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Thursday 17 September 2015

Dripping Reigns Supreme

How can a product as simple as Beef Dripping win the Supreme Champion Award at the Great Taste Awards?


The kind of thing you don’t really think of as a vital ingredient, we all use it for Roasties, to make the perfect Triple Cooked Chips, to power up the Yorkshires, but it’s still just dripping.


Until, that is, a master of his craft turns his attention to producing the best dripping possible.


Pat Whelan inherited the family butchers James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel as well as the family farms and set out to provide the finest meats to his customers. With his own farms, an abattoir and an expanding range of shops as well as a strong network of farmers and other butchers to discuss ideas with he is ideally placed so to do.


But it’s Pat’s philosophy of food that is the real driver to success. He loves his farms and animals and wants to produce the best meats by respecting the animals and seeking to use every part of the animal that he has lovingly reared.


You can read more of Pat’s philosophy and background in his two books, An Irish Butcher Shop and The Irish Beef Book, written with Katy McGuinness.


Beef Dripping is a taste of our childhood, sadly side-lined by the years of attack on real fats and promotion of assorted oils by governments largely in thrall to big agribusiness. High time for a real comeback and now there is a growing realisation that fats like Butter and Dripping are not harmful and are natural products unlike the so  called ‘Spreads’ and cooking aids. Let’s be honest here I would rather trust a cow than a chemist, and it’s not Fat it’s Flavour.


So how does one man raise dripping from everyday store cupboard ingredient to Award Winning status?


By working long and hard to ensure that the product is the best, over several years, trying, tasting and refining to make the ultimate dripping.

The Dripping comes from the Hereford Cattle that Pat farms in County Tipperary, famed for its meat quality the Hereford would produce great fat for dripping, and it’s not just a case of rendering fat to dripping. The fats are carefully chosen and blended to bring out the best taste. The fats around the Kidney –or Inner Fats as Pat calls them are skilfully blended with Outer Fats – those from the working muscle areas that we would see as the various cuts of meat. The result is a smooth dripping which imparts a lot of taste to whichever dish you are using it in. If ever there was a Beef Extract this is it not that brown stuff that you add water to for a drink at a football match. Perhaps a little steak finds its way into the render to add that beefy goodness?


Now for the very minor role that I played in the development.

A few years ago I was talking with Pat who told me that he wanted to revive Dripping which had gone out of favour, and he asked me whether butchers in the UK still sold it. Certainly in our area they did. “Can you find out how they package their dripping” I was asked.


My memories were of tall waxed packets which stood on shelves in the shops with the butchers name and a picture of a cow on them, so that’s what we wanted to find so that Pat could package a traditional food in a traditional package. Would you believe it? A new team of EHOs had persuaded our local butchers that they were much better off selling their dripping in sealable plastic pots! A mad dash round butchers in a 50 mile radius couldn’t produce one example of traditional packaging.

Luckily Pat is not the man to take this as a setback and he designed this own elegant package that reflects the past.


So released last year, Pat put his Dripping into The Great Taste Awards where it won 3 Stars, the maximum possible.

More research and development and the 2015 version was submitted and again won 3 stars. As a 3 star product it was re-tasted to see whether it should make the Top 50 and earn a place at the dinner which celebrates the finest products of the year.

Pat was duly invited and made his way to London for the meal alongside some great Irish producers and the cream of contestants.

Each entrant has a chance of winning The Golden Fork for their Region or Sector of the food business and Pat was delighted to win The Golden Fork for Best Irish Product.  “At that stage I decided to celebrate” he told me, “The tie was loosened and drink was taken”.

Minutes later he was called back to receive the overall Golden Fork as Supreme Champion 2015!

Food industry insiders like Charles Campion and William Sitwell loved it as you can see from the video links below


One amazing product that can change your whole cooking and bring so much flavour to every dish that uses it.

Where can you get it? Obviously in the Clonmel branch of James Whelan Butchers and from their branches in Avoca Ireland in Rathcoole, Monkstown and Kilmacanogue or online from

If you want this amazing Dripping in the UK you'll be heading for Harrods or Fortnum and Mason, the only stores to get their hands on this bovine ambrosia.

And as to the future ? Well, I might have heard a whisper about a very tasty Lard.
To Keep up with Pat and the team at James Whelan Butchers follow @Pat_Whelan and @JWButchers.


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Tuesday 30 June 2015

Abergavenny Finalised

July 1st means the finalised line up for Abergavenny is released!

You may have missed the chance to win a great prize by getting your wristband early, but now that the full detail is available you simply have to get there!

One major star will be Raymond Blanc  who is President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  Raymond will be interviewed by Sheila Dillon from BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming programme.
Raymond Blanc

Sheila Dillon

Their conversation  will explore the roots of Raymond’s  passion for produce, dread of waste and respect for the land,  revealing  how early lessons learned from Maman Blanc  guide him throughout his career as chef and restaurateur . Raymond will also explain how ,only by understanding that food connects with every part of our lives,  we can truly secure a future for our food.

Yotam Ottolenghi., alongside his head chef, Ramael Scully, will bring the inventive NOPI ethos to the festival, pushing culinary boundaries. You could be amongst the first to get hold of NOPI the cookbook too.
Yotam and Scully

Bake-Off champion Frances Quinn brings  her unique style of baking;

 Exciting new London trio, The Groundnut Boys  will demonstrate recipes from their African Heritage with a contemporary twist . 
Groundnut Boys

Festivals don’t feel complete without  Cyrus Todiwala OBE who has been changing perceptions of Indian Cuisine since her arrived from Goa in 1991, and treating us to his food and strongly held opinions in his annual Rude Health Rant.

