Friday, March 24, 2017

Amuse Bouche


If rubbing shoulders with the good and great floats your boat, read on… Dr Michael Smurfit invited me to a private dinner at his K Club. His firm, Woodfab, was having problems procuring enough timber from Coillte at the right price. …… The encounter didn't yield any progress… The most memorable feature of the night was that Smurfit drank different wine (Petrus, I think) from us out of his own decanter. Bad manners, methought, even if what we drank was top-notch vino.


from Full On by Ivan Yates (2014). Recommended.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Barry’s Tea. Favourites for more than a century.


Barry’s Tea. Favourites for more than a century.
Wall of Tea

As the 19th century turned into the 20th, a blacksmith’s son from Ballyhooly came to Cork city to work in a shop. Soon, in 1901, he became a “counter-jumper” and set up his own shop dealing in Tea, Wine and Spirits. That entrepreneurial country boy, James J. Barry, was the great grandfather of Tony Barry, our host on a tour of the Barry's Tea factory in Cork earlier in the week.

The first Barry's Tea Shop was in Bridge Street and, by the 60’s, Tony told us that they were well known for tea. His father was then running the business - the shop now in Princes Street -  and had a lucky break. Marketing was barely known as a science in those days but a young man asked to do a study on the firm and discovered a gap, a gap that Barry's turned into an opening. The young man found that Barry's Tea was very well liked but that many customers had trouble getting to the shop to buy. The solution was to distribute to other shops around the city and Madden’s, Bradley's and Smith’s were among the first.

Marketing, by the way, wasn't exactly new to the Barry’s. Back in 1939, they recruited three elephants from a  visiting circus and marched them down the traffic-free city streets "with tea chests strapped on!”  Read more of the Barry's Story here.
We were there, at their current Kinsale Road facility, as part of a group of Munster Wine and Dine members. MWD member Stuart Musgrave knows Barry’s well and was indeed once one of their rivals. But he reckons, always did, they make the best blended tea in the world.

And Barry's, who nowadays employ 65 people, certainly know their stuff. Tony explained a bit. “Rwandan teas give a good colour but are very light. So you need something for strength and India provides that. Still, you don't want something too strong either so add a contribution from Kenya and you’ll have a good all round bend.”


The tea plant, a bush, grows in equatorial areas. The bushes grow like a hedge, making it easy to pluck the leaves. Hand-plucking is still very common. It is a natural product. After plucking, nothing is added. Green tea and black tea comes from the same type of plant. “The green is steamed and rolled and is fresher while the black is withered and fermented.”
Tony Barry, standing left, invites us to taste
He told us that there are similarities between wine and tea, that terroir matters in both. “So how do you know where to get the best?” someone asked. “Well, “ he smiled. “We’ve been around for over 100 years. We know where to get the best teas, where the best tea gardens are. We have lots of contacts now and they know what we want.”

“Tea is not a complicated business, “he said. “But you do need to get each part right, from sourcing to blending to distribution and sales. It is not traded as a commodity so we don’t have to buy futures.” Still, when there is a high quality crop, they aren't slow in building up their stocks.


We had a few samples of traditional teas and not so traditional (including apple/pear flavoured and Berry Berry) before we began our walkabout. First stop was the the real Tasting Room with veteran tastier Denis Daly doing the honours. The window is north facing window here - they want natural colours, not a tea turned a flattering gold by the morning sun!
Berry Berry

The samples enabled us tell the difference, at least for that moment, between the various teas from Asia and Africa and then we were off on our factory walk. First we saw the high stores of palleted tea, some in vacuum packs, stamped with exotic names such as those from the gardens of Gatunguru in Kenya. “Some of these gardens are in the most beautiful areas of the world.” That vacuum packed tea could last for a few years but Barry's like to rotate within the year.

Then we saw the blending area followed by the packing and the boxing. Amazing to see the tea-bag machine in action, making no less than 2,000 bags per minute! Next came the boxes being packed, by robots, into large packs for transport via container.

