Monday, May 30, 2016

Ballinwillin House & Farm. Where the deer and the wild boar roam.

Ballinwillin House & Farm
Where the deer and the wild boar roam
We are in a country town. We have been feeding the deer and checking on the goats and Wild Boar pigs. Time now for a drink in the Hungarian wine-cellar. A red, appropriately named Young Bull, goes down well. It is made from the Hungarian grape Kékfrancos.

Back to the main house now for dinner which will start with a plate of charcuterie, all from the farm. The mains will feature both venison and pig. The southern town is Mitchelstown and we are having the time of our lives in Ballinwillin House (built in 1727 by the local Earl of Kingston for the famous agriculturalist Sir Arthur Young).

One of the pucks
When we arrived in the late afternoon, we were welcomed by Patrick Mulcahy. Patrick and his wife Miriam have been owners since 1985. The estate once had 1240 acres but the Mulcahy’s are doing very well indeed with 162 acres, divided into various parcels. In 1985, they started with the house and 16 acres.

The first thing you notice when you come through the gate is the herd of deer in the nearby field. Patrick told us the original deer were brought in from Hungary and there are now 850 of them. The field we were looking at had about twenty five, a “small harem” for the single stag. What we didn't see though were the first of this season’s “babies”. Just born and about the size of a hare, they were hidden away in the long grass of a far corner by the cautious mothers but they will be out and about in a few days.
The young ones
After that we were taken to see a small herds of goats and then the Wild Boar pigs and their young. To see more about the Wild Boar and how they came back to Ireland check out this Ear To The Ground feature on Ballinwillin.

Patrick, from West Limerick originally, has some more “ordinary” animals too, including cattle. We saw a mother and her newly born twins. The birth had been very tough on all three but tender care and no little muscle from the Mulcahy's saw them all pull through. They were on the point of calling the vet but didn't have to. Indeed, the vet is rarely involved here as the operation is organic and healthy.
All calm for the twins after a tough start to life
And those healthy meats, most of which are sold online by the way but also to hotels and chefs, are used in the house for entertaining. They have nine rooms for B&B, six of them in a courtyard and three in the house itself. They also entertain groups with a convivial start usually made in the wine-cellars built for Patrick by some of his Hungarian friends.

He has made many friends in Hungary over the years and that is how the wine came into it, a wine that is now combined with the other produce of the farm. His wines in Hungary are bottled under the Chateau Mulcahy label and there too you’ll see a deer silhouette. The wine names are usually in honour of relations or friends: Clos de John Patrick, Amy Rose, South Winds (after a friend’s house).
A big welcome
from Patrick
The Kékfrancos is a native Hungarian grape but most of the others are the familiar international grapes such as Chardonnay, Merlot (for the rosé), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for example. All in all 14 wines, including a dessert one, are available so you’ll have plenty of choice either in the atmospheric cellar or in the dining hall. 

The cellars are dimly lit and not very big but that just tends to get people closer to one another, all the better to smile and chat and laugh. You won't be checking the colour of your wine - but you sure will be enjoying it and the occasion. Indeed, you may book a cellar visit as a standalone.

In the cellar
The high roofed dining room was our next call - we were with a group of about twenty from the Munster Wine & Dine. Starter was a generous plate of charcuterie, all from the farm, all delicious.

Hard to beat the mains. Miriam is well able to turn her hand to virtually any hearty meat dish and on this occasion we enjoyed a five star Venison Bourguignon with all the trimmings. About halfway though that, a stuffed fillet of Wild Boar was added to each plate. More wine was ordered and we were on a roll!
Dessert, Miriam’s Raspberry Cake, arrived in due course.  Then a little sing-song broke out - Patrick chipped in with There’s An Isle - and it was a very happy gang that trooped into our bus back to the city.

