Seaweed, edible flowers, pasture-fed meats, dairy produce and stone-ground wholemeal flour produced at Ireland’s last working water-powered mill, are among the winners at the Euro-Toques Irish Food Awards.
What makes these awards unique is that the winners are chosen by Ireland’s professional chefs, who work with the produce on a regular basis in their restaurant and cafe kitchens.
Nominations are sought, samples are procured, and the Euro-Toques Food Council, drawn from the food professionals who make up the body’s membership, assesses each finalist on the criteria of taste, how it is made, what goes into it, and its environmental impact.
This year, the 23rd in the history of the scheme pioneered by the late Myrtle Allen, awards were made in five main categories – water, land, farm, dairy and artisan produce – and a further six under the heading craft, which recognised the work of smaller enterprises.
The Connemara Organic Seaweed Company, set up in 2012 by Noel Lee and based at Rossaveal, took the water award for its hand harvested kelp and seaweed products.
The land award went to Bumblebee Flower Farm in Drimoleague, where florist Mags Riordan began growing organic edible flowers as a commercial crop in 2015.
Castlemine Farm in Roscommon, which has been run by the Allen family since the 1800s, was successful in its category. The farm, now run by brothers Brendan and Derek Allen, rears beef, lamb and pork, which is dry-aged and butchered by their own team of butchers.
The Village Dairy, a family-run enterprise based in Killeshin on the Carlow/Laois border, collects the majority of its milk from farmers within a 10km radius and does as little as possible with it in terms of pasteurisation and homogenization, to preserve as much of its natural flavour as possible.
The artisan award went to Ballyminane Mill in Wexford, where John Murphy processes local wheat in his water-powered mill. The mill was set up in 1832 and according to Euro-Toques is the last water-powered flour mill in the country.
Craft awards were presented to six small food-producing farms, and gardens in counties Galway, Limerick, Dublin, Cork, Donegan and Wexford.
The awards ceremony, hosted by Irish chef Richard Corrigan at his Virginia Park Lodge in Co Cavan on Monday, brought together 150 chefs and food industry representatives for a garden feast featuring more than 50 Irish growers and producers. They are presented in partnership with EirGrid, which has supported the awards for the past decade.
Anthony O'Toole, chairman of the Euro-Toques Ireland Food Council, said: "As chefs, this is our opportunity to continue what Myrtle Allen started many years ago and celebrate those who grow, farm and produce with integrity and flavour in mind."
Water: Connemara Seaweed Company, Co Galway
Land: Bumblebee Flower Farm, Co Cork
Farm: Castlemine Farm, Co Roscommon
Dairy: The Village Dairy, Co Carlow
Artisan: Ballyminane Mill, Co Wexford
Craft: Ballyholey Farm (Co Donegal); Glensallagh Gardens (Co Cork); Gorse Farm (Co Wexford); Iona Farm (Co Dublin); New Leaf Urban Farmers (Limerick) and Garrai Glas Farm (Galway).