Yesterday, when I wrote about the Ballymaloe Lit Fest, I mentioned that I was lucky. It goes even further than that. In my small home town, curved along a small slice of the Atlantic and in the shelter of the Comeragh mountains, we have all kinds of wonderful too, and ample reasons to return.
I am immensely proud of my hometown, Dungarvan in County Waterford. I tell everyone I meet that they should visit with much enthusiasm. I explain why. I tell them about the mountains and the sea, the majestic Mahon falls and Europe’s biggest coom lake, Coomshinghaun. I mention the magic road (yes! we have one!), the local oysters, the fantastic locally produced cheese.
I tell them about An Rinn (pronounced On Ryne), our local native speaking area set in the Drumhills overlooking Dungarvan harbour, home to the Clancy brothers in their day, and rich still with music and culture. I tell them about The Tannery restaurant, one of my favourite spots, and their cookery school and townhouse, where I often stay when I go home.
Then we move up the road a little bit, and talk about the Cliff House Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux hotel built into the Atlantic cliffs with a michelin starred restaurant and a great bar with a terrace overlooking the bright blue sea on a gorgeous clear day. I tell them about Dungarvan Brewing Company, a wonderful local business producing proper old style Irish beers, and doing so well you can drink them in Italy now, amongst other places.
I might take a breath now, it will depend on whether or not I have had wine. I haven’t mentioned the oyster farm yet, the speciale oysters grown in the harbour and selling for €48 a dozen in Paris (and now in London too at Wright Brothers for £15.60 for 6). I proceed and I tell them about the terrific annual local food festival, the West Waterford Festival of Food, which embraces the sea and the land, national and international chefs, and above all is a fully inclusive experience for all, locals and visitors, families and food obsessives. This festival attracts big names too, previous participants include Fergus Henderson, Angela Hartnett, Mark Hix and Richard Corrigan.
Last year, I joined a few sleepy looking people (the sessions at night time at the festival are legendary) and some energetic enthusiasts on Saturday morning and went on the Beer and Seafood Bus Bia (Bia – beea, Irish for food). This was a terrific tour starting at Dungarvan Brewing Company where Head Brewer, Cormac O’Dwyer led a tasting and brewery tour. Their beers are all bottle conditioned in the old way, and also served on draught. I love the Blackrock stout, creamy and rich with a hint of bitterness. Their Helvick Gold Blond Irish Ale and Copper Coast Irish Red Ale (all are named after local landmarks), are very popular and can be found in pubs and restaurants all over Ireland now and in some places abroad, so do seek them out.
Stout and oysters are a famous combination, so it was natural that our next stop would be Harty Oysters, an oyster farm in Dungarvan harbour started by Jim Harty in 1986, and now producing speciale oysters for the French, Italian, Irish and UK markets (maybe more by now!). We had a tour of the farm, and Jim took us through the process from seed (can you believe how small the seed oysters are?) to the mature speciale oysters which are harvested 3 years later. We had plenty of oysters there, raw and poached with dressing, with wine, beer, tea and cake. I loved it, proper Irish hospitality.
Our final stop was the Joan Clancy Gallery, Joan’s surname will be familiar, she is the widow of Tom Clancy, one of the Clancy Brothers. The gallery, with gorgeous views overlooking the harbour, had a very colourful food based exhibit that day (don’t you love the tortillas?), but also work from Joan’s daughter, an established artist. The current exhibit from Katarzyna Gajewska looks pretty terrific.
There are many cooking demos, talks, and dinners, from small intimate affairs to larger banquets. That evening Eunice Power cooked up a Middle Eastern feast based on her earlier travels there. With views over the harbour, the food was served mezze style, and was as good as I have had anywhere. The Lebanese sausages were particularly good.
Nude Food partnered with Highbank Orchard for the Organic Apple Orchard Dining dinner. Highbank Orhcard make a wonderful apple syrup from their heritage apples and also some excellent proper ciders. The meal was served on one long table, and as very sociable. Proper home cooking was on offer and a lovely display of Irish fare.
A highlight every year is the Sunday Market which takes over the square and the surrounding streets. Producers from all over the country travel to hawk their wares, and I always fill my suitcase with treats to take home. This year I loved the cordials and chutneys from local Aurelia Foods including the unlikely Lemon and Parsnip Cordial, which I tried out of curiosity and loved. All natural and sourced and made locally, their produce is all passion and heart, and I hope they do very well. I know it isn’t easy for small producers now.
There is so much on, and what I love about this festival, is just how much fun it is. There was a comedy night with a chicken dinner too (hello! This sold out well in advance). Food shouldn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we. Best to just tuck in, and enjoy ourselves. Right?
The West Waterford Festival of Food is on from the 9th to the 12th April this year. Details and tickets are available on their website. If I was going this year, I wouldn’t miss Eunice Power’s food at wonderful Dromana House, the Comedy Grub Club and Aoife Carrigy’s Food Stories. The Seaweed Walk is something I really must do someday too, I grew up on the sea, and I would love to know more about foraging there.
Related posts on Eat Like a Girl:
Waterford Festival of Food 2013: FergusStock with Fergus Henderson, a Banquet in Lismore Castle and a Week to Recover
Waterford Festival of Food 2012: Angela Harnett; Brewer, Blogger & Baker Pop-Up and Farmer’s Market
MacGrath’s Butchers in Lismore & Some Thoughts on Butchery
A Postcard from the Waterford Festival of Food
Recipe: Mushrooms on Toast from The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan
Hidden Ireland: The Tannery, Dungarvan