  • The brilliant day out had started with a visit to the Grubb family farm at Beechmount, near Fethard, the home of Cashel Blue and other beautiful cheeses. Read all about it here
  • If you’d like to join the fun with Munster Wine & Wine, please send email to

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Grubbs And Cashel Blue. Passion. Place. Precious.

The Grubbs And Cashel Blue
Passion. Place. Precious.
When you listen to Sarah Grubb speak about cheese and particularly about the cheeses that her family produces, including the famous Cashel Blue, you hear passion (and the occasional hearty laugh). But listen carefully and you realise that the passion is built on attention to details, little and large, and on hard work, on experience of course and also on a love for the locality, their terroir, the green fields of Beechmount Farm where their “new” dairy (2010) is located.

If the planners had their way, the building that we (members of Munster Wine & Dine) visited last Friday would have been on an industrial estate. But the Grubbs (including founders Jane and Louis, Sarah’s parents) were convinced that the dairy should be on the farm, in the place where the cheese had been made since 1984 and in the very area where their own workers came from. And, with help from friends and neighbours, that is what happened.

If you’re interested in starting with sheep, you’ll need to know your breeds. Sarah told us that Dorset is best for meat but Friesland is best for milk. We actually started with a taste of sheep’s milk and then moved on to the curds which two recent visitors separately described as like “ a very good tofu”.

Blue is doing well here on a 6 week Crozier

“The French,” she's said, “call sheep's milk liquid gold”. Perhaps because it is precious - they produce so very little per ewe - and because too it is nice to work with. But you have to have patience with it. The milk contains more solids than cow's milk and so the cheese takes longer to develop.

Goat's milk, she told us, is closer to buffalo than sheep (which is creamier). And, Sarah (who like husband Sergio, another key player at Beechmount, has a wine background) emphasized that sheep’s milk is a product of its terroir. “It varies from place to place. Fascinating!” And another thing, sheep’s milk is easier to digest.

She showed us the display of wheels. “Our cheeses are not particularly large - Stilton is much larger.” The smaller size is down to practical reasons. In a small operation, smaller wheels are easier to handle and quite often it is women doing the handling. The big wheels have one advantage though: “The larger the cheese, the longer it will last.”

We had a tasting of the various cheeses. These included a young Crozier Blue. It was rather “dry” at this stage. The trademark creaminess develops with age!

Salt is the only preservative in cheese and it is essential and the mould too is extremely important to the development of the cheese. She then led us through the dairy, explaining the various parts of the process. You may check out the more important steps right here.
Some of the thousands of wheels in the Maturation Room

Small beginnings

“One sunny summer’s day my daughter Sarah and I were watching my husband, Louis, herd his cows in from pasture. What a deliciously rich and creamy milk they gave! I started to experiment. Eventually, in 1984, I created Cashel Blue, a cheese I believe truly represents the outstanding quality of Tipperary milk. I hope you will agree.”

This is Jane Grubb telling how Cashel Blue cheese came into being and we do agree, as do thousands of customers worldwide, from the US to Australia. “All areas of the market are supplied," Sarah told me on a previous visit and, on Friday, she confirmed that they don't put all their eggs into the one basket! This is a deliberate decision, as they want everyone to try their cheese, not just those that shop in elite outlets.
I should of course say cheeses as Cashel Blue has been joined by other products, including Cashel Cream Cheese, a convenient cheese in a tub for everyday use, a mix of Cashel Blue, Natural Cream cheese and 5 per cent cream. The other well known cheese is Crozier Blue, developed in 1993 from sheep’s milk. You may also come across their Shepherd’s Store, a gorgeous hard cheese, and watch out in the near future for Cashel Blue organic.

But back to Jane and those early days. She had decided to make cheese but didn’t know how. So she got herself a library book. Even that wasn't available locally and had to be obtained via the inter-library route. That book, lots of experiments and then the acquisition of a small vat, led to the famous Cashel Blue.

