|At Ballymaloe, l to r: Fingal and Giana Ferguson, yours truly and Rory O'Connell|
“We are dairy farmers and farm over 200 acres in West Cork, with Mount Gabriel behind us and the Fastnet out in front of us. We have a mixed herd...but are very proud of our Kerry cows,” said Gubbeen’s Giana Ferguson as she addressed those of us privileged to be in the attendance at the Trimbach Wine and Cheese evening in Ballymaloe last week.
It was a very special evening in the Grain Store, so much more than the sum of its advertised parts: wine from Alsace, charcuterie and cheese from Gubbeen and the blue cheeses of Cashel and Crozier. But put these special families together, the Allens, the Fergusons, the Grubbs and the Trimbachs, as Ballymaloe's Colm McCan did, and you have the perfect mix for a few magical hours.
Instructive too. For these family “businesses”, more a labour of love, have a certain honesty and simplicity, not forgetting an abundance of hard work, not just in the day to day tasks, but also in acquiring and maintaining the necessary skills, that put together enable them to reach the highest of standards. They don’t boast about it either but they are a shining example to us all.
Take the Fergusons at Gubbeen where they have been farming for many generations now. Like many farmers, they have cows, they have pigs, they have poultry and they have a kitchen garden. But here, they have been put together in a rather special way by a family who work hard, respect the land, their animals and their customers.
And just like the engaging Jean Trimbach, they too know their terroir: the acidic soil, the salty winds from the Atlantic, the early grass (thanks to the Gulfstream).
They started making cheese in the 70s and these first generation cheesemakers were taking a step into the unknown.
But there was help and support from two of Cork’s leading food families: the Allens of Ballymaloe and the Ryans (now in Isaac’s), a support warmly acknowledged by Giana: "The Ryans and the Allens stood by us and kept us going."
And they have travelled a long way, without ever leaving Gubbeen, without ever getting “big”. The add-ons are organic. Their pigs have the best views of any pig farm and son Fingal has taken a keen interest here. He admitted to being “fascinated by meat curing” and is “always looking to learn more in the future” Already, he has over fifty products, most from the versatile pig.
Daughter Clovisse has also added to the productivity of the farm. She is a bio-dynamic gardener and, with a terraced acre and four tunnels, she supplies several local chefs and is the source of fresh salads, vegetables and fruit for her customers. Her herbs are the key flavours in Fingal's cures for his smoked meats, and in the summer - if you get down early enough - you can buy her salads at the Schull or Skibbereen Farmers’ Markets.
Parents Tom and Giana have been the pioneers, Tom as the herdsman and Giana as the cheese maker; she also keeps poultry in the yards. Special people making special food. A regional and national treasure.
• Don’t forget to visit the Gubbeen site here.