RAI Gala out of reach for some rural nominees: Money’s tight right now, lads, and no one understands this better than small, rural food businesses. On 20 May, the Restaurant Association of Ireland held its annual Irish Restaurant Awards gala, which was held at the Clayton Hotel Burlington Road in Dublin. Each year, the awards begin with regional award ceremonies – one for each province. The winners, then, are selected for the national awards, which are presented during the gala dinner. These awards are great in many ways – they celebrate the best of Irish food and drink and provide an opportunity for busy professionals to let their hair down and celebrate the good things in life. They are inclusive of all types of establishments – including all price points – and are geographically well-represented, with plenty of rural Irish hospitality businesses being highlighted. The only problem?

“Going to the gala in Dublin would have set me back over €1,000 by the time we’d bought the tickets [€220 per head] and stayed in a hotel [€205],” a rural business owner told the Maitre D’.

At a time when food businesses are struggling with VAT rates, operation costs and staffing problems, should their representative body – a body which highlights these problems on the daily – expect them to pay that much for national recognition?

“Honestly, if we had an extra €1,000 handy, I would spend it on my staff on a night out locally,” the business owner added. “It is wonderful to be recognised, but I just couldn’t justify the cost.”

Stepping into the past

The Smithick's Masters of Ale tour includes a tutorial on pouring the perfect pint. / Dylan Vaughan

Now I love a good pint like anyone else, but I have to say I never really considered the history of it all. How did medieval monks make their beer? You can find out on the new Masters of Ale experience at the Smithwick’s Experience in Kilkenny. The guided tour takes you from the earliest brews of the Marble City to the range of beers on offer from Smithwick’s today. An interesting part of this tour is the sensory lab, where you sit down with pen and paper and analyse four different beers on their colour, aroma, flavour and overall drinking experience (yes, it’s nerdy, but who else but beer nerds will be on this tour?). That said, the history is the big selling point here – Smithwick’s has been brewing beer for 300 years, and the Smithwick family have been there every step of the way.

The tour runs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and ends with a tutorial on pouring the perfect pint. Now, it’s been a few years since your Maitre D’ has had to pour the perfect pint, but we’re pleased to report, she’s still got the magic touch.


Beetroot juice is good for your health… and your skin

Anne Marie Feighery of Feighery's Farm Beetroot Juice. \ Philip Doyle

You don’t need the likes of me going on and on about the health benefits of beetroot. The bottom line is it grows well here in Ireland and is full of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (that my kids won’t touch with a 20 foot-pole). Now it seems it can be used for skincare, as well (hopefully only dying our skin a shade of pink when we want it to).

Irish Country Living Women & Agriculture 2020 award winner Anne Marie Feighery knows all about beetroot, thanks to her family farm, and she knows all about creating value-added products, thanks to her business Feighery’s Farm Beetroot Juice. She was surprised, though, when she received a phone call from Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) asking about conducting research on the beetroot pulp (the byproduct from the juice-making process).

“Dr Azza Silotry Naik is a lecturer in TU Dublin,” she told the Maitre D’. “She wanted to look into waste byproducts for its potential health benefits. She took our pulp back to the lab and some of her students did their thesis work on it. Last weekend, they presented and I went up to sit in on the presentation. They basically highlighted the potential of beetroot byproduct for its beneficial compounds in the food and cosmetic industry.” Beetroot pulp is generally used as animal feed but sure if there are other, more valuable uses for it, I say lather it on. Anne Marie says they incorporated the beetroot pulp into face cream and lip balm and Dr Naik will continue to work on finding the right formula.

Should Boxty have a PGI ranking?

Dromod Boxty may soon be able to add "PGI" to their food labels if the European PGI application is successful.

‘Tis far from PGI rankings that I was reared, but boxty? That’s a food I have long held close to my heart. I would say that every granny north of Athlone has their own special way of making it, so when I heard that an application has been made for traditional Irish boxty to be awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status, it seemed a truly fitting thing.

So far, the application has been submitted and Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue (whose department is responsible for these kind of European applications) says, “The Boxty PGI applicant has engaged with my Department and has undertaken important work to finalise their product specification and single document in line with the European Commission requirements.” At this stage, it’s a wait-and-see kind of situation, but at least it appears that the boxty isn’t being left on the back burner.

Buffalo Burrata has a nice ring to it

Macroom Buffalo have launched several new products.

We all love a bit of Buffalo mozzarella when we’re on our hollybobs in Italy, but in my humble opinion the cheese made here in Ireland, from buffalo grazing on our green, green grass, is in a league of its own. Johnny Lynch and his team at Macroom Buffalo are now adding to their product line, which up until recently comprised mainly of Buffalo mozzarella and bocconcini (those little balls of cheese which are so convenient for snacking). Now, they are offering a buffalo burrata (all the rage right now; a ball of mozzarella filled with thick cream) and three flavours of yogurt: vanilla, strawberry and natural.

These products are thick and luxurious but are also chock-full of protein and are low in cholesterol. The 840 buffalo in Macroom are milked twice a day and graze across 640ac. The yogurts are available in SuperValu and Centra and retail from €3.49 per tub.

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Spilling the tea with Maitre D'

Spilling the tea with Maître D’