Over twenty years later, the new dairy was established near the original farmhouse (which had become almost overwhelmed by the success) and opened right in “one of the best fields” and locally became known as Louis’ shed. Louis is Jane’s husband and the entire family were glad to get their home back.
Main cheesemaker Geurt van den Dikkenberg, using the cheese harp

The early cheesemakers too needed encouragement as they tried to find their way. And that encouragement came in the shape of an early prize (up in Clones in County Monaghan)  and soon they were on the right path, choosing to make the blue rather than what many others were making. “We continue to specialise in blue,” Sarah told us last Friday

Cheesemaking is no easy job. Lots of muscle and hands-on work is required. Cheesemaking starts at 6.00am and work goes on everyday, though they do try and keep it that bit less demanding at weekends. Still, someone has to be there 365 days a year!

It is hard work too drawing that cheese harp through the curds and whey in large vats time after time; cheesemakers back is an occupational hazard. Not easy work at all and yes that Cheese Harp has to be re-strung from time to time.

With all that hard work, some people would be tempted to cut corners and speed up the process. But glad to say, there is no compromise here. The quality of the milk is all important and the care that it gets from the time it is piped into the vats, through to the final wheels in the Maturation Room, is hands on.

There is of course some mechanical help with placing the curd from the vats into moulds and also with the injection of the wheels to allow the blue to occur and also the turning of the wheels but nothing whatsoever to compromise the integrity of this natural product. Find out more about the Cashel way of cheese making here.
Wheels, ready for turning

The cheesemaking operation at Beechmount Farm was in good hands from the start with Jane and her husband Louis the pioneers and is in good hands now and for the future with Sarah and her husband Sergio Furno and their team.

Some Beechmount facts:

·         Fifty per cent of the cheese output is sold abroad.

·         Crozier is white while the Cashel as it matures tends to be more of a yellow colour.
·         The sheep milk, used for the Crozier, is heavier and that means more muscle needed especially while it is in the vats.
·         The wheels are salted by soaking in brine, the better to preserve it. Previously the salt was added by hand but soaking in the tanks of brine gives a more consistent result.

  • The brilliant day out ended with a visit to the Mulcahy family at Ballinwillin House, also the home of Deer, Wild Boar Pig and Hungarian wine! Great dinner too! Read all about it here.
  • If you’d like to join the fun with Munster Wine & Wine, please send email to

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Amuse Bouche

Indeed, starvation wages were paid to those who were hired….landowners proclaimed that unemployment was an invention of the Republic…… In Jaén, the gathering of acorns, normally kept for pigs, or of windfall olives, the watering of beasts and even the gathering of firewood were denounced as ‘collective kleptomania’. Hungry peasants caught doing such things were savagely beaten by the Civil Guard or by armed estate guards.

From The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston (2012)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Poff’s, The Tops of Kenmare. Supporting Local

Poff’s, The Tops of Kenmare.
Supporting Local
Poff’s of Kenmare is my kind of place. And, though I’ve never met her, chef/patron Helen Poff is my kind of person. She and her bright and airy café on New Street support local producers.

It is up there on the board in black and white: Star Sea Foods Kenmare, Coolea Cheese, St Tola Cheese, Harrington Bakery, Folláin Jams and Marmalades, Peter O’Sullivan Sneem black pudding and juicy burgers, Ashes of Annascaul sausage and white pudding, Kenmare Select Smoked Salmon, and Billy Clifford’s organic salads and vegetables.

Put all that gorgeous food into the hands of the experienced Helen Poffs and you're on a winner, for breakfast and lunch. And as some parts of the breakfast menu, including the Full Irish, are available at lunch time, you have a great choice all the way through the day.

But there is much more: daily specials, quiches, salads. Sweet stuff too if you're just in for a cuppa! Take a look at the lovely little place here. Rotate the view and you’ll see that they have a few seats outside too, for the good days that are ahead.

We called in there in late April - it is just off Henry Street. With a big dinner coming up that evening, we weren't looking for anything majorly filling! We had to restrain ourselves as we were seated right alongside the display cabinet!

