I walked into the food hall marquee at the Cavan Institute in Cavan town to the aroma of sausages. The food hall was full to the brim with people sampling locally produced ice cream, farmhouse cheeses, rhubarb jams, gooseberry spiced jams, black puddings, cider and chocolates. November 2012 had seen the inaugural ‘Taste of Cavan‘ and now less than a year later over 20,000 people had spilled through the doors eager to sip and see.
I had arrived just in time for the next cookery demonstration by Ireland’s well loved chef, restaurant owner, cookbook author and television presenter, Clodagh McKenna. The funny thing about all of this, was as a child, I had lived next door to Clodagh but had not seen her since she was perhaps 5 years old ! She arrived on stage with a smile as wide as the ocean and her eyes darted around the room, making contacting with people and acknowledging their presence. She is indeed the epitome of Irish hospitality. To say she conducted a cooking demonstration would really not do it justice as Clodagh educated people throughout. She made lemon roasted chicken with olive, basil and tomato sauce and pan fried gnocchi. If you think there may be a little Italian influence, you would be correct. Clodagh lived in Italy for some time and has combined her love of Irish ingredients with her experience in Italy. Among the many ingredients used for this recipe, she used locally sourced chickens, Donegal Rapeseed Oil, Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, fresh lemons, garlic, freshly grown herbs and local heirloom tomatoes. She frequently offered tips, advising not to put your tomatoes in the fridge, the benefits of grass fed beef and why marbling occurs in your beef. (This was of course, for another beef recipe!) Clodagh made parmesan gnocchi and exclaimed that she felt it was only natural that we make it well in Ireland as the main ingredient is the potato. Clodagh stayed for a while to judge the ‘Chef of Cavan’ competition , visited with people, signed autographs and then had to drive back to Dublin for evening service at her newest venture ‘Clodagh’s Kitchen’ in Blackrock, Co Dublin.
I meandered in to the food hall, eager to sample the foods on offer. The first booth I stopped had was ‘Moran’s Jams’. They have 16-20 different varieties of jam’s , chutney’s and marmalades. They began at a farmers market and last year expanded their business by moving in to a commercial facility in Cavan. They currently service 60 SuperValu stores across throughout Ireland. I enjoyed the 3 I sampled but had a particular attachment for the gooseberry spiced jam. All of their fruits are sourced from local farmers or farmers around Ireland, ensuring only the finest of products as a result.
By walking a mere 5 steps I landed upon the ‘Corleggy Cheese’ booth from Belturbet, Co Cavan. The lovable and clever Silke Cropp was there to greet me, with knife in hand, ready to slice her various cheeses. If her packaging and presentation was not enough to entice you then a bite of one of her cheeses would.
The tenacious Ann Rudden was working with her 6 year old daughter at her booth. Ann had just returned from a trip to China where she hopes to export her product ‘Aines Chocolates’. Ann from Stradone village, Cavan is going from strength to strength with her handmade chocolates. Ann is a master chocolatier and only the freshest butter and cream makes it in to her wild raspberry, zesty lime, toffee butterscotch and Sicilian lemon chocolate bars.
The evening ended with a meal in the ‘Olde Post Inn’ in Clover Hill , Cavan. Words fail me right now as I write this. The car pulled up alongside a picturesque old stone church, with a welcoming Inn adjacent. I walked into this 6 bedroomed Inn where I was to stay for the night and I was greeted by the smell of turf burning in the fireplace. There really is something about this smell that draws you in and welcomes you. Gearoid Lynch, proprietor and chef entertained us that night. Corleggy cheese with beetroot salad, followed by scallops, bacon and cabbage terrine then monkfish and baby carrots, new potatoes and for dessert a rhubarb baked alaska.
Later the next morning , Gearoid had freshly baked scones ready along with home made raspberry jam and freshly brewed coffee. We chatted animatedly about sustainable farming , and fishing in the Lakeland County. Gearoid told me that there is a lake to fish in for every day of the year in Cavan. 365 lakes in the county. It’s funny how it takes moving away to another country to really learn about your homeland. Cavan was friendly and welcoming. It is a county to watch . Passion runs deep here. It is evident when you hear them speak. Passion is belief and they believe in their foods.