Archive for the ‘Food producers’ Category

Sean, Elmar and John Nolan of Union Hall Smoked Fish

Sean, Elmar and John Nolan of Union Hall Smoked Fish



Between the dark evenings and the budget it really feels like things are drawing in. Commonly accepted dietary advice at such times is to prescribe a range of mood enhancing foods to beat the winter blues. I say commonly accepted, because there are certainly those, like Ben Goldacre who writes Bad Science in the Guardian, who rail against the medicalisation of food, which more often than not ends up in encouraging us to swallow handfuls of dietary supplements with our breakfast rather than take more constructive steps to addressing our issues. Anyway, I believe I’m still on safe ground in recommending Omega 3 rich oily fish. Omega-3 raises serotonin levels in the brain, the chemical messenger that regulates mood and reduces irritability. Eating fish to regulate your mood doesn’t lead to an instant high, but if you incorporate it into your diet it should be beneficial in the long term. Herring and mackerel have the highest Omega 3 content and now is the time of year when the West Cork boats are landing herring. Herring and mackerel are connected, in that they are caught in the same way by the same boats and can only be landed at certain ports – in West Cork these are Baltimore and Castletownbere.

This week I headed down to Union Hall to talk to Sean Nolan, a fish smoker who buys in locally landed mackerel and herring. Before meeting Sean I had a chat with his mackerel and herring supplier, Donie Sheehy of Ilen Seafoods in Baltimore, to get an overview of the herring and mackerel fisheries. “There are plenty of mackerel out there and most of the boats fill their quotas at the start of the year, the season is too short.  Mackerel migrate once a year from the north of Scotland down along the west coast of Ireland to breed – by March they are off Cork and Kerry. Some of the boats hold off on 10% of their quota at the end of March so that they can land mackerel in November and December when they are caught as a bye-catch when fishing for horse mackerel. The mackerel we sell to Sean are the same species that you can catch off the pier, but much bigger. Sean needs fish of around half a kilo with a high fat content. If he was to smoke the fish they catch off the rocks they’d look like sprats in the bag after smoking.”

Union Hall Smoked Fish was established by Sean’s parents, John and Elmar, in the late 1980s and Sean has taken over in the last few years having previously worked as a fisherman. “I gave twenty years fishing out of Union Hall, mostly we fished for prawns but we also went after herrings. When I was 17 I was making £1000 a week into the hand for the first four weeks of June. And at that time, we were in every night, there was no staying out. It has changed so much now, I’d never go back to it, especially when you hear about the hassle they’re getting from the department. This is still a fishing village, most people are connected to it, but I can’t see there being much onshore employment from fishing anymore because the fish won’t be there and neither will the work. The big boats now are staying out for up to 3 weeks and doing all the processing on board.”

The mackerel and herring are hand filleted at Ilen Seafoods and Sean soaks them in brine (salt and water) to prepare them for smoking. They are then hot smoked in oak shavings for 4 or 5 hours before they are chilled back down and vacuum packed. Hot smoking cooks the fish, unlike cold smoking, which simply infuses the smoke flavour and creates an anti-bacterial protective smoked coating. Union Hall Smoked Fish also produce fine cold smoked salmon, barbequed salmon and in the winter, smoked whitefish. Sean and his full time staff of 6 also make spreadable fish pates from mackerel and salmon. Whilst most of the fish is from conventional fish farms, organic is starting to feature more prominently. “Although a lot of the salmon we buy in is organic we don’t sell it as such yet. I think that all of the Irish salmon farms will be organic within a few years.”

Like any conversation these days we ended up talking about the recession. “It really hasn’t hit our sales. But I have noticed suppliers getting nervous about credit control. We’re buying mayonnaise from the same supplier for over ten years and always had 4 weeks to pay, with never a problem. Last week they rang looking for a cheque after 2 weeks! They must be worrying about smaller businesses. From our own point of view we really have to keep an eye on restaurants that are only open for one summer – we never seem to get paid for the busiest month – August. You be amazed at the neck of some people, coming back the next summer with a new restaurant having not paid us the year before. They’ll tell you things like ‘Oh! I was only the front man for that place, it wasn’t mine’ and they expect you to supply them again!”

