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Archive for May 14th, 2009

 

It's not just for breakfast either! Blackpudding with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar at the Emmet Hotel

It's not just for breakfast either! Blackpudding with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar at the Emmet Hotel

Despite our acclaimed cheeses, seafood, preserves and other artisan foods, traditional black pudding is the food product most associated with West Cork. I know this because we at the Fuchsia Brand do fairly regular surveys to gather information from visitors and shoppers about brands and foods they associate with West Cork and Clonakilty Black Pudding comes to mind most frequently. But I suspect that many people’s experience of West Cork black puddings stops there. Does this matter, I wondered? Are all puddings much the same anyway? This week, with the help of my 7 colleagues I set out to fill in a few more of the blanks on my culinary map of West Cork. We tasted 5 local puddings all of which are made with fresh blood. This was our first such office tasting session and I was quite surprised at the enthusiasm with which my colleagues devoured the plates of lightly fried black pudding, each keeping one hand free to scribble notes on the tasting sheets. I had thought that asking people to eat 5 pieces of black pudding unaccompanied would be a strain, but in fact they would have eaten more. Like wine tasters who don’t spit, a few of my colleagues were later to rue their over enthusiasm and will perhaps feel less compelled to eat every morsel next time. Black pudding in West Cork is made with blood from either pork or beef, minced meat trimmings, pinhead oatmeal, onions and spices. The oatmeal is left to steep in the blood before the other ingredients are mixed in. It is then filled into casings and boiled gently for 20-30 minutes until is has firmed up sufficiently. Cooking requires careful judgement, overcook it and you end up with a pot of mush. The blood firms up fully as the pudding cools. Unfortunately, nowadays almost all of the black puddings on the supermarket shelves in Ireland are made with reconstituted powdered blood rather than fresh blood, generally sourced from Holland, this can result in a grainy, crumbly texture. The fresh blood has a better aroma when cooked and a firmer texture. Butchers puddings are ususally made from beef blood because they do not slaughter very many pigs. Sheeps blood can also be used. Amongst the 5 we tested, Stautons and Rosscarbery Recipes use pig’s blood. Of course, black pudding is not unique to Ireland, but appears in different forms all across Europe. It is one of the oldest known cooked foods and t is believed to have been invented by the Celts. Black pudding or blood sausage can rightly be called a heritage food for the manner in which distinct and well respected regional variations have survived. In Germany it is called blutwurst and is often served with mashed potato. In parts of Germany it can be made with horse meat. In Spain it is called morcilla and can include other fillers such as rice, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, almonds. There is even a sweet morcilla from Galicia in the northwestern region, which is fried and served most commonly as a dessert. French black pudding is called boudin and the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goûte Boudin (Brotherhood of the Knights of Blood Sausage) in Mortagne-au-Perche, Normandy holds a annual contest of international blood sausage specialities.

 

Rosscarbery Recipes

This is the newest of the puddings we sampled and its creation is a very positive indication that the decline in fresh blood puddings can be reversed. Made by Willie and Avril Allshire of Caherbeg Free Range Pork, Rosscarbery, this pudding was best of the Irish entries at the aforementioned International Black Pudding Competition in France this year. It has a lower oatmeal content than the other four resulting in a softer texture. The flavour is full and well balanced with the meat holding its own against the salt and spices. This pudding is sold in plastic wrapped chubs and when cooked without its casing holds together well. Rosscarbery Recipes is sold in quite a number of supermarkets and butcher shops.

Ml O’Neill & Sons, Clonakilty

O’Neill’s black pudding is sold only from their butcher shop in Clonakilty and is probably the longest in existence among the five we sampled, having been created by Mike’s grandfather. Mike still buys his spice mix from a descendant of the man who used to work for his grandfather and made the original puddings. O’Neill’s is made in the traditional rings and packed in natural casing. It was the only pudding we sampled that is cooked in the casing, which some people enjoyed chewing on to savour the lasting flavour. It has a fairly open, coarse texture though it did not threaten to crumble during cooking. Although the pudding was quite salty, it was the clear favorite amongst my colleagues, none of whom had eaten it before but most of whom will now seek it out.