Indeed, there was a container load lined up for export to the USA - they export about 11% of the total. The working day was drawing to a close and so was our eye-opening informative tour. Reckon I'll never look at the humble cup of tea in the same complacent way again!
Selection
Check out the Barry's website, including online shop, here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fontanafredda, important player in Italian wine. Three examples.

Fontanafredda: important player in Italian wine. Three examples.

The Modern History of Italian Wine (2016), to which we'll be referring often over the next few months, picks Fontanafredda, renowned for decades for its Barolo, as a key player in Italy's wine industry. The important company now produces some 7.5m bottles a year and you can find quite a few of its products, including the Barolos, in Karwig Wines. Below are just three examples. 

Fontanafredda Raimonda, Barbera D’Alba (DOC) 2009, 14%, €21.15 Karwig Wines


In 1858, an area close to the village of Serralunga D’Alba was registered to the King Vittorio Emanuele II. Here he indulged his passion with the commoner daughter of a drum major and it was eventually their son Emanuele Guerrieri, Count of Mirafiore, who devoted his life to making wine here, “with a very modern approach”.

Success with Barolo followed later but, after war and economic strife, the banks took over in 1931 and appointed a winemaker to take charge. In recent years, the property passed to Oscar Farinetti, “another visionary” according to the recently published Modern History of Italian wine, “who revitalized its sale and the commercial image of the brand”. 

Dressed with the colours of the estate, the Stripes series “is the central line of production by Fontanafredda”. And the Barbera for this striped bottle is grown around Serralunga.

Part of the wine is aged in large French and Slavonian oak casks, the rest stored in small barrels of medium toasted French and American oak for about a year. The two parts are blended prior to bottling.

Colour is a deep ruby. There are intense aromas of cherry and plum, notes of vanilla. Quite a striking velvety mouthfeel on this one, round with ripe and tangy fruit, hints of spice, and an excellent acidity. A very pleasant drop indeed and Very Highly Recommended.

Karwig’s also do another excellent example of the grape: Renato Barbera D’Alba.

Fontanafredda Gavi (DOCG) 2015, 12.5%, €23.10 Karwig Wines

This is another of the vineyard’s Stripes Series and the Cortese vines from which it is produced are grown near the village of Gavi in south east Piedmont. Serve between 10 to 12 degrees and you’ll find it is ideal for starters and light meals.

It is a light straw colour with a definite green tint and micro-bubbles cling to the sides of the glass. There are fairly intense aromas, a melange of white fruit and blossom. Lively fruit flavours predominate as it rolls smoothly across the palate. It is an easy-drinking well-balanced wine with a long dry finish. Highly Recommended.

Fontanafredda “Le Fronde” Moscato D’Asti (DOCG) 2012, 5.0%, €9.95 Karwig Wines

This is a gorgeous moderately sweet wine, another string to the impressive Fontanafredda bow. Try it with all desserts, they encourage. I had a few of those delightful cheesecakes from Charly and tried the two together. Excellent, though I'm told it may be even better with drier cakes (e.g. panetone). And, by the way, it is also lovely on its own.

May not have much alcohol on board - yes, that five per cent is correct - but it has quite a lot going for it otherwise. It is slightly fizzy, lots of bubbles in evidence, mainly clinging to the sides of the glass, a frizzante rather than a spumante. Indeed, the low alcohol count means it can be convenient to use within a multi-course meal, either as aperitif or with dessert. I prefer to use a normal white wine glass rather than a flute.


It is aromatic (this one sage and honey) and floral, full and fruity also. Well worth trying, ideal in the garden in summer, with three or four friends. Recommended.

Recently reviewed:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Taste of the Week. Cinnamon Cottage Ratatouille

Taste of the Week
Cinnamon Cottage Ratatouille
Irish diners used to have mixed opinions on Ratatouille, mainly because earlier versions weren’t much more than an anonymous mess on the plate. And then very few were eating aubergines and peppers in 1970s Ireland.

Irish Ratatouille and we Irish diners have come a long way since then and there are some terrific examples of the dish around nowadays, both in homes and in restaurants. One of the best I came across recently came from Cinnamon Cottage.