As with many of the other local food producers I’ve spoken to, Sean emphasizes the importance of having good relationships with shops. The company do all their own deliveries rather than go through central distribution and Sean’s mother, Elmar, although semi-retired still regularly takes the van out for a run. “The person working in the store is very important to us and we put a lot of work into that. I’ve pulled out of stores where our product has been shoved to the back 20 minutes after I’ve put it onto the shelf. I can’t stand that, everyone wants their product to be visible but I’d never cover another man’s fish!”

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Plant a Seed

Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds nr Turk Head, Skibbereen

Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds nr Turk Head, Skibbereen

There was a time in Ireland when we would not have countenanced lifting a morsel to our mouths without first giving thanks to the Creator for the gifts we had received.

It was understood that life was a miracle and as such food was a gift from above, in which God blessed our toil in the fields. Now don’t worry, I’ve not fallen under the entrance of campaigning creationist Sarah Palin, more simply my point is that we no longer view food as a gift from something greater than ourselves. This is not just a sentimental loss but is also a fundamental danger when we turn the tables and start to play god with nature. The God complex is nowhere more evident than in the science of genetics, particularly genetic modification, the dangers of which have been well spelled out and thankfully for now kept from our door. Just 2 weeks ago at the Terra Madre Ireland conference in Waterford, Minister for Food, Trevor Sargent, gave a solemn promise that Ireland will remain a GMO free country. The real agenda behind genetic modification (GM) is not simply the worthy desire to produce a superior product but is actually to grab ownership of the means of production itself – the seed. Monsanto, which has 90% of the GM-plant trait patents, doesn’t need to own all of the world’s agricultural land if instead it can effectively charge a rent on land use through seed patent monopolies and the prohibition of seed saving by farmers. There is a small but growing movement to protect agriculture and biodiversity from this scenario by spreading and improving the practice of seed saving.

One such seed saver is Madeline McKeever, who is one of the founder members of Growing Awareness and farms 30 acres near Skibbereen. Madeline is giving a talk on seed saving at An Sanctóir so I called down to find out more about seed saving. “The problem with most of the seed that we buy in Ireland, is that it has been produced in hot countries and it doesn’t always work well in our growing conditions. The Pacific North West in the USA and Southern Europe are the most significant seed producing areas, they have dry summers and mild winters. It is hard to produce seed in commercial quantities in a damp climate like ours, but locally produced seed will be better adapted. My guiding principle is to concentrate on what works for me. If it works here in difficult conditions, it will work for others in this area.  We have a good climate for producing brassica seeds but it is marginal for other stuff. I could specialize and grow loads of brassica seeds but most of my customers are home gardeners and as far as possible I want to be able to provide them with all of their seed needs. So it’s important that I provide a range and that I sell the basic normal vegetables seeds that work.”

Madeline walked me through her seed gardens, introducing me to her plants. Many of these are the result of years of refining and improvement through careful recording and selection. At this time of year, the gardens have a wonderfully wild and outlandish feel. So many of the plants change form when they run to seed, stalks shooting sunwards as the leaves recede, tubers, pods and seed heads all ready to burst and disperse. Ordinary garden vegetables like the carrot plant were to me unrecogisable in their fertile form.

“I’m convinced that growing our own food is going to really take off. At the moment nobody is actually living off their garden, but in a post peak oil society we may even see people growing their own staples. It seems to me that very little research money is being channeled into improving plant varieties that can thrive without petro-chemical and fossil fuel inputs. I have a project going here with Andean potatoes; they have survived the blight this year but are not to everyone’s taste. I hope they will eventually cross with Irish varieties, and that one year through selection and interbreeding I could produce blight resistant spuds.” Madeline attributes her experiences in Growing Awareness as a significant motivator for herself and others to get working on solutions. Developing a shared understanding and consensus about the problems facing food production has planted a seed in Madeline which has taken firm root and is branching out. You can find out more about Madeline’s seed catalogue at www.brownenvelopeseeds.com



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On Sunday September 28th we have been invited to West Cork to visit Paul and Yvonne Johnson’s Dexter girls.These horned cattle are the first herd of pedegrees to be to be reared in their native West Cork for generations.Just 42 inches in height they are one of the smallest breeds in the world.Paul farms with his eyes and ears.No additives or feeds are used.They grow the natural way,hence the better quality tender meat.
You can confirm your attendance on facebook

Stephen and Sarah Canty of Food For Thought, are supplying a sumptious West Cork Picnic,with all local good clean and fair produce.

Please let me know if you would like the vegetarian option.

