In a year in which there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life, it is perhaps no coincidence that the winners of the 2021 Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) Food Awards reflect the basic foundations of Irish food, said Irish Food Writers Guild Chair, Kristin Jensen, who announced this year’s winners.
Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and are the cornerstone of many an Irish meal.
The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these oft-considered store cupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason.
The IFWG Food Awards are unique. No business or individual can enter, nor do they know if they have been nominated or shortlisted for an award. The Guild is the sole nominating and decision-making body, all winning products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be Irish grown or produced.
Of the eight categories of awards, three are headed to Cork and winners Tom Durcan, Kinsale Mead and NeighbourFood - three food businesses embracing traditionality in taste, method, and community spirit.
Now in their 27 th year, the IFWG Food Awards celebrate local producers and food heroes who have brought joy to the lives, livelihoods, and tables of so many before and especially during COVID-19, but whose commitment to producing great food and drink will endure long after the pandemic.
“The past year has seen a seismic shift in how people are thinking about their food with a renewed focus on traceability, sustainability and most importantly this year, supporting local. These have been the three key tenets of the IFWG Food Awards and the work of the Guild for almost 30 years” said Kristin Jensen.
“If this pandemic has any silver lining, it is the light that has been shined on the incredible, resourceful, and innovative food producers of Ireland that have responded to the challenge, giving back to communities and ensuring a continued supply of and access to the highest-quality home-grown produce.
“Today’s winners have an innate passion for food and their commitment is nothing short of vocational. This is our way of recognising their achievements and our way of saying well done and thank you.”
Despite, or maybe in spite of, the ongoing pandemic the 2021 Guild awards enjoy the continued support of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. In more usual times, the Awards are celebrated with a lavish dinner and a menu inspired by the award-winners themselves. The year, the Guild themselves had to pivot and produced a beautiful Ezine profiling the producers and their work accompanied by beautiful photography and recipes to create your own award-winning menu at home.
Una Fitzgibbon, Director Marketing and Communication, Bord Bia, said: “It’s fantastic to see such an innovative line up of Irish producers and initiatives celebrated at this year’s IFWG Food Awards. Seeing their resilience and creativity throughout an incredibly challenging year, I know we can be confident that our local food producers will continue to thrive in 2021.
"These enduring and respected annual Food Awards are an important opportunity to recognise local food producers for their distinctive and delicious products, which are the hallmarks of the Irish food and drink sector.”
Congratulations to all the very deserving winners.
The winners of the 2021 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards are:
- 1. Food Award: Abernethy Butter, Co. Down
- 2. Food Award: Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and Specialty Potatoes, Co. Louth
- 3. Food Award: Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef, Co. Cork
- 4. Irish Drink Award: Kinsale Mead Wild Red Mead- Merlot Barrel Aged, Co. Cork
- 5. Outstanding Organisation Award: NeighbourFood, Co. Cork
- 6. Environmental Award: Ballymore Organics, Co. Kildare
- 7. Community Food Award: The Green-Schools Food & Biodiversity Theme
- 8. Lifetime Achievement Award: Marion Roeleveld, Killeen Farmhouse Cheese, Co. Galway
Cork continues to fly the flag for exceptional food with spiced beef, mead and an online farmers’ market representing three of the eight awards bestowed by the Guild. Here’s more about the winners...
Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef
Tom Durcan has been selling his traditional spiced beef at his butcher’s stall in Cork’s English Market since 1985, but the recipe he uses dates back to his teenage apprenticeship in Jim Kidney’s butcher shop in Carrigaline. Tom’s adapted recipe involves a slow cure for at least a month in a salt brine with brown sugar and saltpetre and a secret spice mix that includes pimento, cloves and cracked black pepper.
It’s a lengthy and labour-intensive process requiring regular stirring of the cure to ensure absorption of all the flavours.
He uses local Irish Hereford heifer beef that has been finished on maize for three months to produce a particularly tender meat with good layers of fat. Durcan’s Spiced Beef can be found in stores and restaurants nationwide, including Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant, where chef-proprietor and fellow Cork man Ross Lewis is an enthusiastic champion of the tender, sweet-savoury delicacy.
Durcan’s Spiced Beef can be ordered and delivered ready-to-cook or ready-cooked, whole or sliced, and ready to pop onto crusty buttered white bread topped with caramelised Spanish onions, as Tom loves it.
Kinsale Mead “Wild Red Mead Merlot Barrel Aged
Kinsale Mead, established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017, is Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. Kinsale, with its long-standing reputation as Ireland’s premier gourmet destination and its historical trading routes to Spain, is reflected in the ingredients crafted into their white and red mead: Spanish orange blossom honey, local botanicals and fruits grown in Ireland.
In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead “Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. Kinsale Mead’s Wild Red
Mead Merlot Barrel Aged showcases the creativity, innovation, determination and attention to detail put into every drop of their honeyed elixir.
This mead may well have influences of Spain and France, but to taste it is to experience a contemporary expression of the original wine of Ireland.
NeighbourFood is an online marketplace where a range of local producers can sell what they grow, rear, and create. A ‘virtual’ farmers’ market, customers order online then on the designated day, chosen by each host in locations countrywide, collect their order of vegetables, meat, fish, sauces, cakes, bread, condiments, and ready-made meals. Started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty and Martin Poucher, there are now 40 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK, each with its own local suppliers, managed by local hosts who respond to online orders directed to them, collating each one ready for collection. Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste. Minimal packaging is used - another win for the environment.
NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.
In 2020 there was an influx of suppliers to NeighbourFood, which in turn provided further choice for customers who wanted to support local enterprises.
This award goes not just to co-founders Jack Crotty and Martin Poucher, but to NeighbourFood nationwide, from its suppliers and collection point hosts to its appreciative customers.
See the Irish Food Writers Guild Ezine here for more.