Thursday, July 31, 2014

Campo Viejo. Still and Sparkling

Campo Viejo. Still and Sparkling

Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2008, 13.5%, €14.31 Widely available.

Campo Viejo is the "dependable" Rioja. Even in Spain, according to our guide on a recent Tapas Trail. And not just in Spain. It is in the No. 1 Rioja position worldwide. And one can see why, or at least taste why, in this bottle. The wine has been aged for 18 months in French and American oak and a further 18 months aging in the bottle.

Colour is a clean and bright ruby and it has inviting red fruit aromas. You’ll find rounded fruit flavours and spice notes on the palate. Really well balanced with little or no sign of tannins and it has a lovely long finish. Made mainly from Tempranillo (85%), it is added to our Very Highly Recommended list.

Campo Viejo Cava Brut Reserva, 11.5%, €15.38, O’Brien’s nationwide .

Cava is usually associated with the Catalunya region of Spain and indeed the vast majority of this traditionally made sparkling wine is made there. But it is also produced in quite a few other regions such as Aragon, Navarra, and La Rioja. The usual grapes in the blend, and in this wine, are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.

Take a look at this in the glass and you see a clean greenish yellow colour, bright and with no shortage of rising bubbles. There are white fruit aromas which I've seen described as complex but I didn't find anything very intense. White fruits too on the palate and a terrific balancing acidity. Fresh for sure and with an excellent dry finish. A good value Cava, made by the Metodo Tradicional, and Highly Recommended.

They also produce a Rosé Brut, made with 100% Trepat.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taste of the Week. Your Pick!

Taste of the Week. Your Pick!

Trying to break the logjam in the Taste of the Week room. Four beauties to pick from here and, not surprisingly at this time of year, three of them are drinks, two non alcoholic by the way!
A superb ale from 9 White Deer, the new brewery in Ballyvourney.
This is their first beer and has great flavour and just the requisite amount of bitterness.
Well worth a try and I'll be on the lookout for their next beers, which will
include an oatmeal stout! Stag Ban is available at Bradley's, North Main Street, Cork. 
Not a new product but a welcome one these warm days.
This is a superb Lemonade cordial, one of the very best.
Just dilute to taste and take a few minutes out for yourself.
Bought this at the Fresh from West Cork stall in the English Market.

Eating and drinking in this Blueberry Yoghurt from
McCarthy's Natural Dairy. Just shake it up and drink it.
Enjoy. Two euro from The Rocketman in Prince's Street.
Eoin O'Mahony of O'Mahony's in the English Market is one of the
more innovative butchers in Cork, always worth a call. Picked up some of
these Toonsbridge Buffalo Burgers there at the weekend and they are
a treat, great meat enhanced by some herbal magic. Been buying lamb from
O'Mahony's over the past weeks and that too is top notch.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friendly Festival at The Slí Eile Farm

Friendly Festival at The Slí Eile Farm
Harvest Festival in Churchtown

The Slí Eile Farm was the venue for a lively Harvest Festival on Sunday. The Churchtown event had something for everyone: lots of food stalls, advice (on organic growing, men’s sheds), a dog show, entertainment (bouncy castle, pony rides, penalty kicks, archery and more) for the kids, while the adults were entertained with some old fashioned farming, a thatching demo, and music.

No shortage of parking and just as well as there was a great turnabout on a lovely day in North Cork. Our first priority was something to eat and we found it quickly. A rustic restaurant had been set up in the environs of the barn and the smoke was rising from the grill. Soon we were sitting and enjoying a delicious organic burger from the farm itself.

Time then for an enjoyable stroll around the yard of Burton Park where most of the stalls were situated. The farm itself had a stall with vegetables, jams and apple juice and fund raising tickets were on sale as the music and the conversation flowed.
I had missed Bluebell Falls cheese at Killavullen last week and so was glad to get a tasting this time and came home with their lovely Honey, Garlic and Thyme Goats Cheese. The Golden Vale has been the traditional home of Irish cheese and isn't it about time we had an artisan cheesemaker from the area. Well done to all concerned. Be sure to check out their website above for their products and recipes.

