When it comes to family recipes, there are always some that are kept a little closer to the chest than others. However, there are very few kept quite as secret as Colette Twomey’s family recipe. Believe it or not, Colette is the only person in the world who possesses the entire recipe for Clonakilty Black Pudding.

“How is that even possible?” asks Irish Country Living in disbelief. “Well, obviously people in the company know the combination of ingredients; the oats, beef, onions etc. But when it comes to the spice mix, I’m the only one who knows the secret blend,” smiles Colette proudly over a cup of tea.

Not to be morbid, but what if the Number 10 bus gets you in the morning Colette? Laughing, she says the recipe is kept in a sealed envelope with her solicitor, she won’t even tell us who eventually will open it someday. In fact, although Colette is the managing director of a company worth €14m, she still mixes the spices every week herself for the next batch of the famous black pudding.

Black Pudding Nearly Discontinued

It’s a secret she shared with her husband Edward who sadly passed away from motor neurone disease 10 years ago. Colette hasn’t just stayed true to the secret recipe though. She has worked hard over the last decade to build on the vision they had; to make Clonakilty Black Pudding available to anyone who wanted it.

This wasn’t always the plan though.

“In the early days when we were just married, we actually considered discontinuing the black pudding. We had a small butcher shop in Clonakilty and competition was really starting to build as supermarkets grew. We knew we needed to modernise and we thought we could use the space where we made the black pudding to extend the shop.”

However, there was something special about the black pudding that kept people coming back.

“The recipe has actually been passed down since the 1800s and people used to come home from England or from up the country when they were visiting relatives and say: ‘Can you still get Harrington’s Black pudding here?’ The penny dropped that there was a real opportunity and we started to build on it slowly.”

The Spice of Life

“I’d love to tell you that there was some great formula, a fancy business plan, but there just wasn’t. We grew organically and it was driven by demand. We might have had one van out on the road, and when that was full we got another. We didn’t work off overdrafts or bank loans. We didn’t have a business background, but we had that vision.”

There might not have been a fancy commerce degree but Colette says her husband always had a good business head on him.

“Eddie was a farmer’s son and planned to eventually get back farming full-time, but then he caught the business bug. He was a natural marketer, in his element on centre stage.”

When he passed away, Colette wasn’t sure what to do with the business.

“You know I made the puddings and the sausages. I used to bundle the kids into the van with me and do deliveries. I did lots of things in the business up to that point, but to sit behind a desk and run a business, well that was just alien to me.

“But the business had gotten under my skin and even though my husband was gone, I still had this shared vision. So I decided I would just keep it running for a few years, to pass it on to my sons. I thought, I’ll just tread water for a while, keep it afloat. I quickly learned though that when it comes to business, there is no such thing. You have to drive it forward or else you’re going backwards.”

10,000 Miles from Home

Drive it forward she certainly did. In the 10 years that Colette has been at the forefront of the business, it has grown in turnover from €7m to €14m. Volume has doubled. In fact, you can now get Clonakilty across the globe, as far as Australia.

“We’re making black pudding over there now. We couldn’t export it there because of their importation laws.” So Colette still mixes up the spices in the pudding home of Clonakilty and it’s sent over 10,000 miles to be mixed with ingredients in Melbourne.

“We bought a farm over in Australia a few years ago and we realised just how much opportunity there was in that market. Barry’s Tea, Tayto and Clonakilty Black Pudding – they are the three things that people kept saying they missed from home.”

Colette said that when Eddie initially suggested buying a farm in Australia, she thought he was mad, but it was one of those ideas that led to this big opportunity.

“You know he used come home most days with these mad ideas. Some happened, some didn’t. I was usually the voice of reason,” she laughs.

“It was a delicate balance, not to kill his enthusiasm but also to offer a little realism. I know he would be very proud of how the business has grown.”

The Full Clonakility Breakfast

So what is Colette most proud of?

“We’re not about singing our own praises. We prefer to let other people do the talking, but it is nice to hear people’s stories about the product. Last month, I was at a wedding in France. While we were there, a friend of mine rang a local B&B for extra accommodation. Turns out it was a Sligo woman running it and she informed him that she does ‘the full Clonakilty breakfast’. Now she didn’t have a clue that we were even from Clonakilty. So I went out to meet her.

“It turns out that she gets a delivery once a month. I know her supplier, when it gets to her, even what the order usually is. It’s amazing to meet the people at the other end and to see what our product means to them. It goes right back to the vision that Eddie and I had from the start; to make the pudding available to whoever wanted it.”

So what does the future hold for Clonakilty Black Pudding?

One thing that Colette is certain of is that the company will keep its heart and that family will be at the centre of it all.

“We have a fantastic team. My sons aren’t involved in the traditional nine to five running of the business but they all have their own unique involvement.

“Ed is forward-thinking and is involved in marketing and the development of new products. Although Patrick is living in Hong Kong at the moment, he keeps an eye on the financial side of the business. And Jonathan is a man with his father’s passion for farming, while also being involved in logistics.”

That family extends to the team around her.

“Some people presume we’re some big multinational with this huge international name. And I can’t believe the number of people who have heard of Clonakilty Black Pudding. But, at the end of the day, we’re a small, tight team. We’re family and that works for us.”

Colette will be part of a panel who will speak about building a family agricultural business at Irish Country Living’s Women & Agriculture conference.