This is a brilliant mix: aubergines, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and more. Fantastic textures and flavours, a dash of spice too, all combining to make a Ratatouille with attitude and our Taste of the Week.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Johnny Fall Down. Warm Glounthaune slopes ideal for cider apples.

Johnny Fall Down

Warm Glounthaune slopes ideal for cider apples

A farm that has been recovered from a semi-wilderness is the unlikely scene for a craft cider revolution. Thanks to Dave and Barry of Johnny Fall Down we had a tour of the fields at Killahora (Glounthaune) last week where the south-facing slopes are planted with over 40 varieties of apple.

Not just apples. Pears are there in abundance. And other fruits trees too, including damson, plums. Even though this current operation started in 2010/11, there is a orchard history here, going back through the centuries, evidenced by an old wall (a relic of a walled garden). And reminders in the hedgerows, gnarled old crab trees and some wilding too.

And it is not just fruit either. Dave has a particular interest in trees and plants and so here you’ll find some rare ones, everything from tiny Bee Orchids to huge (not yet!) Sequoias.

They focus on the rare apple varieties here, Barry tells me, as we climb the slopes. “They give us more punch.” And you can try that for yourself. Their first product, the Johnny Fall Down rare apple cider, is available around Cork city in various pubs including Cask and The Roundy.
The south-facing slopes are ideal. It just seems warmer there. And, by the way, there is a fantastic view, a panorama of Cork harbour and estuary and the islands, including nearby Harper’s and Fota. And birds of prey hover above on the thermals.

All the apples and pears (already in flower) are planted in neat rows, all tidy and well maintained. But those twisted old crabs trees in the hedgerows are amazing. The first one that we saw had hundreds of little apples, many of them quite sound, on the ground underneath, months after they had fallen. 
Dave (left) and Barry

And they'll soon have company. Dave and Barry intend to plant fruits and herbs in and about the hedgerows. In a few years time, you'll see cherries and more in the wild.

We were just in time to see Dave do a bit of grafting, a Turner’s Barn pear was being introduced to its host Pyro Dwarf. First he cut the Turner’s, at about 45%, down to the Cambium (layer of tissue in the middle), and repeated the procedure on the host. Then, the tricky part, making a tongue and groove so that the union would be even better. 
from an old crab apple tree!

Then he bound the two with a bio-degradable tape (keeps in the moisture and allows the graft to take) and it was ready to go. “Not rocket science,” he humbly admitted. But still one just had to admire the enthusiasm and the precision as he demoed the ancient art. After the demo, it was work as hundreds remained to be done!

Then, time for a tasting, starting with some of the single varietals. Some had the acidity to the fore, others sugar, others tannins. Getting the balance right is the challenge for Barry in the months and years ahead.
Could be drinking from the fruit of this in about five years time!

It won't be just cider. Already one of their products, a pommeau, is being used in cocktails. Barry also plans a Perry, champagne style!  Perhaps the one that made the biggest impression on me was the Ice Cider, even if it was still only half-way on its journey. I usually - inadvertently, I hastily add -  pick the expensive ones. “A lot of juice required to make this!”.

And soon we would say goodbye and leave this beautiful part of the parish behind. The terroir seems to be just perfect for purpose and Dave and Barry complement each other perfectly also. Their knowledge and expertise is top notch. 
Pear bursting out

And there is enthusiasm in abundance. More importantly though, there is patience, there is no rush, they’ll wait for nature (magic in those hedgerows in years to come) and produce accordingly. I can’t wait to see what Killahora comes up with next but Dave and Barry can and their products will be all the better for it. Watch this space.

An old crab tree

And what of the man himself? We read on our sample bottle that Johnny Fall Down is a rare apple cider, bitter-sweet with an abv of 5.5%, made from 42 varieties of cider, many of them unique to the Glounthaune producers. It has a lovely light amber colour, bubbles galore on the rise. Aromas hint of really ripe orchard fruit and there are hints of tropical fruit on the well balanced palate. The "rosé like" finish comes from a mix "of rarer tannins" that have matured for six months. Well worth waiting for!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Joup. Sisters Together.