Wines from our very generous sponsors Febvre and company.
Adults €20,children €8,€15 for 2,€22 for 3
Bookings, Simone at Interior living,11 Mac Curtain Street, tel 4505819 from10am to 5.30pm,Mon to Sat.
I shall assist with directions at time of booking.
Looking forward to seeing you there

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Peadar O Lionaird of Follain Teo mincing oranges for marmalade

Peadar O Lionaird of Follain Teo mincing oranges for marmalade. (Photo by John Minihan)

I’ve been waiting  for blackberry season for a few months now, initially  observing  the profusion of blossom with anticipation but realising as the  wet  weeks passed that the promise shown in May would never be  delivered. With what  we we could gather last weekend it wasn’t  worth contemplating jam, so for the  next 12 months we’ll have  to continue relying on Folláin Teo…how bad! Their  jams are  great, I particularly like the raspberry and blackberry, which are  tart  enough to retain the full fruit flavour and aroma. Anyway  resigned yet consoled,  I recycled my stash of jars (I even had enough lids!) and travelled to  Ballyvourney to talk to Peadar O’ Lionáird about jam making, fruit growing and  the bad weather.
Peadar and his wife Mairín, started their business 26 years ago in their  kitchen in Coolea, subsequently growing through various stages  from their garage  to a portacabin to a small enterprise unit,  until they finally took on a  stand-alone factory in Ballyvourney. The business provides employment for 15  people, including their  daughter Máiréad. With all the bad news about job  losses, Peadar reckons that there is still near full employment in the local  Muskerry  Gaeltacht. “There is a strong tradition of trade and enterprise here and people who start businesses always have the support of  the local community.  During the 1950s when emmigration was huge, local people recognised the need for industry to prevent the loss  of the population and culture. We’re not dependent on any large  multinationals, all the businesses here are indigenous or locally  owned partnerships.”
Struck by the scale of the plant,  I asked Peadar about making the transition  from home production  to what they do now. “We wanted to bring what we had  developed  to the market but retain our core qualities as artisan producers.  It  has been very important that we designed the new plant around  our processes and  products, not the other way around. Almost all  of the equipment you see here has  been custom made for us and  people are still the most important element in the  making our  jams. We continue to cut, de-seed and mince oranges, lemons and  grapefruit by hand. I don’t know of any other jam maker at this  scale that does  that. We’re using the same recipes here as we  used with the six saucepans in the  kitchen. And just like your  mother might test for setness on a plate, we do it  visually too.  But a bit of science helps as well, by testing the ph level and sugar solids we know when to stop boiling and so retain more of  the flavour while still getting it set.” This taste quality was  once again acknowledged at the annual Great Taste Awards in London  this year, where Folláin picked up  awards for 3 of their preserves. “This recognition means a lot to us. It gives  creedence to the  quality we’ve got and shows that one can take artisan quality from the kitchen to a larger factory unit.”
Peadar gave me a  tour of the jam making process, guiding me through the sweet  aromas  and steam to observe the simmering fruit, the shunting jars and  an array  of ingenious machines that serve to get the jam just  right. Stopping over a pot  of blackberries I asked Peadar about  where they get their berries. “We try to get as much from  local pickers as possible. It’s been an appalling blackberry season this year, I’ve been watching the ditches at home and they’re turning back to green. But there are a lot of local factors that affect  the crop, so there are probably good patches elsewhere. We’re  still looking for people to  come in with fruit. We buy in any  quantity from about 4 or 5kgs up to hundreds of kilos. With blackberries, it’s best to pick just short of full ripeness, when the berry is still firm. This makes the best jam. People take great care of  the  fruit, spreading it out at home to remove any barbs or foreign bodies before  they freeze it. The wild blackberries are different varieties to the commercially grown ones and give a better flavour, more complex, less sugary. The greatest amount we ever bought  in from local pickers was in 2003 when 8  tonnes were picked and  delivered locally.” Peadar is also keen to talk to anyone  interested  in growing fruit commercially and in fact Peadar and Mairín are  at an  advanced stage of getting into fruit growing for themselves.  “The demand for  fruit is greater than ever, a lot more is eaten fresh now and smoothies have  really upped our consumption. Even still fruit growing can be risky and we  understand the growers  concern that they might be left with the crop. We are very willing to discuss a partnership arrangement with anyone interested in growing. Around here is not the best spot for soft fruit, when it gets wet, it stays wet, not like near the sea where the wind dries the damp quickly.”
Peadar and Mairín are continually working on new recipes and products. They have a huge range of pickles and savoury sauces that we rarely see in the shops despite the fact that they are equally well adorned with Great Taste Medals. “Because we use small scale stainless steel equipment we can easily switch from sugar based products to vinegar based sauces. Larger plants can’t do that. It’s so hard to get new products listed with the supermarkets. We sell all of these to the catering trade. I’d say there’s not a hotel in the country that doesn’t have at least one of our products.”
As I left with a few new products in hand to take home and taste Peadar reminded me again to put the word out that they are actively looking for blackberries from local pickers. So if the sun has warmed the hedgerows near you and you’re interested in picking a few more kilos, give Peadar a call on 026-45288.


