It’s a long way there so they say, but a trip to Tipperary is definitely worth it. Last week the Great Taste Awards held a judging roadshow in the charming town of Clonmel and the judges were welcomed by the Tipperary Food Producers, a local network of business owners and food producers established as a vehicle for the support and promotion of food in Tipperary.
The group’s current chairman is fifth generation butcher Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers, their beef dripping was crowned the Supreme Champion at last year’s Great Taste Awards, beating over 10,000 other products to the title. In the aftermath of their victory, Pat had a word with John Farrand of the Guild of Fine Food who organise the awards and convinced them to take their judging on a roadshow to Tipperary and experience what the county had to offer.
For four days in the Hotel Minella over 40 producers, food writers and critics including Charles Campion and Nigel Barden gathered to sample entries from 216 Irish producers. All the judging for the awards is blind and is carried out in teams to ensure consistency and fairness.
To thank the guild and judges for making the journey, the Tipperary Food Producers arranged a host of culinary and cultural events to showcase the best of the premier county.
On Tuesday judges and guests were invited to an exclusive and unique event at the renowned Coolmore Stud. Coolmore is home to some of the best thoroughbred horses in the world and their breeding programme is so exclusive that security at the stud is really high. As a result, it’s very rare for visitors to be treated to a private tour of the facility and meet the prize horses. Following the tour, guests dined on a barbeque feast of local produce from the Tipperary Food Producers before finishing the night with traditional ceol and craic in McCarthy’s of Fethard.
Following another day of blind tasting, the group of guild members, judges and members of the media were treated to another exclusive event at the Rock of Cashel. In the Hall of Vicars Choral, local musicians played for a troupe of young Irish Dancers before a brief history of the settlement on the Rock. Throughout the presentation guests sampled drinks and canapes from local producer Barbara Russell Catering.
After a tour of the Rock, the group descended the hill to the renowned Chez Hans, frequently named Tipperary’s best restaurant. Head chef Jason Mattiae had come together with some of the Tipperary Food Producers to create an exclusive tasting menu that showcased the best local produce.
Highlights on the menu included a Pulled Pork Ravioli from Crowe’s Farm and a Fillet of Piedmontese Beef provided by Irish Piedmontese with beef dripping and gravy from reigning champions James Whelan Butchers. The evening was brought to a close by Kathy Nugent who serenaded guests with an array of jazz and musical classics.
Another day of blind tasting awaited the judges on Thursday and their dedication was rewarded again that evening with a series of intimate dinners and events with members of the Tipperary Food Producers. Guests were invited in groups to visit local eateries Hickey’s Bakery, Crossogue House, Inch House and Greenane House where they sampled great local food and hospitality.
The judging roadshow in Tipperary came to a close on Friday with the final products being tasted in Hotel Minella. Further rounds of judging will now take place to confirm or change the decisions made in Tipperary last week. Some products will be tested by over 20 judges throughout the process to ensure standards and consistency across the awards. Regional and overall winners will be announced in August, hopefully the Irish contingent of products will be just as successful as last year.
“The judges, from all corners of the food world, have had busy days of judging in Tipperary, but have also had three evenings packed full of flavour, colour, welcome and fun in the capable hands of Tipperary Food Producers,” says Pat Whelan, Chairperson of Tipperary Food Producers. “This was a wonderful project to be involved with, and it has been made possible by the generous support of all the local and national agencies whose collaboration is immensely appreciated by all at Tipperary Food Producers. Our sincere thanks go to Tipperary County Council, Bord Bia, Local Enterprise Office Tipperary, Tipperary Tourism Company, Department of Agriculture Food & the Marine, North Tipperary Leader Partnership, and South Tipperary Development Company.”