The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine
A visit to Ireland has been on my list for a while now, but to visit Ireland during the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest of Food and Wine is a dream come true for a food and travel writer such as myself; last year saw me visit Northern Ireland with The Guild of Food Writers…….it was a wonderful trip that celebrated all things food and drink in Northern Ireland, so it was interesting to see what was happening over the border in the republic of Ireland, which I was able to do two weeks ago when I was a guest of Kerrygold UK as part of their “press team” attending the Ballymaloe Lit Fest. We were to attend some of the “workshops” and talks at the Lit Fest over the weekend, as well as take the opportunity to visit a Kerrygold farm, mingle with local food and drink artisans in The Big Shed, visit some local beauty spots and indulge in some fine dining at Ballymaloe House.
The itinerary was very busy, as most press trips are, but, there was also ample time to enjoy some of the excellent facilities at Castlemartyr Hotel and Resort in Cork, where we were staying for the weekend. The hotel is set in several acres of natural woodland with a golf course, woodland walks, lakes and even a lovely old Kitchen Herb Garden. My room was one of their very large and comfortable Suites, that comprised a large king-size bed with a balcony which overlooked the beautiful formal gardens. It featured a spacious adjoining sitting room leading through to a beautifully appointed bedroom, and the luxurious marbled bathroom was very spacious with a separate rainforest shower, a full bath, double vanity unit and a separate toilet. In fact I also had a small office and a walk through dressing room too, which was all very handy for a tired traveller with excess luggage.
After a comfortable flight from Stansted to Cork, and having “settled into our rooms”, I enjoyed a light meal at the hotel before travelling to Ballymacredmond to visit the McCarthy farm, where I was to meet my first “Kerrygold Cows”. It wasn’t the perfect day for a farm visit, as there was a heavy fog that shrouded the farm and fields so it was hard to admire the lush surrounding countryside, but after a short walk up to the fields to see the cows that make Kerrygold butter so famous (and creamy), Mrs McCarthy had a full Irish Tea laid out for us, complete with freshly made scones, jam, cream, butter (of course) and pots of the famous Barry’s tea, complete with “cow mugs”, which was just what was needed after a damp walk up the hills. (I will be posting a full article about McCarthy’s Farm in a second post)
The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest was between Friday the 15th May and Sunday the 17th May in 2015, and after returning from the farm visit, we then set off for the Official Opening Festival in The Grainstore, where delicious canapés, champagne and cocktails were served. The festival concept is simple and grew from a suggestion that was made by Geoffrey Dobbs, Founder of Galle Literary Festival… ‘Isn’t it about time Ballymaloe celebrated their literary tradition?’ . Myrtle Allen, who turned ninety in 2014, started writing recipes for the Farmers Journal in 1959, producing her first cookbook in 1977. Thirty years later, her daughter-in-law, Darina took pen to paper and has since produced eighteen cookery books. Following suit, Darina’s daughter-in-law, Rachel began writing cook books in 2002 and has published eleven to date. So after three generations of cookery books being published, Geoffrey had a point, it was about time Ballymaloe created a festival that celebrated food and wine writing. 2015 marked their third festival and the dates for 2016 have already been released. (Ballymaloe Lit Fest)
After the official opening festival, we all repaired to The Big Shed, the beating heart of all the food and drink activities, as well as the Fringe Festival over the weekend, where much food and wine was consumed before the last shuttle bus back to the hotel at 2300. The Big Shed, and indeed all the venues, were decorated with swathes of fresh foliage and flowers, which made for an outdoors feeling inside…..it was utterly charming and created a unique ambience for the whole festival weekend. The next day, after a hearty full Irish breakfast, we all set off for Ballymaloe Cookery School for our first talk of the festival, by Fuchsia Dunlop; Fuchsia mesmerised us with her tales of Chinese cooking, as well as her time spent in China which she shared through a fascinating slide show. Her talk resonated with me on a very personal level, as she talked of food, festivals and customs that I grew up with in 1960’s Hong Kong, and the images that accompanied her talk were very familiar to me. A short shuttle bus journey took us back the main festival area via a local pottery (Stephen Pearce) and Ballycotton, where we enjoyed lunch in The Big Shed once again.
The rest of the day was taken up with more talks (Design in Food) and a rather interesting Irish Craft Cider tasting session, which was perfect as an after-lunch libation. After a full day, I was glad to get back to my presidential suite and relax in a bath, before scrubbing up for the big event that evening, The Kerrygold Festival Dinner at Ballymaloe House. We had drinks in the Old Conservatory before being called in to eat in the main dining area…..Darina Allen thanked all the festival team, and pointed out that the Cookery School had cooked over 7,000 meals throughout the weekend, an unimaginable feat, but yet they did it with quiet efficiency. The menu for the festival dinner was sublime……we were tempted with choices of Ballymaloe breads with Kerrygold butter, Garden Green Onion Soup as well as Sweet Geranium Sorbet and Potted Lobster with Marjoram and Lemon which had been caught of the coast of Ballycotton earlier that day……..
……..after the starters, fish and salad courses, there was Cork Spring Lamb on offer with Summer Carrots, Braised Green Onions and Mint Bearnaise, or the Fish of the Day, which was Monkfish served with Asparagus and Chervil Butter……most of the vegetables and herbs were grown at Ballymaloe House and the salad leaves were grown under glass in the Ballymaloe walled garden. There were also lots of locally foraged herbs and flowers, that adorned the beautifully presented dishes. I chose the soup, lobster and fish of the day before being treated to an old-fashioned “sweet trolley” filled with cakes, meringues, trifles, brownies and pavlovas and an amazing Kerrygold Cheese Platter served with quince paste, figs and nuts. The whole evening’s meals was rounded off with coffee and Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur.
Sunday arrived too early after a late night in the Knight’s Bar at the hotel, and many Irish Cream liqueurs being imbibed, but after a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon with pan-fried potatoes and crepes, I was ready for the first event of the day, The Avoca Cookery Demonstration with Leylie Hayes & Hugo Arnold, hosted by Rachel Allen. I visited my first Avoca store in Belfast last year, and I was captivated by its ethos and range of produce, especially in the café. The cookery demonstration sounded amazing, with recipes such as Rainbow Lunch Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing, Spicy Chickpea, Quinoa and Sweet Potao Burgers and a wonderful Raw Caramel Slice packed with almonds, dates cashews and coconut on the menu.
Once the demonstration as over, we were all invited to enjoy the food that had been cooked, which was fresh and zingy, with the most amazing flavours of herbs , grains and vegetables in all the dishes….. we all given copies of the recipes to take away with us, and I was so impressed with them all that I plan to have a special Avoca recipe day soon. We then headed off to The Big Shed, once again, for lunch, not that any of us were hungry after the Avoca feast, before we enjoyed the Kerrygold Butter Brunch activities……cookery demonstrations and recipe tasting. Our last official event of the day was an interesting discussion in The Grainstore with Sam Clarke, ‘Moro & Morito – The Restaurants & The Cookbooks’ in conversation with Rory O’Connell. It was then time to travel back to Cork airport for our flight back to London, after the most wonderful weekend of food, friendship, demonstrations, discussion, wine, books, luxury accommodating and sightseeing.
Disclaimer: With thanks to Kerrygold UK who paid for my travel, accommodation and for all the events at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, including all transfers, food and drink.
Once upon a time is how every great story starts and Kerrygold has one of the best. A story of luscious green meadows, where small herds are fed on juicy meadow grass to create the key ingredient for our best tasting butter, Meadow Milk. Take a journey to our meadows to find out more…….watch out for my next post about the Kerrygold Cows and a recipe using Kerrygold butter.