Just found this really good blog post on Totally Cooked about blackberry picking. It has good advice, especially on jam making and avoiding dog pee.

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On Thursday last my colleague Jean and I enjoyed an opportunity to show off a bit of West Cork to two visiting Italian journalists on a familiarisation trip organised by Failte Ireland – Gabriele Zanatta from Milan and Massimiliano Rella from Rome. They were accompanied by Kinsale based Italian speaking guide Marguerite Condon. We kicked off at the Kinsale Wine Museum where we had an excellent guided introduction to Desmond Castle, the Fitzgerald family and the winegeese. From there we stopped in to chat with Paul McBride and Iain Flynn about their growing food business. I was delighted to hear that they are looking at moving to a larger premises to handle the growth in demand and get their excellent meals out to more shops.

Oriental clams at Fishy Fishy Cafe, Kinsale

This was followed by a delicious lunch al fresco at Fishy Fishy Cafe. I had the clams with ginger and sweet chili sauce (see pic). The two guys were very interested in the area and the local food, particularly seafood. Chef and proprietor, Martin Shanahan joined us when we had finished eating and shared his thoughts on fish. Now that he is running two businesses he finds that he cannot spend as much time in the kitchen as previously. “Part of my role now has to be teaching. The most important part of the business is buying the fish and I will never give that up. I go to Skibbereen for the fish auction nearly every morning and also buy directly from about 10 local boats. In the last 10 years fish has become a global commodity, it wasn’t like that before but now generic white fish can be flown in for a fixed price at any time of the year from Chile, Thailand or elsewhere.

Martin Shanahan, chef & proprietor at Fishy Fishy Cafe, Kinsale

Martin Shanahan, chef & proprietor at Fishy Fishy Cafe, Kinsale

 For me fish is a gift, not a product. It’s not guaranteed what you’ll catch on any trip. You must treat it like a gift. It’s very important that we support our local fishermen. If this generation stops fishing, then that’s it, they won’t go back to it and we’ll have no more fresh fish. What we’ll be eating will be like plastic. We won’t know where it comes from.”

We left Martin and took the coast road to Kinsale, pulling up at Garretstown to get a sense of beach life on an overcast summer’s day. This surf lesson created a lovely splash of yellow against the gathering rain clouds.

Surf lesson at Garretstown Beach

Surf lesson at Garretstown Beach


Anthony Creswell met us at Ummera Smoked Products in Timoleague and gave our visitors a run through the process of smoking salmon. Anthony is fairly confident that we don’t need to go to Norway or Scotland to trace the roots of fish smoking in Ireland. “Smoking to preserve fish caught in times of plenty would have been practised all around the coast. All you needed was salt, which we did import in large quantities. Of course the smoked fish they produced then was quite different from this. It would have been extremely salty and much drier to last through the winter months. They’d eat it when there was nothing better to be had.” Happily, the same could not be said of the Ummera smoked salmon and gravad lax that Anthony treated us to!

(You can watch Anthony talking to ifoods.tv here.)

Jean, Masimiliano, Anthony, Gabriele and Marguerite pictured at Ummera Smokehouse

Jean, Masimiliano, Anthony, Gabriele and Marguerite pictured at Ummera Smokehouse

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Things are looking bad for the future of industrial food in Ireland as the Dawn Farm Foods story continues to develop. There have been 90 Salmonella cases reported so far in the UK and eight in Ireland. Salmonella is not usually fatal in the healthy, but a one-year old baby has also fallen ill with it and a woman in her 70s died in Liverpool with salmonella as a contributory factor. This looks like a particularly nasty strain of salmonella, it’s called salmonella agona and is rare, accounting for approximately 1.5% of salmonella infections. There are about 12,500 cases of salmonella reported annually in the UK. It looks like the contaminated meat was used for sandwich fillings supplied to the Subway chain but it doesn’t stop there. According to the FSAI the product has also entered the retail chain via Kerry Foods (as a sandwich filler).