The soup changes daily and there was an attractive one on, indeed I think there was a choice. CL picked the Broccoli and Blue Cheese (4.50) and I can guarantee every drop was finished off. One happy customer.
Spick and span
And I was very happy too. Helen opened this place last year having been Head Breakfast Chef at the famous Park Hotel. So when I noted “fluffy” on the pancake description, I thought to myself, I could be on a winner here. And I was.

The full description read: Fluffy American style pancakes with Maple syrup, fresh berries and cream (6.5). I know pancakes regularly turn up on breakfast menus in hotels and guest houses but mostly they are disappointingly stodgy. Not so here. Fluffy she said and fluffy she delivered. Perhaps the best pancakes I’ve ever had. I know many of you love nutella and they also do a version for you!

A couple of excellent coffees (2.00 each) later and we stepped out into the April sunshine. Or was it showers at the time?

  • By the way, at the recent regional Restaurant Association of Ireland awards, Poff’s won the Best Kerry Café Award.

New Road
Co. Kerry
Phone 064 6640645
Wed-Sun: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. Check Facebook for seasonal changes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Irish Atmospherics at John Wilson Tasting. Mediterranean Island Wines in Spotlight

Irish Atmospherics at John Wilson Tasting
Mediterranean Island Wines in LITFEST Spotlight
We got a little more than we expected at John Wilson’s Islands in the Sun, a talk and tasting on the wines of the Mediterranean Islands - one too from the Canaries. As the Irish Times wine-writer took us gently through the wines, a thunder-shower played drums on the roof of the Ballymaloe tractor shed. “Just as well they water-proof their sheds in Ballymaloe,” joked John before getting back to his fascinating tasting.

He told us it was an idea that came to him about eight years ago but it was hard to get the wines together. “I’ve always wanted to do this but Litfest gave me the chance and I left the legwork to Colm.” He was, of course, speaking of Colm McCan,  the man behind all the events in the improvised Drinks Theatre.
“There are a lot of island wines,” said John. “They have their own varieties, characters and styles. All are on trade routes, lots of them volcanic and most have never had phylloxera.”

Not always easy to find white wines with good acidity from hot climates but John had one from the historic island of Santorini. “It is volcanic..the grapes are grown high up in circles around the top of the craters. They are ungrafted. The rootstock must be ancient. The acidity is there, needs food and is great with scallops.” The wine is Assyrtiko by Gaia 2015, a leading producer, and it is a wild ferment.
 Next we landed in Corsica, Ile de Beauté. John hadn’t tasted this Vermentino until now. “It keeps the acidity, lean and fresh, amazing flavours. It is single vineyard, aged in old barrels, no new oak used.” The producer Antoine Arena has quite a story to tell. The vines are tended biodynamically and the wines are made naturally. Vines and Wines says that crisp lemony Vermentino is Sardinia’s original gift to the wine world.

South now to Sicily and the first of the reds, a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato (a soft low tannin grape), a very light coloured red by COS who farm in Vitoria. Sicily produces large quantities of wine.

John is well acquainted with this one: “It’s been a favourite of mine for 15 years. This is a new vintage, with some tannins. The vineyard is biodynamic and was the first place I saw amphora being used.” He advised decanting the wine.

Back north again now and a visit to Sardinia, to a natural winemaker who doesn't follow the market. “I make wines that please me,” he told John in an interview. “They are what they are.” Kinda take it or leave it. If you take it, remember these are not filtered, nor fined, so decant.

Tenute Dettori’s Romangia Rosso is another favourite of John’s: “I adore this wine. It has evolved so much from last year! I think natural wines are fascinating. This is an earthy, warm delicious red fruit with a lovely acidity.”

So we waved goodbye to Sardinia and headed through the straits on a long trip to the Canaries which produces quite a lot of wine. “There are 11 areas of production..a couple available in Ireland but not enough”. Then that massive shower interrupted, letting us know that we didn't quite fit the island in the sun label, though in fairness, the weekend of the Litfest was generally very good, lots of sun, as usual!