Now we were in the kitchen gardens, where all kinds of healthy looking vegetables grew, both outdoors and under the polytunnel. Continued the walk past a collection of vintage vehicles and soon we were in the fields.
And here the beautiful big horses were hard at work. A pair of greys, harnessed to a reaper, were cutting the corn, stopping every now and then for a tasty munch! Behind, the workers were busy making sheaves of the corn. Saw one sheaf tied in the traditional way but most were being secured with a blue twine.
Nearby, another large horse was being guided up and down between the drills and his attached scuffler was uprooting the weeds. Perhaps the guide and driver were needed but that big dark horse showed neat footwork as he worked the narrow spaces without standing on the plants.
What a refreshing change of scenery for a Sunday afternoon! And what a refreshing place Slí Eile is. The aim of the Slí Eile approach to recovery through community living is to provide another way of supporting people to recover from their experience of mental distress. A great afternoon and a great cause. And, those of us, of a certain age, who remember innocent people consigned to the loneliness of dark corners, will surely agree. Check it all out here.

And there will be another festival in Churchtown soon. The local development association hosts the Churchtown Fine Food and Craft Beer Festival on the 8th to the 10th of August. Keep an eye on Facebook for further details.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Krug at Ballymaloe. Patience and perfection

Krug at Ballymaloe
Patience and perfection
Toast to the harvest! The Krug is served in its special Riedel glasses.
"Champagne is all about pleasure."
Nicole Brown got widespread agreement on her opening statement at Ballymaloe last Thursday evening. And that agreement was reinforced by the time the audience in the famous Cookery School had sampled the amazing Krug Grand Cuvée.

Nicole was in Ballymaloe, both as a visitor - she is on holiday in West Cork - and in an temporary extension of her role as the US Brand Ambassador for Krug Champagne. Ballymaloe’s Colm McCann was delighted with the visit and welcomed Nicole, who was accompanied by Adrien Combet of Moet Hennessy Ireland, and the rest of us to the first ever Krug tasting in Ireland!

Krug, perhaps the premier champagne house, was founded by Joseph Krug in 1843. With some previous experience of the trade and his own principles to guide him (detailed in a journal he started for his young son in 1848), he set about extracting pleasure from a difficult climate (200 days of rain per annum). The chalk soil though was and remains a huge factor in the champagne maker’s favour.

The boundaries of champagne have long been set (though there is a move on to extend them in the next year or so) and so the competition among the houses for the raw material, the grapes, can be intense. Very few houses have enough grapes of their own. Krug, with some contracts dating back to 1878, are loyal to their suppliers and it seems to work both ways.

Krug use 5000 small oak barrels (average age: 23 years) for the first fermentation. Repairs are constant but Eric Label, Chef de Caves, is determined not to use stainless steel at this stage.

The tasting committee - we are talking about the Grand Cuvée here - consists of six members charged with using their memories and tasting abilities, not to mention the legibility of their handwriting, to make the flagship wine as consistent as possible each and every time!

There is no magic formula here, just memory and taste, and taste again! Some 200 plus wines are tasted twice while the reserve still wines are tasted once or twice each year. No less than 5,000 thousand hand-written tasting notes are accumulated in Eric’s big black book and then consulted before the blend composition is finalised.

The final blend may consist of over 100 wines from ten or so different vintages (years)! The wine then matures in the cellars for at least six years. Memory, taste, and so much time! The patience of perfection.
Roast Guinea Fowl and those amazing Heritage tomatoes.
While champagne is the most regulated wine in the world, its workings are not always clear to the outsider. “Krug wants to be transparent,” said Nicole and pointed to the ID on each bottle. Download the APP and you’ll get the key info, including important dates, on the wine. Let’s check the Grand Cuvée in our hand. We see that no less than 142 still wines (some going back to 1990) were blended with the base 2006 wine and that it was aged for seven years on its lees.

The audience was now eager to taste and Colm and his crew obliged. Nicole: “The Grand Cuvée is unique, an incredible expression of champagne”. And so it is. The deep golden colour and the endless fountain of fine bubbles promise much as do the amazing aromas. And it is all delivered on the palate, full and yet fine, mature yet fresh. You won’t forget this one in a hurry.

The Krug Rose, first made commercially in the early 1980s, is crafted in much the same way as the Grand Cuvée, and includes Pinot Noir from La Cote Valnon “to make it pink. It is aged for five years and the reserve wines date back to 2000. It is amazing with cheese.” Krug offer five champagnes and all five are Prestige Cuvées.