This is a terrifying development for a company that exports more than 80% of its output to 30 countries worldwide. It is terrifying also for the 500 or so employees who must be worried about whether the company can survive this blow. It is terrifying also for the food scientists – this is a state of the art plant in which an additional €28M was invested in 2006.

Chase the bugs

Dawn's Food Map: Chase the bugs

The question has to be asked as to whether science really is invincible in the face of the complexities presented by such a complex distribution chain, bacon zipping here there and everywhere (see picture), getting chopped, mixed with cheese  and being heated more than once. Are there any natural limits to safety imposed by distance, scale and the number of parties in the distribution chain? Questions also have to be asked about the quality of the independent lab inspections in this case: Dawn Farm Foods has said that food safety is its foremost concern and that it has an excellent track record throughout its 25 years in operation. “All of the company’s products are tested prior to release to the market,” a spokeswoman said. “Rigorous externally-run tests and regular audits are also conducted to ensure that its products meet the highest standards as required by customers, the Department of Agriculture and Food Safety Authorities both in Ireland and the UK.” With all this testing, how did this happen?

But above all questions have to be asked about food policy in Ireland – as a nation are we really aiming to be a low-cost ingredients supplier? Are we the back-end of the Fast Food Nation? This story hurts the image of Irish food around the world. So much investment in education, capital, research and mointoring has been poured into developing the industrial food sector in Ireland, but is it working?

For more on the story see here and here

Check out this post by Good Food Hunting on another current meat scare, this time in the US. And have a look at this site if you’re in the mood for a fright – http://foodsafetychat.blogspot.com

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Anthony Creswell of Ummera Smoked Products, Timoleague

Anthony Creswell, Ummera Smoked Products, Timoleague

Thanks to Anthony Creswell at Ummera Smoked Products, Timoleague for sending me news of his success at the Great Taste Awards. Anthony is celebrating after winning two prestigious Great Taste Awards. Ummera has been presented with a much-desired Gold Great Taste Award for its Smoked Chicken (2 Stars) and its Organic Gravadlax (1 Star). The Great Taste Awards, which is organised by the Guild of Fine Food and often referred to as the Oscars of the food industry, is this year celebrating its 15th

anniversary. West Cork food producers have always appeared on the honours list and this year is no exception with 5 enterprises in total recognized. Follain Teo in Ballyvourney won awards for their orange marmalade and their strawberry jam. Gubbeen Farmhouse won three awards for Smoked Streaky Bacon, Vension Salami and Ham. Mella’s  Fudge was likewise presented with 3 awards for butter fudge, rum & raisin fudge and walnut fudge. And Gwen’s Chocolates won an award for Dark Chocolate with fresh lavender. Well done and congratulations to one and all! 







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Frank and Martin Flemming aboard Providence II in Crosshaven


I met Frank Fleming and his brother Martin on their boat in Crosshaven as they finished cleaning down from 2 days of trawling for prawns. The rough seas had abated temporarily to allow the excursion but the winds had returned reinvigorated from the south east bearing rain. Frank and Martin fish a 15m vessel that they brought back from Barra in the Outer Hebrides 5 years ago in what Frank describes as “a long trip”. Typical of most Irish trawlers, the Providence II is a twin rig vessel, towing 2 small nets at a time… and has its own on-board ice machine. They land daily in the winter, staying out a bit longer in the summer to make only 2 trips a week – “We land regularly so that the quality of the fish is high. We sell all our fish through Union Hall Fishermans Co-Op, they have large markets developed and so can take everything we have. So as we’re fishing I put in a call for a truck, like yesterday afternoon I booked a truck for 1 o’clock this morning. We clean, gut and ice the fish at sea and then transfer it straight to the truck on the pier.”

