Showing posts with label Costello's Brewing Company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Costello's Brewing Company. Show all posts

Friday, May 29, 2015

Highbank Organic Orchards. Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes

Highbank Organic Orchards

Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes
I’m walking through long rows of apple trees, all in blossom, pink and white abound. The grass between is ankle height, lush and liberally populated with white daisies. Lush, but recently topped. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have seen battalions of dandelions.

I am in Kilkenny, in the healthy heart of Highbank Orchards, an organic farm owned and managed by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts.  This is excellent land for farming, recognised as such for many centuries - even the Normans had their eyes on it.  The farm-yard is 17th century, the house is 19th, and the distillery (which I've come to see) is 21st.  

Rod in the new distillery
Now though, on a lovely May evening, all is calm as Rod takes us through the orchard, though not through all its twenty acres. Fourteen of these are mature, planted with quite a few varieties, including Dabinett, Blusher, Bramley and, scattered in among the others, that lovely juicy Katy. Katy is an early apple and has lost its blossoms.

Nothing has been sprayed here for twenty years. It is not that nothing ever threatens the apple trees but they are essentially healthy and can look after themselves. And Rod reckons much of that is down to the microbes in the soil, billions of them, all "working", not necessarily together - some eat one another - but combining to preserve the habitat. They are not disturbed, not traumatized by chemicals, and so the orchards live on and thrive. “Soil health depends on a thriving population of organisms”, says Dan Barber in The Third Plate.
Orchard spirit!
The next big occasion for the orchard is, of course, the harvest. The Calder-Potts keep the apples on the trees for as long as possible, indeed they allow them fall off naturally when fully ripe. Then they are swept up and taken to the nearby yard.

They are transferred then to the apple press, an expensive piece of kit, and the juice is extracted to be used in the delicious products that Highbank now produces: Apple Juice, Apple Juice with Organic Mulled Spices, their famous Orchard Syrup (Ireland's answer to maple syrup and launched in 2010), Highbank Drivers Cider (a delicious, sparkling refreshing non-alcoholic drink), Highbank Proper Cider, and a honeyed Medieval Cider.
Proper cider!
Recently they have moved up the ABV scale with the installation of their little distillery and are making Gins, Pink Flamingo Gin and the premium Crystal Gin. And there’ll be more! We enjoyed the tour of the bright new distillery. It is small. The operation is small-scale, bottling is done by hand. Small yes, but these are top class products.


Highbank is the setting for many events but most notably, from a food point of view, they have hosted the Keith Bohanna Bia Beag series with subjects such as artisan bread, locally roasted coffee, bean to bar chocolate. And, of course, there is the Highbank Christmas Food and Craft Fair.
They are a busy couple and you’ll see them at markets and food festivals all over the country, including most recently, Sheridan’s and Ballymaloe LitFest. Besides, they are involved in promoting good food generally. Kilkenny too is naturally close to their hearts and so we couldn't have had a better guide on a quick Saturday morning run through the marble city than Julie.

She showed us, with pride, restaurants such as Zuni and the Salt Yard, Slice of Heaven and its newly opened cookery school, the food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre. Then you need something to serve your food in so off we went to Nicholas Mosse in Bennettsbridge, you need some nice lighting while dining and we got that at nearby Moth to a Flame (Larry Kinsella’s hand-made candles) and you also need something nice to look at on your walls and shelves and we found plenty of that at the Bridge Pottery.
Needless to say, the credit card took a bit of a hammering. On the previous afternoon, left to my own devices, I was on the drinks trail! Called to Billy Byrne’s Pub (the Bula Bus and its excellent onboard restaurant is parked in the back) and sipped some nice local beer by Ger Costello and a pale ale from 12 acres.

Of course, I couldn't leave Kilkenny without calling to Le Caveau. Pascal himself was busy on the road but we did take advantage of the reductions for Real Wine Month and went off happy with a couple of his organic wines.