Collins Brothers, Dunmanway

If you haven’t tried this pudding before the first thing that strikes you is the size, being considerably wider than the traditional rings or the chubs made by most commercial manufacturers. Produced by James and PJ Collins pudding is made in a large size only – c.2 inches across and 18 inches long, and is packed in a plastic casing. It is sold in slices, either vacuum packed or freshly cut. James told me that their recipe was adapted from the process used by their mother at home – “At that time every house used to kill a pig and making the pudding was part of that. It was for home use but we knew how to make it then when we started the butcher shop. One thing that has helped a lot is the hollow tube knife for extracting the blood – it’s a very clean and contained process now.” The introduction of the hollow tube knife that James refers to has put the production of fresh blood puddings on a much sounder footing with the regulatory authorities and appears to significantly reduced the threat of losing this part of our food heritage.

Dan Maloney Meat Centre, Bandon

Another large diameter pudding, this one had distinctly more chew than the others owing both to the meat and the higher oat content. I’ve eaten this a few times recently as part of my weekend fry and have come to appreciate the balance it brings to a plate already overloaded with salty, fatty pork products. Dan told me that they launched their pudding 15 years ago at the Bandon Show and that the man who makes it learned his trade in Clonakilty. I found this a common feature among the butchers I spoke to and probably accounts for the high degree of similarity in West Cork puddings. There is usually one person employed for the task and he will have developed his skill elsewhere, the result is a high degree of cross fertilisation and consistency.

Stauntons, Timoleague

Although it is produced in a large, modern meat factory, Stauton’s pudding is made in exactly the same way as the others we sampled and is quite a separate process to main production activity at the plant. The growth in demand for their pudding from supermarkets was actually the main reason Michael Staunton closed his butcher shop in 1985 to establish a dedicated manufacturing and slaughtering plant. Fresh blood pudding making, is a tight process in terms of handling the blood and meat and is very much tied with the killing of pigs. Stauntons could not have grown the pudding sales without this new facility. The business is now wholly owned by Barryroe Co-Op who took a majority shareholding in 1998, but the puddings are still made almost exclusively by Donie O’Callaghan who started with Michael Staunton in 1967. “These puddings have stood the test if time. Nothing has changed apart from some larger machines, which make the job easier.” When I asked Donie about how Staunton’s compares with other puddings he told me that not surprisingly he doesn’t really eat any outside of work, where he’d “be nibbling away at a bit all the time.” The pudding we sampled is sold in a three pack with white and brown pudding also included. Stauntons puddings are also produced in traditional rings in natural casing. It has a nicely balanced flavour and aroma that should suit most palates.

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By the way, I should have mentioned this before now but Declan Waugh and myself are presenting on food security and famine as part of the National Famine Commemoration Week in Skibbereen. Details below.

Food & The Famine

A set of presentations examining our ability to feed ourselves in extreme circumstances, both here in Ireland and around the globe. Declan Waugh from Partnership for Change will explore the impact of Climate Change on world famine and will present a number of projects that have set out to combat its effect. Ivan McCutcheon from West Cork Development Partnership will look at our ability to feed ourselves in Ireland in a crisis situation, asking for how many days we could stock the supermarket shelves with anything other than meat and dairy products. You will have an opportunity to taste the infamous Soyer’s soup (by all accounts a mis-guided 19th century Jamie Oliver) and consider what would we eat and cook on a euro a day. 

2.00-3.30pm at the Co-Action Centre. Attendants are asked to make a donation to the listed charities in lieu of their lunch (you will get soyers  soup & crackers).

CONTACT: 023 8834035 or charmaine@wcdp.ie

The main event in on Sunday – for details of the full programme go here: http://www.skibbheritage.com/Memorial_Programme.pdf

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