Frank, who is originally from Turners Cross in Cork City, explains how he first got involved in trawling 24 years ago. “Fishing grew out of a hobby for us. Myself and Martin were coming down here to Crosshaven to go angling and we got our own commercial vessel. That hobby aspect has been left behind at this stage. It’s a job but also a way of life and I can enjoy a good day when everything is going well.” Although Frank has since moved to Schull with his wife Katie, he continues to fish out of Crosshaven. He explains to me that the depth of knowledge they have built up about the sea bottom and the local fishing grounds more than outweighs the daily commute.

In fact, the commute doesn’t even warrant a mention on the list of challenges and frustrations facing Frank in fishing. “Fishing is going through a difficult period, particularly due to the high fuel costs. We’ve got into a mess with the quotas too. The truth is we just don’t have enough quota, it’s not that the fish aren’t there. After 24 years fishing, for the first time in my career we are dumping mature fish due to lack of quota. I could understand these regulations if it were limiting our catches for conservation reasons, but when foreign vessels fishing alongside us can retain these fish legitimately, it is obvious that our problems stem from failures in both the management structures and policy makers that have presided over our industry for the 20 years. 15 years ago when the EU agreements were being negotiated, we were unaware of what was happening over our heads. We minded our own business and fished our vessels, oblivious to policies being drafted that would have such an effect on our lives. We’ve had the log books on board for years but they weren’t examined and quotas we not really enforced. The result was that when we were negotiating our share of the catch, we just didn’t have the fish we were landing on paper. Now the French can catch 10 times our cod quota in Irish waters. It’s not because of a shortage of fish but a historic shortage of paperwork. Hopefully, in light of recent events we will be able to work with relevant government departments and stakeholders to improve access to the resource for the future.”

The brothers specialise in prawns which they fish along the south coast, anywhere from 5-70 miles offshore. “Ireland has a very big quota for prawns and it’s a very sustainable fishery. They live in muddy ground and come out to feed after rough weather when the water has been stirred up. When it settles down in calm weather they dig in and don’t feed. There’s a great balance in this, they get a chance to recover. We could sometimes go a month in the summer without prawns, not because they’re fished out but because they’re in their burrows. We catch prawns on exactly the same grounds now as 20 years ago, proving the sustainability of this stock.” This reminded me of Sally Barnes advice last week on sustainable seafood eating requiring a spread along the food chain, we can’t just eat the large predatory fish. Frank tells me that cod stocks are recovering well too in response to the voluntary observation of the Cod Box. “The coast of the South East of Ireland is incredibly important as a cod breeding ground. It seemed unethical to see the fish being caught full of eggs. They were very slow moving and easy to catch and so were targeted at that time of year. But for the last few years thanks to a voluntary code of practice no-one from any country fishes the Cod Box in the spawning season. Now there are lots of cod though unfortunately as I’ve said unlike the French we don’t have the quota to catch them.”

Frank is particularly optimistic about a new voluntary sustainable fishing scheme that is being facilitated by BIM with the involvement of West Cork LEADER Co-op. “The Seafood EMS will be an opportunity for West Cork boats selling to Union Hall Fisherman’s Co-Op to get the Fuchsia Brand for their fish. We will have 10 boats ready to adopt the scheme in September. It basically involves 3 sets of principles – Q.P.R – quality, provenance and responsibility. These fit very well with Fuchsia as well. Quality is about the handling of fish on board, gutting and icing immediately and excellent hygiene practices. Provenance is about it coming from West Cork, it’s guaranteed Irish. This is to help differentiate our fish. I don’t want to go slamming imports. Trying to sell a negative message about fish coming in or unsustainable practices will damage the appeal of fish to the consumer. But without a scheme like this it’s very hard to tell people what to eat rather than what not to eat. Martin Shanahan of Fishy Fishy in Kinsale is involved with the scheme and will help to champion a quality product. Responsibility is about care for the environment. The boats will recycle their oil, dispose of waste at onshore facilities and also help clean up the seas for other users like anglers and yachts by gathering debris and so on.”

“The Seafood EMS should also shift our relationship with the regulatory bodies. The boats in the scheme can effectively set the agenda for good practice and get away from adversarial roles. The new levels of compliance being sought on all boats are driving people out of business and most fishermen need a more reasonable and constructive approach. This scheme can help with that.”