Back in Ballymaloe House, at dinner, we were amazed at the versatility of the Grand Cuvée, matching everything from fish to fowl and not forgetting vegetarian. Ballyhoura Mushroom and Marjoram Bruschetta and Hot Buttered Ballycotton Lobsters featured in the starters while Poached Wild Blackwater Salmon, Roast free-range Guinea Fowl and Braised Ballymaloe Pork were among the mains listed.
Sunset finds Nicole and Adrien doing some field-work.
The gigantic tin whistle is the newest
addition to the FORM sculpture trail, showing all
summer long at Ballymaloe.
Cheeses included St Gall, Triskel Goats and Cashel Blue and here the Rosé was put through its paces. No problem!

It was a delicious well paced meal and one of the highlights was the Shanagarry Heritage Tomato and Basil Salad. Colm McCann had been talking this up all evening and, boy, was he right. This simple salad illustrates the essence of the Ballymaloe farm and kitchen. Here they start with simple and end with simply superb!

We dined with windows and doors open on this lovely summer’s evening. Walked out then to the front, the canopy of farmland darkness broken by a myriad of sparkling stars. The Milky Way, I saw. And then I thought. What a prosaic name. All that sparkle and the best they can come up with is milky! Why not The Champagne Way? Pourquoi pas?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Amuse Bouche

One day, a newspaper had published a highly flattering review…. and everything changed. Letizia often wondered when it was that the man had come in, just one more anonymous diner, and taken his seat at the red-and-white checked table, sampling the ‘red onion-tomato sauce’ and the fantastic ragu meat loaf, a sensory delight’, as he had described his meal. Actually, she was glad she hadn’t known at the time; she was proud of the fact that the reviewer hadn’t been given any special treatment.

from The Crocodile by Maurizio de Giovanni.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week

Bee Sensations, namely Tom and Croéin Ruttle, are well known for their innovative range of jams and, of course, for their Amarena Cherries in Potcheen. All these jams and marmalades are based on their own Irish Honey which is used as a substitute for sugar. 

Perhaps, their most basic product of all is their Raw Honey, from their own hives. Resplendent in the newly designed Bee Sensations packaging, the raw honey is a beautiful product with lots of uses - try using it in your porridge!  

I know many of you are more familiar with clear honey but please don't leave this behind because it is cloudy. Just take a smidgen on your tongue and soon you’ll know this is a natural gem and why it is Taste of the Week.

“Our bees are Irish Bees and we are involved with the preservation of Irish Bees through FIBKA and also NIHBS. As long standing members we are again true to nature by making sure while providing Irish Honey that our bees are well maintained...” 

Sounds good. Tastes even better! You'll find Irish Bee Sensations on Twitter at where they've just announced that they are have qualified for "the finals of Q awards".

Blas na hEireann update on Bee Sensations July 2015 here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sipping, almost slipping, in Saint Emilion

Sipping, almost slipping, in Saint Emilion
The hand of man and mammon can seem particularly powerful here. This quote from the World Atlas of Wine refers to Saint Emilion and indeed rings true as you walk around the narrow streets of this much visited historic town, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999.

The little town is a busy commercial spot. Here, in the blink of an eye, a restaurant can fill up with a bus load of tourists and the shiny wine shops invite you in to talk about en primeur. It is not easy to find parking here. You’ll have to queue for the toilet, though I followed the example of the local males and used the open air pissoir (it did have metal wings at the sides to provide decent cover). And you won't get too far without someone offering you a little taste of their famous macaroons.

But even Atlas of Wine authors, Michael Johnson and Jancis Robinson, acknowledge it is not all about mammon. “...the comfort of St-Emilion to the ordinary wine-lover is the number of .. chateaux of moderate fame and consistently high standards which can provide relatively early maturing, utterly enjoyable, reasonably affordable wine”.

Here are three, from that category, that I sipped. And the slipping? Well there was a close call or two on one of the steepish streets. Here the surface consists of big stones, but so well worn and shiny - the Romans were here - that you can find yourself slipping even in dry conditions. So, careful as you reach out for that macaroon sample!