After the din on the roof, we returned to the wine. “The vines are grown in hollows to protect them from the winds. The Canaries were a stopover for ships heading to the New World and this grape, the Listan Negro, eventually made its way to Argentina (as Criolla), Chile (Pais) and California (Mission).
Ben Ryé means Son of the Wind
Our 100% Listan Negro is from Teneriffe: Vino de Parcela La Solana. It is produced from vines over 100 years old, has been foot-trodden in open concrete tanks and local natural yeasts are used. “There is a savoury liquorice touch to it and they tend to get the purity of the fruit across.”

“This is special,” said John as he guided us back to the Med and the island of Pantelleria, between Sicily and Tunisia (to which it is closer). The island is famous for its capers! Just one hotel and that is called the Dream Resort. Soil is again volcanic and again the vines are dug into the ground to avoid the worst of the winds.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito de Pantelleria is the full title, I think! John said the grape is the Moscato di Alexandria but under a different name (Zibibbo) and during a prolonged fermentation some bunches of dried grapes are “thrown in” from time to time. “It is incredibly sweet, marmalade-y, yet with great acidity”.

The Ballymaloe tulips stood up well to the massive shower.
Muscato is grown on virtually all the islands of the Med and found, in one variation or another, all over the wine-growing world. Passito refers to dried and shrivelled grapes.

A sweet ending indeed to an interesting multi-island tour and he hinted that he might well come up with another voyage next year in LITFEST.
And, yes, the sun was shining on this island as we joined the throngs milling around in Ballymaloe.

See also, from LITFEST16:

Irish Craft Cider. A Litfest16 Event

Launching Today. Tasteology: source, chill, heat and experience

Launching today! Tasteology – a new documentary series uncovering the essential steps to the ultimate taste experience

Tasteology is the name of a new AEG-initiated documentary series uncovering the four steps required to achieve cooking results that are multisensory, sustainable, nutritional and delicious all at once. The four-episode series invites viewers on a culinary journey around the world to gain inspiration and knowledge far beyond TV cooking shows. Insights are gathered from different kinds of experts, such as a psychologist, a chemist, a food waste activist and a famous Instagrammer, who all share their answers to questions traditionally posed to chefs. Tasteology launches on May 25 and is available to watch on YouTube and at

Tasteology seeks out the answers to the ultimate taste experience from new angles and expert perspectives. The ambition of the film series is to look far beyond traditional cooking programmes and to guide the viewer towards new paths in search of the ultimate taste experience. 

Recipes and cooking methods may get the most attention when it comes to preparing food, but that’s only part of the picture. AEG’s mission is to look beyond this step to explore different aspects and levels of taste, as well as how to achieve its full potential. The result is a portrait of the four essential steps to better food: source, chill, heat and experience. Each episode of this documentary series is dedicated to one of these aspects, digging into culinary traditions and unconventional innovations in order to uncover the processes to achieve the perfect taste. It’s about finding new ways to cook and eat food that is both tasteful, multisensory and sustainable. Hands-on cooking tips are mixed with cultural, societal and scientific reflections.  

Why rather than how  
While many educational resources focus on how to cook a meal, often step by step, instructed by chefs, Tasteology takes this one step further through seeking out expert knowledge on why certain methods, circumstances and tools create exceptional taste experiences. By gathering insights from new and different kinds of experts, Tasteology brings new perspectives to an area that has long belonged to traditional chefs.  

An eight-month journey and handpicked experts from three continents
The film crew travelled to a large variety of destinations over an eight month period collecting insights from the world’s premier taste experts. Mentioning just a few, the team met with ‘the father of molecular gastronomy’ Hervé This who invented ‘the perfect egg’, food waste activist Tristram Stuart who wants to change society’s attitude towards wasting food, and the famous Canadian Instagrammer Chef Jaques la Merde, who makes beautiful, plated creations out of food from the nearest gas station. These experts have a wide range of backgrounds and hold knowledge within different fields, but are united around their insatiable curiosity for taste. 