Frank hopes that the scheme and the Fuchsia Brand can help fishermen market at a higher level, but it is not all about getting a higher price. “In the last few weeks we’ve seen a lot of positive public opinion about fishing. It’s very important that we demonstrate to the public at large that we are operating in a responsible manner. It is only then that we can make our case.” Well, Frank certainly made that case to me and I was delighted when as I left he offered to take me out fishing to see what a day’s trawling is like. More about this anon, in the meantime, if you’d like to hear more from Frank Fleming, he’ll be speaking at the Taste of West Cork Festival in Skibbereen in September as part of the Stories from the Soil, Stories form the Sea event.


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Sally Barnes, Fish Smoker, Castletownshend

In the last few weeks fishermen have quite rightly forced their way to the top of the agenda in discussions about how we feed ourselves. With their backs to the wall, they have turned their anger to resolved action and their internal disagreements to a unified campaign. We are hearing a clear and reasonable message and seeing a campaign to win the public over. They appear to making some headway with the EU on a short-term aid package and have also impressed their message on the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, which has acknowledged the need for a “fresh start”. But the big problems won’t go away overnight – what can be done to reduce the cost and usage of oil? How can we manage our fisheries sustainably so that they provide a good living now and into the future? What do we as consumers need to be aware of when buying fish? Are there some fish that we just can’t afford to eat?


I wanted some answers and if I’m honest I wanted someone to hold my hand and tell me it would be alright. I wanted to hear that there was light at the end of the tunnel and some interesting new things to eat. So I decided to chat to Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in Castletownshend, because I knew these questions affected her, but the first thing Sally asked me was if I could get used to eating jellyfish. Whatever way you look at it there aren’t too many bright lights on the horizon.


Sally has been a fish smoker since she acquired a mini-kiln as part settlement of a bad-debt in 1981. She learned this ancient food preserving craft by trial and error, at the time having easy access to fish from her husband, a commercial fisherman. “I experimented with my own palate and the palates of many of my friends”.  Over the years Sally grew Woodcock Smokery into a business that made a valuable contribution to the local economy, employing 6 people full time at its peak and providing a good outlet for local salmon fishermen. She has won international acclaim as a fish smoker, notably winning the Supreme Champion award across all food categories at the Great Taste Awards in London in 2006. But the salmon fishery is now closed and without local salmon Woodcock Smokery can only provide 2 part time jobs. In the short term Sally is sourcing salmon from sustainable sea fisheries in Scotland but in the medium term she plans to retrain and pursue a career in mediation.


Sally will only work with wild fish, ideally landed locally and is very set against fish farming as it is generally practiced. Apart from salmon, she smokes a wide range of fish including mackerel, herring, tuna and haddock. But Woodcock Smokery is not about scale and cannot compete on price at the lower end of the market. What makes Sally’s smoked fish worthy of its luxury tag is the difference in taste and texture achieved from the time that she and her skilled team spend preparing it. Everything is done by hand, and there are no shortcuts. Wild salmon, in particular, rewards this extra attention and Sally’s customers around the globe recognise that. “I’m very glad I’m small because I can be flexible and work with the freshest fish available. I have customers who value that and will take what I produce. It’s getting harder to get really fresh fish though because most of the boats are now landing only once a week. Most of the time I can’t get fresh haddock, it may have been caught and kept on ice for five days at sea before it’s landed. In fairness the co-op auction officers in Skibbereen and Castletownbere are a big help, I trust their information on what is fresh. My job is to preserve fish but if it’s already 5 days old it needs to eaten right away, not preserved. So, instead of haddock I’m trying pollock which is caught inshore locally. It would great if we had an active fleet of half-deckers, small boats that would land every night. To make sure that they didn’t have to travel too far we’d need protected nursery areas for the fish stocks, maybe 6 mile no fishing zones. We also need flexible chefs and fishmongers who are willing to work with whatever is available and fresh. Most restaurants have a set menu and so if they’re going to have cod or turbot every day they need to the buy frozen imported variety.”


Commenting on the current regime that fishermen have to work within, Sally told me, “the strict enforcement of quotas at present makes no sense. Perfectly good fish that come up in nets are being thrown back dead rather than landed. Then when they do land the fish allowed under their quota, they face competition from imports. I spoke to a fisherman last week who had to sell turbot at €10.50/kg! A ridiculous price, but it’s hard to get buyers interested when they can guarantee a continuous flow of imported farmed turbot at €12/kg.” Woodcock Smokery also needs continuity in supplies, but Sally does this by maintaining a stock of fish that she freezes at a nearby plant in Baltimore. She has a lot of money tied up in stock which for a small business presents cashflow challenges. However, being part of a fishing community, she is very attuned to the needs of her neighbours “Fishermen have to be paid week on week, some processors try to pay for their salmon at the end of the season, but a fishing household needs regular income.” Sally believes that it will be possible in time to restore salmon fisheries in Ireland. To achieve this in West Cork will require the establishment of a few up-river hatchery sites which Sally is currently campaigning for.