#1 - Chateau Haut Traquart, La Grace Dieu Cuvee Passion, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2010, 13.5%, €28.55
#2 - Chateau Haut Rocher, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2009, 14.5%, €18.35.
#3 - Chateau La Grace Dieu, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2009, 14%, €17.85.

As you probably know, the plump Merlot is the most widely planted variety here and, more often or not, its main partner in the blend is Cabernet Franc (known locally, I’m told, as Bouchet). The pattern is followed in these three: #1 90% M, 10% CF; #2 65% M, 20% CF, 15% Cab Sauv; #3 80% M, 20% CF.

All three have Grand Cru on the label but this doesn't mean a great deal, "rather akin to the difference between basic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur" according to the Wine Doctor Chris Kissack, a regular commentator on the area. 

Nevertheless, these are three really good wines with #1 having something more. It is warm and smooth, well balanced, good fruit and some pepper notes, barely noticeable tannins and an excellent finish.

#2 also has an excellent “final”, as Sean Kelly might say. Another well balanced wine, a harmonious blend, red and black fruits and again some spice.

#3 is quite lush, those same fruits evident, again some spice, tannins yes but just about in play, and again an excellent finish.

Bought all three at the Maison du Vin in Saint-Emilion itself last month and the prices quoted are those that I paid on the day. If you’d like to try wines from this area - you may not get these three exactly - why not check with the likes of Mitchell & Sons, Terroirs, Honest2Goodness, Wines Direct, Tindal, Karwig, Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines and Le Caveau. For short account of my trip to Saint-Emilion, click here.

Delicious Hat Trick by Yumm!

Delicious Hat Trick by Yumm!

Is this Walter Ryan-Purcell, the face of the Fresh from West Cork stall in the English Market, something of a magician? Every time he pulls something out of his bag, a bit of food magic appears.

It wasn't just one this weekend. Nor two. No. But three of the best from YUMM! in Ballydehob. Let me take you through them, all suitable for vegetarians and all gluten free.

First up was the Skibbereen Spinach Pie, a rich, creamy and filling pie made with spinach, cream cheese, eggs, opinion, potatoes and seasoning. First bite and I knew I was on to a winner.

Completed the double with the Inchigeelagh Frittata, another gem. Again I’ll use their own words, as they ring true: A delicate Frittata made with fresh eggs, summer vegetables, mild goat’s cheese and new potatoes. Loved the veg in this one.

And the hat trick is completed with another outstanding dish called Parmigiano Kilmichael. Don't you love the names. You’ll love this too: A delicious dish made with tomato, aubergine, onion, garlic, cheese, olive oil and seasoning. A superb substitute for Ratatouille.

The dishes may be used as a substantial lunch for one, maybe for two if you add a salad. All may be used as part of a main dish with chicken, fish or salad. Try a pack or two and use your imagination!

The vegetables used here are fresh, grown locally and chemical free. Store yours in the fridge. They may be eaten cold and can be reheated. Packaging, by the way, may be composted. All good and all available from Walter in the English Market. YUMM! may be reached at

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Electric Fish

Electric Fish

Scallop & Cod Burger

If you go to the Fish Bar at Electric, you must try their burger. A fish burger? Yes, why not? And this one is something special. I know I’ve mentioned it before but the Scallop and Cod Burger, served with cucumber pickled and smoked paprika aioli, is irresistible. And that tender brioche burger, made in-house, is a perfect wrap for the quality fish within!

It was one of our mains in the South Mall venue at the weekend. The other, from the specials board, was Chermoula Marinated Cod with a honey and lemon yoghurt. Superb flavours and textures and, with a bowl of Rosemary and Olive Oil Patatas Bravas, a substantial course indeed, almost matching the burger.

Both were washed down with a beer. They have very good choices here, both on draught and in bottle. I had a pint of draught Howling Gale Ale, the original from Eight Degrees and an original that has stood the test of time.

Chermoula Cod

I was also tempted by the Longueville Cider and the Kinsale Pale Ale, both from the bottle list. Next time! Some nice wines there too including Club Privado Tempranillo and Fosso Corno Montepulciano by the glass and, on the white side, Martin Codax Albarino and Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris.

The dessert list at present includes a couple of excellent cheese options. It is strong too on chocolate and our choice was the novel Chocolate and Chilli Sugar Strawberries. Sweet ‘n spicy!