And it was the drink that brought us to Kilkenny in the first place! In Highbank's internet competition earlier in the year, I won a meal at The Strawberry Tree and, in addition, I also won a bottle of Highbank's new Crystal Gin and that was in the car with us as we said au revoir to the Marble City and to two of its outstanding citizens, the Calder-Potts.
Le Caveau (left) and Bennettsbridge (from the Nicholas Mosse pottery)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kilkenny’s Night of a 1000 Feasts.

Kilkenny’s Night of a 1000 Feasts
Town of Food a Step Closer
Hazel, top left, with just some of her guests at the Feast.
On Sunday evening we left our lovely base at Rosquil House to head to our Feast, part of the Night of a 1000 Feasts in Kilkenny. Our Feast, one of about two thousand registered as it turned out, was quite close and at about 7.00pm we were warmly greeted by Hazel and three generations of her family, all celebrating the 76th birthday of her father.

Hazel is a fabulous cook and really loves to bake and the tables were groaning under the weight of a very colourful and tasty feast. The conversation flowed, not least because there were some relations home from Canada. We had a lovely evening with the family and a big thank you to Hazel and husband Richard.

The 1000 Feasts project, while obviously having a huge social element, was also designed as a fund-raiser  towards the Town of Food Project. This is a huge Leader funded project that is located in Thomastown but the local people had to raise some €180,000 themselves. It was down to about €25,000 before the weekend and hopefully a good bit less at this stage. Read all about the project here.
Happy Birthday!
Our group were brought to see the project on Monday afternoon and met Francis Nesbitt, the co-ordinator. He told us it is based in the old school (built 1947) and that the builders had been in since mid-July and will finish in about six weeks.

There will be a lot of community involvement, at all levels, including gardening and cooking. There will be a community kitchen club to benefit many, including fledgling food producers who won't have to kit out their own kitchens to make a start. There will also be a training kitchen. This will be state of the art, as no less than €105,000 has been spent on equipment. “Everything you could think of.”

There will of course be all kinds of cooking courses going on here but don't run away with the idea that this will be for amateurs only. Thomastown won this project in a competition with other towns so there will be some serious education going on here, including chef training.

“We want motivated people here….We want to create a pipeline of kitchen-ready chefs..their learning will be one half here, the other half in restaurants.” This is a fantastic project and the few paragraphs above only give you a hint of what's in store. Please check it out on the website.

Francis (left) meets the Town of Food bloggers.
The day of a “1000 Feasts” began for me with a bloggers meet-up at the main gate of the castle. After the introductions, we made our way to the National Craft Gallery, the venue for one of Jim Carroll’s Banter on Food series, this episode entitled War Stories from the Kitchen.

Pichet’s Denise was among the panelists and she said you have to be a little bit crazy and one hundred per cent passionate to open your doors to public scrutiny. John Healy agreed that the industry is “addictive”. One big danger is that people go into it for the love of food and with no idea about the business side. Overall though the panel agreed that standard has “gone away up” over  the last ten to fifteen years.

Carroll then steered the discussion, mentioning Anthony Bourdain’s rather ancient book Kitchen Confidential, to the war in the kitchen! But no big news there really. Yes, flare-ups are inevitable and management has to be ready for it, “people skills required”.

By now it was time for lunch so the group (about 14 strong) headed off to the Podge Meade’s Bula Bus, a former unit of the fleet in Manchester city but now parked up at the back of Billy Byrne’s pub. The kitchen is downstairs and the upper deck is laid out as a restaurant, serving wild and foraged street food. Venison, mushroom and rabbit (which I enjoyed) featured on the menu last Sunday.

We had some time to ourselves after lunch and I headed back around the many market stalls on the Parade and enjoyed a glass of Costello’s Red Ale in company with Colm McCann and Pascal Rossignol who had just finished their second Wine v Beer show, a show that also featured Caroline Hennessy.

We would meet Gabriella of Costello’s again in our last group engagement here. This was in the Leader tent where we chatted with some emerging producers including Eadaoin's Kitchen, Bob and Joan’s Jams, Butterfly Valley (Cookie Mixes), Richie O’Brien (Honey) and Inistioge Food (Marinades). Our bag included some of those marinades and we’re looking forward to trying them soon, so watch this space!

See also:


Rabbit at the Bula Bus