At this point the conversation turned once again to jellyfish. “If we continue to just grab fish from only one level in the food chain then we create an imbalance, a vacuum and something else will come in to replace it, something that we don’t have a use for, like jellyfish. We need to balance our consumption over the food chain and eat fish that are lower down. One fish I am looking forward to smoking later in the year are sprats. They are delicious and because they’re so young they’ve no contaminants and so are very good for us.”

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Iain Flynn of McBride & Flynn, Kinsale

Iain Flynn of McBride & Flynn, Kinsale

Through all the great years of the Good Food Circle in Kinsale it had always puzzled us at Fuchsia why the area remained a blank on our maps of food producers. The gourmet capital of Ireland heaved with culinary talent and energy but you wouldn’t find the name Kinsale in your fridge or cupboard. Gladly in the last 2 years this anomaly has really begun to rectify itself and the key catalyst has been the Tuesday farmers market. This week I met with Iain Flynn of McBride and Flynn, an enterprise that draws together the strengths of the town, pairing the culinary flair of chef Paul McBride with Iain’s skills, appetite for work and determination to succeed.




The business started with jams and chutneys, which the pair produced on their days off from Acton’s Hotel where Paul had taken Iain on an as an apprentice. Their plan was to sell from the hotel and a few local shops but then the farmers market opened in 2006 – “We said we’d come down and try it out for a laugh. And we were there on the first day and doing fine with our preserves, but we looked at each other and said we’re both chefs, we’re good at cooking for people let’s do more and use our skills.” So to their stall they added pates, dressings, quiches and meals, like beef stroganoff, chicken a la king, pepper beef and Thai curry. The range changes over time in response to feedback and requests from their customers. “I love the feedback at the market; once you build up a relationship with people they are comfortable being really honest. It’s also great to see people sitting down to enjoy our food, which they can do at the Kinsale and Blackrock markets. When you sell to shops the only feedback you get is how many are on the shelf at the end of the week.”


The markets have also been important for Iain in sourcing produce. “We try our utmost to use local produce. I buy most of our vegetables from guys at the markets, they know what’s good and I know where it has come from. It also puts a bit of pressure on me because I want to get the best out of their ingredients and do justice to the work they’ve put into growing them. As chefs we’re part of a chain not the sole creators. We buy our beef from O’Connells at the Lough, they really look after their meat, no shortcuts like electronic tenderizing. It’s hung for 21 days and you can taste and see the difference, when you cook it, it doesn’t shrink to half its size.”


Iain is now working full time in the business and Paul McBride comes in on his days off. Iain’s passion for culinary learning and discovery is something he says has rubbed off from Paul, who describes his own involvement at the markets as more enjoyable golf. For Paul to have retained the enthusiasm of the hobbyist after decades in commercial kitchens shows a true calling. With this ethos their business will never be about making a quick buck, a motivation that Iain feels has let down most of the local restaurant scene. Iain also has an intuitive understanding of real food from his home life and is not impressed by showiness. “My mother and sister are great cooks and love cooking at home.” In fact, Iain has persuaded his mother to supply their stall with her brown bread, wonderfully enriched with treacle, eggs and oatmeal.


Working alone in food preparation can be a lonely business, starting at 6am and sticking to a demanding schedule. So Iain is looking forward to his chance to do some live cooking at the Eat Sherkin festival on the first weekend in July.


“It will be fun, as a chef I haven’t cooked live in a while and I know I’ll get a buzz working beside Diane Curtin, she’s such a bundle of energy. We’ll be cooking mackerel landed in the morning and serving them with salad leaves picked around the island, then someone else is bringing their strawberries which we’ll make into a strawberry fool”. The whole event sounds fantastic, there’s no where quite like Sherkin to generate a festive atmosphere. You can read below what Diane Curtin has sent me about the festival weekend and in the meantime take the opportunity to visit Kinsale farmers market which is a bright light in the project to reinvent Ireland’s gourmet capital.

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