In the wake of the most recent slash and burn budget, Wednesday night last at the Clonmel Park Hotel emerged like a glorious abundant mirage in a parched gloom and doom desert. All thoughts of frugality and austerity were forgotten for a few hours as the stands of the Tipperary Food Producers Network overflowed with epicurean delights; no shortage or lack here. Everyone was assembled for the Rachel Allen Cookery Demonstration as part of the network’s Christmas food extravaganza now in its second year and having all the hallmarks of an annual event.
It really is a fantastic showcase of just how good the food producing landscape is in Tipperary and on rare nights like these, when everyone comes together, you get to see the variety and quality of produce first hand. Some people loved the idea of sampling. It was a chance to taste the cheeses, enjoy the texture of the meats, and indulge in a cookie, cake or bread at the numerous stands in the foyer and hallways. Others equally enjoyed talking to the producers and interacting with the creators of the food they were eating. There was also a selection of canapés all cleverly constructed with local produce and bound together skilfully by Barbara Russell. For example the canapés included Cashel blue cheese piped onto Melba toast with coriander. There was a delicious Cooleeney Tipperary brie tartlet with Crossogue Preserves’ red onion marmalade. We ran the gamut of truly wonderful Tipperary cheeses on breads and crackers and even the crisps served were from the O’Donnell’s range: all serving as tremendous home inspiration for the season that is in it.
The main event was the cookery demonstration. It was ably kicked off by Sarah Baker of Cloughjordan House Cookery School who combined Inch House black pudding, Una O’Dwyer’s sausage meat, streaky rashers from Crowes Farm, chicken livers from James Whelan Butchers, masala from Red Nose Wine and her own home grown shallots and pistachio nuts to create a fabulous Tipperary Pork and Black Pudding Terrine. Such a rich meat feast made for a wonderful crowd pleasing loaf that when sliced through had jewel like textures and colours courtesy of the black pudding and the nuts. Served with a Celeriac remoulade that Sarah also made on the night and some toast, all agreed it to be the perfect supper or winter lunch dish for a hungry gathering.
Following Sarah’s successful terrine Rachel Allen charmed everyone with her easy manner and fuss-free approach to cooking in front of more than 400 people. I personally would have been on my last nerve if I had to whip up a three course meal in 40 minutes in a rather foreign environment while bantering with an audience and keeping it interesting at the same time. She is indeed a wonder and effortlessly she threw together a fragrant foccacia bread which was baked to perfection within 20 minutes. She then used black pudding from Una O’Dwyer, a Hickeys Bakery baguette, some Cashel blue cheese and The Scullery’s pickled beetroot to create a super starter. For the main course luscious thick pork chops from Crowes Farm were gently cooked with apples and cider from The Apple Farm and crème fraiche from the Compsey Dairy along with some sage from the Cloughjordan House Cookery School. Without any fanfare there was suddenly a rich looking plate of perfectly cooked pork chops lying in a glorious creamy sauce. And while all that was being done Rachel was casually poaching some apricots in honey which she put into glasses and poured over some fresh yoghurt and more honey. At one point she had about three different pans and pots going on the hob and the bread in the oven while she chopped and peeled and chatted casually as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Suddenly like a skilful magician and without us even noticing a starter, main course and dessert appeared at the front of the stage and she was taking a bow. It was quick, graceful and there wasn’t even that much mess left behind.
During the clean up Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine gave a wonderful informative chat about wine and food matching and the great value to be had from this local wine shop that specialises in sourcing great wines from small vineyards. I can’t urge you enough to pop into Red Nose Wine this Christmas as the value and quality really is quite unbeatable. Gary also has quite a personal knowledge so if you have any questions or need some guidance he’s your man. You’ll find Red Nose Wines on the ring road here in Clonmel but they also have a great website.
Finally the wonderful and smart Imen McDonnell delighted everyone by showing how to make real butter in a stand mixer. Imen is the author of the acclaimed blog “I Married An Irish Farmer” and also writes a much loved weekly column for the Irish Farmers Journal supplement Irish Country Living, out every Thursday. The butter was delicious, a taste so sublime that you might never want to buy butter again and the perfect small gift to take to someone’s home over the festive season. Initially they may think you are strange for presenting them with a lump of nicely wrapped butter but the taste will have them thanking you profusely in the long run.
And so the evening came to a rapid close with people buoyed up by the sensory pleasure that had been on offer. Once again the producers and the customers mingled back at the stands and Rachel Allen sat patiently signing copy after copy of her new book. Some people bought multiple copies, obviously taking serious advantage of a ‘one present fits all’ opportunity this Christmas and who wouldn’t delight in a cook book, personally signed by the celebrity chef author these days?
In case you missed out on the evening all the recipes that were cooked are available on the Tipperary Food Producers website and, of course, there you will also see a list of the producers involved and the vast array of excellent products and produce available on our own doorstep. As JRR Tolkien once said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”