down to a combination of a lot of things. The people of Clonakilty have always been our best ambassadors. They were taking it up the country and taking it to the UK. And it’s about quality. We could have changed things to make it cheaper to make, but we never compromised on quality, and that’s paid off.
The pudding has become very popular as an ingredient too. What are your favourite recipes?
We’re really interested in seeing what people do with it. On Facebook, we are in touch with a lot of people, and they send us photographs of what they are doing with it through networks like Instagram and SnapChat.
Chefs love to work with it because of the texture, and how easy it is to compliment.
You can do black pudding and scallops. I’ve seen people use it as a topping for fish. There are black pudding burgers. Fruits like apples and pears go very well with the white pudding. You can adapt it very easily and it works so well with so many things.
It seems like a no brainer, but no one had thought of it, mixing our pudding and sausages. It’s already in Tesco, and went into Spar this week, and we’ll have it in Supervalu in a few weeks, and it’s available locally in Clonakilty. It didn’t take long to develop it. Our butchers are always experimenting with different things, and they test new things in the shop and ask people what they think. This proved very popular. It’s got a very good taste. It’s more chunky than an ordinary sausage. It’s not just a flavoured sausage or a small black pudding. You can taste both of them separately in it. It’s a very interesting taste, and that’s what’s most important.
What’s in the future for the business?
We’re moving our factory from Little Island back to Clonakilty. We’re very caught now for room and space, so last year we started building a new factory down in Clon. That will allow us to do a lot more. It’s going to give us a load of scope for new products. We are also building a visitors’ centre alongside it. We always get asked about visits and school tours, and we do what we can, but now we will be able to accommodate everyone.