Is there a formula to creating award-winning food products? If so, Peter and Lorraine Randall know what it is. When they moved to Ireland from the UK in 2001, they could never have known that 17 years later they would be running a multiple award-winning food business – most recently at Blas na hEireann – but that’s exactly what fate had in store for this enterprising couple.
The Randalls are difficult to catch for an interview. They are always busy, whether making their Ayle Farm preserves, jams, juices and chutneys in Peter’s 26 sq ft on-site kitchen; labelling and selling at the weekly Cahir farmers’ market; delivering their wares to the many stockists in their local area; or networking with their local enterprise groups and fellow Tipperary food producers at launches and events.
The company comprises two people: Lorraine and Peter. They chop every onion by hand, stir every pot, label every jar, sell their wares, manage public and customer relations and market their products on their own. You would think this to be an overwhelming task (and perhaps it is); yet the Randalls make it look easy.
We finally meet at the Saturday farmers’ market in Cahir, where the Randalls have been selling for several years.
“Everything we make is small-batch. My biggest pot is only 10l,” Peter explains, as we stamp our feet in an effort to keep warm on this bitingly cold winter morning. “That means it’s easier to maintain quality control and each batch is slightly unique depending on the time of year and where I’ve sourced the ingredients.”
Success through tough times
Though the Randalls’ background has not always been in food, it has always been something they’ve fallen back on to get them through tough times.
“We moved here in 2001 – I was working for a recruitment company, setting up its Irish operations. When 9/11 happened it had a major affect on the UK end of the business. I was here for about three months, then was made redundant.”
Having moved their five children to a new country and purchased a house, this was a hard blow for the Randall family. Peter maintained several jobs for a few years and after seeing a farm in Oola, Co Tipperary, go up for auction, they decided in 2007 to buy the property. After a failed stint at running a nearby restaurant, he and Lorraine were making a living by delivering lunches to several schools in the area.
Once on the farm, Peter became interested in organic farming. They built polytunnels and started growing their own vegetables and raising pigs. In 2011, Peter studied sustainable food growing in Cork. After a particularly successful growing season, the Randalls realised, to their astonished delight, that they had an excess of 70kg of red and green tomatoes.
“I was wondering what to do with all these tomatoes,” Peter remarks, while Lorraine serves customers at their stall. “I thought – Christmas is coming up. Why not make some tomato chutney and sell it by the jar at a local Christmas fair? People just loved it – ‘Oh, you grew these tomatoes yourself?’ – they just liked the idea and taste of it. Then we started developing a product line from there.”
Keeping it local
While fixing up the farm, a small professional kitchen was also set up on the premises. This is where every Ayle Farm product is made, and while they may not grow every single ingredient that goes into their condiments, jams and sauces, they certainly source them as locally as possible.
“Take our pickled onions,” Peter points to one of the jars on their stall tables. “These onions are from the Cloughjordan ecovillage.”
When asked if the onions he pickled are of the pearl variety, Peter laughs.
“They’re a Cloughjordan specialty. A hybrid onion they created by mixing up two standard types. They keep the large ones for themselves and I take the smaller ones to pickle; it works out perfectly for all of us.”
He then points out their Blas na hEireann award-winning beetroot chutney: “I’ve changed the recipe in this chutney a bit – I swapped regular white wine vinegar for (The Apple Farm’s) apple cider vinegar. The apple cider really adds to the natural sweetness of the beetroot.”
I’m beginning to see why the Randalls win so many top food awards. These “changes” and special ingredients used in making their products may seem minute, but they can make all the difference when a judge is handed three types of beetroot chutney. When Peter uses his own crop of beetroot to make the chutney, or another locally grown beetroot, it will taste better paired with ingredients grown and produced in the surrounding area. The same goes for the pickled onion.
I ask the Randalls why they think they win so many awards – their company being as small as it is. Have they always been passionate about cooking?
“Well look at us – we do obviously love our food,” Lorraine jokes. All joking aside, they have always enjoyed eating good-quality food and making things from scratch, even before they started growing their own vegetables.
“When I left home and moved into my first place, I said to myself: ‘I am not going to eat packet food’,” Peter adds. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I like to think I’m a good cook.”
Peter and Lorraine celebrate age-old tradition in their recipes. There is a bit of nostalgia in every jar of chutney and marmalade; like something your granny would make (only better). Secondly, by using their own home-grown and locally sourced ingredients, they are using the best fruit and vegetables in their sauces at their peak.
Thirdly, is the natural knack for flavour combination and culinary skill that goes into making each unique product.
Thanks as well to their involvement in the SuperValu Food Academy, the Tipperary Food Producers Network and their Local Enterprise Office, the Ayle Farm brand has become well-known in the Irish small food producer community.
The Randalls have created something unique and delicious.
For the full range of Ayle Farm’s award-winning products, you can visit www.aylefoods.ie