The four themes: source, chill, heat and experience
Each of the four themes cover essential steps in the process of creating an exceptional taste experience. Here is a sneak peek at the story of each 15-minute episode:  

‘Source’: Watch the episode here 
How does one source the best ingredients in order to take taste further? And how is taste affected by the lost nutrients of today’s mass produced food? Is it true that food cravings are our natural way of making sure that we get the nutrients our body needs? Explore these questions and learn about foraging, a trend that goes back to basics, respecting the ingredients’ true, original taste. Meet with foraging trendsetters and chefs Satchiko and Hisato Nakahigashi, who own a Michelin starred restaurant in Kyoto and explain the meaning of ”Tsumikasa” – a Japanese word for respecting food. In this episode we also meet with Mark Schatzker, the American author of The Dorito Effect, a book exploring what artificial flavours have done to our eating habits. 

‘Chill’: Watch the episode here 
Perfect taste starts with respect for the ingredient and the knowledge of how to handle it correctly. While the world continues to amass huge amounts of food waste, few people have discovered the key to reducing it – storage. And what’s the point in investing in good ingredients if you don’t know how to store them properly to achieve maximum taste? Meet with the British food waste activist and author, Tristram Stuart, who has devoted his life to decreasing the amount of foods being wasted. We also meet with the German chef and Wagyu cow breeder Ludwig Maurer for insights and expertise on how to store ingredients in the optimal conditions to enhance taste and reduce waste. Finally, we meet Culinary Misfits - a Berlin-based duo doing what they can to campaign against the increasing waste of fruit and vegetables that are thrown away just because they do not fit within the measures of cosmetic standards.  

‘Heat’: Watch the episode here 
Get to know how cooking a dish in the best conditions can take taste further. Using humidity in cooking is a thousand-year-old trick that spreads heat evenly and makes food more succulent and flavourful. Learn about the importance of precise heating in various cooking methods, the benefits of using steam or sous vide, and what it takes to create the ‘perfect egg’. Meet the French gastro-chemist Hervé This, the man who taught the world how to boil an egg in a dishwasher. Finally, we meet Catalina Vélez, one of the world’s most influential Latin-American chefs. After digging deep into traditional Columbian food culture, she discovered that steam was the main ingredient of great taste.  

‘Experience’: Watch the episode here 
Good food is more than just a good recipe. It’s about the whole experience. How much of the eating experience actually comes from taste? How do colours, sounds, the weight of cutlery and the shape of the plate affect our overall taste experience? Meet Professor of Psychology, Charles Spence, who shares his research on how the brain helps us to understand what the food is likely to taste like before actually tasting it. He also shares knowledge on how to play with surrounding influences such as sounds and colours to affect our taste experience. Charles Spence works closely with Jozef Youssef, author, chef patron and founder of the gastronomic project Kitchen Theory. Together, their united mission is to understand the full taste experience. 
Tasteology Experience: Charles Spence

‘I think a lot of people ask if science gets in the way of creativity and then you have those who say ‘doesn’t the creativity get in the way of science?’ For me it’s all about understanding how to compose the colours, sounds, smells and atmosphere into a complete harmonious taste experience. In order to do that I need to strike the perfect balance between science and art,’ says Jozef Youssef, author, chef patron and founder of the gastronomic project Kitchen Theory. 

In this episode, we also meet Chef Jacques la Merde (also known as Christine Flynn), a famous chef and popular Instagrammer with over 125k followers who makes beautiful plate creations that looks like fine dining, but in reality the food comes from the nearest gas station. 

The documentary is initiated by the home appliance manufacturer AEG with the mission to explore different aspects and levels of taste and inspire the viewers on how to take it to the next level. The film series is produced by the award-winning production company House of Radon.

Press release