We had started off with some Grilled Pacific oysters, a few Rockefeller style (with breadcrumbs and parsley) and few Kilpatrick (Worcester sauce, bacon and spring onion). The Kilpatrick were the tastier. They also serve these Pacific “natural” and indeed if you aren't used to oysters, this is a good way to start as the variety is very very small - easy to swallow!

Chocolate and Chilli Sugar Strawberries
Lots of other starters available if you’re not up to the oysters, including the FishBar tasting plate. If someone in the party isn't into fish, then don't worry as they do cater for the “landlubbers” as well.

This is a lovely informal place (no reservations required, nor taken) and the staff keep it informal, well able to crack a joke but well able too to make sure your dishes arrive on time and with all you need. Highly recommended.
Oysters, Kilpatrick style.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Superb Kale, and so much more, at Killavullen Market

Superb Kale at Killavullen Market
"Throw in a few beans, please!"

Delighted I made it to the Killavullen Farmers Market last Saturday. Brought the bags, as usual - no point in going to a market unless you bring bags - and filled them up.

A big welcome and lots of good things to eat and drink here. Rory and his Kildinan Farm organic stall caught the eye and not just because of his colourful vegetables (including yellow courgettes and black and yellow beans) but also because of his selection of great looking kale.
He had three types for sale but we eventually went for the Nero di Tuscano. Glad we did. It is terrific. Big dark leaves, beautiful texture and oh so very tasty.

We used the Kale and the beans (the black goes green, the yellow white, when cooked!) with a beautiful piece of hake from Yawl Bay Seafoods (enhanced with some of that amazing IASC seafood butter, of course!), a lovely dish.

By coincidence, I came across this recipe on Twitter this morning: Maple Drizzled Strawberry Kale Salad. What do you think? If you're doing it, why not use the Highbank Orchard Syrup.

The Killavullen market is held about twice each month in the Nano Nagle Centre  on the Mallow-Fermoy Road and it is appropriate that organic produce features highly. The centre’s mission now “is to promote a vision of eco spirituality” and it runs a 32 acre organic farm here. Directions to the centre and the market here.

Indeed, the Nano Nagle centre has its own stall in the market and here we got some very flavoursome organic tomatoes. All of the stalls are indoor, sheltered under a large polytunnel so the market is weather-proofed. Great idea.

Much to buy here. We got a few bars of the gorgeous Clonakilty Chocolate (including my Himalayan Salt favourite!) and  a lovely Spelt and Honey loaf from a well stocked bakery stall. And of course who could pass the Fermoy Natural Cheese stall? Not me. Enjoyed a lovely chat with Gudrun Shinnick as I sampled the cheese and bought some of her famous Cais Dubh and also some of the same cheese embedded with fenugreek seeds. She also has milk and kefir on sale here.

Fermoy Natural Cheese
A quote from the market site just to give you a better idea of what is available: The products available are numerous including local fresh organic vegetables and eggs, imported fruit and vegetables from small producers to complement the local, potatoes and preserves, award winning cheeses, apples and apple juice, bread and baking, flowers and plants, knits and crochet, jewellery and candles, natural soaps and organic essential oils, environmentally friendly cleaning products, personalised poetry and greeting cards, charity bookstall, recycled paper products and fair trade products available at tea and coffee stall. The market received a Cork Environmental Award in 2009.

Kathy and her skin care stall
Last Saturday was also a special Arts and Food Celebration so there was even more to enjoy, including a pottery-making stand where you, or at least the kids, could get hands-on experience.

We came across a vibrant looking herb stall on the way out and saw a pot of basil with smaller leaves than usual. If I remember rightly, it is a Greek basil. Correct name or not, it is now standing on the kitchen windowsill.

Peace on the Blackwater. The river flows by the Nano Nagle Centre
You can also have a cup of tea or coffee and some home baking, maybe before or after the market or perhaps after taking one of several walks through the centre. We did the Cosmic Walk and that took us past a very large and impressive sundial.

Then we strolled through the animal enclosures, a couple of donkeys grazing, two pigs poking in the dust with their snouts and grunting happily and a community of hens clucking. Down  a few steps then to a field where a curious calf stared back and a few minutes later we were on the peaceful banks of the lovely Blackwater. After the walk, it was back to the car and a quiet cross country drive through the drizzly hills as we returned to the city.