Joup.
Sisters Together
Joup. John and Craig (right)
There is a little cafe near the city end of the Ballinlough Road called Joup. Its modest entrance hides a hive of activity, an Irish family business “big on passion when it comes to handmade food, our environment, and well being”. It is run by two entrepreneurial sisters: Richael is a full time mum with 3 kids and Odharnait has her own massage therapy business as well as the cafe. 

Craig Guiney is one of the enthusiastic chefs here and we met him for a coffee in the tiny restaurant. They also have a little outdoor area which, hopefully, will be getting plenty of use as the good weather comes.

Daily bread
 “Everything here is done fresh everyday. All the baking is done here - it is a warm place in the morning! We do our own sourdough, flatbread and so on. We are doing our own kimchi also.”


Richael: “The Joup menu is unique as it embraces our Irish food heritage. We believe you need to go no further than to our shore line to find the most nourishing super food - seaweed. We use seaweed throughout our salads and soups to provide natural nourishment and great taste.” 
Sweet Stuff, above and below
 Craig too loves the seaweed contribution. They even use it to make their Irish Hummus. It is gently pickled and mixed with carrot, a great base for vegetable sandwiches (as we would find out later).


Lifestyle dictates people’s food options nowadays and “we look after foodies and vegetarians”, he told me. “We do a great gluten free Lasagne where the there is no pasta, instead we substitute sweet potato”.


Joup has gone from an award winning university developed business to farmers’ markets to the English market to their own premises and now an online shop. In 10 years they have gone through tough economical times and come through the other side, which is testament to their hard work, loyal customers and good wholesome food.

And the farmers markets, especially Mahon and Midleton, still play a big role here as the chefs are regular visitors, buying good local produce for Joup. “Everything is local. If we can't get it locally, we don't use it, no messing.” And, as a result, everything is seasonal too.


 Richael again: “Our handmade soups and stews are naturally gluten free. we bake our own  in-house sourdough focaccia. And we are embracing local Irish food through our Irish style hummus, chowders, stews and colcannon”.


The website, joup.ie, is not only an online shop where you can purchase catering, a takeaway meal or lunch box delivery but also a resource, where Richael blogs about: all things delicious, healthy and handmade; her own recipes; life as a working mum; and how to keep kids eating healthy.


Rainbow

The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course and we left with two really big sandwiches from that day’s list. One was the Ploughman’s Sandwich:  Irish Mature Cheddar Cheese, House Relish and Piccalilli, all packed in Ciabatta. This was a superb combination, great bread, great contents including that lively relish and piccalilli.

The other was their Rainbow Salad Flatbread with Irish Style Hummus, Beetroot creme fraiche and piccalilli. That Flatbread was not hard, not soft either, just a lovely easy crunch and that hummus is ideal for sandwiches. Both sandwiches were easy to eat and prove that healthy sandwiches don’t have to be dull. And I'm quite certain that would have been the case with any of the others on the board that morning.
Merry Ploughman
So, if you're in the neighbourhood pop by and enjoy their sandwiches, homemade meals, salads, bakery and confectionary selection. Or give them a call for catering information and they can deliver. If that office meeting overruns, if your group can't quit a rehearsal, if you have a communion or confirmation group at home, or any occasion where good food is needed, then Joup, local and very good, is the place to contact.

Joup
Ballinlough Road
Cork
(021) 432 2626
Facebook: @joupcafe
Twitter: @joupcafe

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Amuse Bouche

William Ladd also commented on the class differences in beer drinking:
But houses such as most of yours which sell any quantity of draught porter are not the places where a large sale of ale is likely to take place, as it is used by a very different class of customers who usually avoid the other. One house in Patrick St. district would sell more ale than 10 in Barrack St., while the exact contrary is the case with draught porter.


from Beamish & Crawford, The History of an Irish Brewery, by Donal Ó’Drisceoil and Diarmuid Ó’Drisceoil (2015). Recommended.