Happily Rude Health will again be sponsoring the Rants, in the Castle, so grab some food and drink, and settle back to hear some passionate views about food and food production, with a few laughs along the way and the possibility of an accordion accompaniment from Paulo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds.

Its not all household names though,  and this year there are some demonstrations with a difference;
 Jon Old from the Wasabi Company will talk visitors through how, from a secret location in the UK, they grow one of the world’s most expensive crops.
Jon Old

 Mitch Tonks, renowned for his radical career change from accountant to fishmonger, will demonstrate recipes from his book The Seahorse, the inspiration coming fromItaly and the South West of England.
Mitch Tonks

On the drinks front,  the festival boasts a number of cocktail, foraging and alcohol master classes. 

James Chase from Chase Distillery will expertly guide you through spirits, wines and ciders, while author and forager by day, Andy Hamilton presents ‘Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails’ showing you how you can make delicious cocktails from a hedgerow near you.
James Chase
Expect more additions as the website goes live and get your tickets for events at
  Finally in this quick view a big mention to Hang Fire Smokehouse, locally based and BBC Food and Farming Award Winners, Best Street Food 2015.
Samantha Evans and  Shauna Guinn came to the Festival last year as stallholders and return this year on the bill with their amazing smoked and barbequed foods.
 Sam said: “It’s incredible that just one year on from our first appearance at Abergavenny Food Festival, and just two years since starting this business, we will be standing where our inspirations from the food industry have stood. We're looking forward to both feeding the Festival goers our brand of Welsh slow and low BBQ and being a part of the Festival over the weekend."
Shauna added: “This Festival is the highlight of the foodie event calendar and we’re delighted to be included in all aspects of the programme, for the first time, as we share the alchemy of meat smoking.”
First select your meat
As always there will be over 200 stalls and the introduction of The Meat Market as well as the well established Cheese Market.

The Festival doesn't stop when the stalls close either, the Night Market is back with a great  range of Street Food and if it's entertainment you want head to the Castle for Swing Time on Friday and the legendary Party on Saturday, food drink and fun the perfect way to end your day.

More to come later, but visit the website and start planning your visit

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Tuesday 9 June 2015

Great Taste Awards

Now in their 21st year the Great Taste Awards, organised by The Guild of Fine Food, have not only come of age, but are THE benchmark of a great product.

Thousands of products are tasted and tested,  from Anchovies to Zabaglione and all to ensure that the consumer gets the finest of product.

A volunteer collective of Chefs, Producers, Retailers, Food Writers and Food Critics do the tastings in sessions held across the UK - all seeking the perfect food that will earn a 3 Star rating.

Waiting to taste

Several sessions are held at Guild Headquarters in Gillingham, Dorset but the tastings take place in several cities which have included Belfast and Dublin and, for the first time this year, Cardiff.

Welsh producers have always taken the awards seriously, and with the Welsh Government behind them through its Bwyd a Diod Cymru (Food and Drink Wales) arm, a Cardiff heat was a chance to show the best of Wales. See what previous Great Taste Award winners from Wales had to say about the effect that winning had for them here

So, in early June I was invited to three days of tasting.

I have judged various competitions before, both here and in Ireland, but they have usually been of the complete dish, such as in The Celtic Cook Off, rather than single ingredients so there was a degree of uncertainty in the days leading up to the tastings.

I should not have worried, helpful notes for new judges were sent out in plenty of time and I was assured that you work in teams of 4 or 5 with a very experienced co-ordinator to collate your views and record them.

Experienced Coordinators

Each tasting session will have up to 10 tables of judges who will work their way through the list of foods presented for them. All foods are tasted blind with the tasting sheet having little more than a simple description, for example “Gluten Free Welsh Cake”. I did actually recognise one item from the description and obviously declared an interest and took no part in that tasting.

 After tasting, and discussing, each plate the team give a rating from 0 to 3 Stars. A 3 Star item is nigh perfection and they are limited in being awarded.  Getting a 1 Star award is a major triumph.

Once graded the items are collected, and passed to another set of judges for a second opinion.  If needed, third or fourth panels are involved to ensure that the ratings are fair and accurate. To get a 3 Star rating at least five tables of judges must agree that it deserves that accolade.

The upshot of this for judges is that you start a session with a list of around 15 tastings but with second tastings you wind up with 30 plus!
Session commences
As the aim of the Guild is to support producers every item has the judges comments sent to the producer. Judges are required to make positive comments, as well as criticism, so that products can be improved and a 1 star become 2 etc. All entries have positive aspects, even those which will not be awarded Stars, and the comments and advice given in tastings can lift the product to Star level, or raise it to the next one.l.

Food production and service is a major contributor to the Welsh economy so it was hardly surprising that on Wednesday morning we came under close scrutiny as both BBC and ITV sent camera crews to see us at work. (Confidentiality was maintained at all times.)

ITV interview the Deputy Minister

BBC Wales Economics Correspondent Sarah Dickins at work

It is the rigorous tasting and the experienced judges who ensure that the Great Taste Awards really do find great foods, and deserve the high regard in which they are held. Often called the Oscars of the Food World, they are much more like the Olympic Games of Food where getting a medal (Star) confirms you are at the top of your game.

Tastings will continue for some weeks and the results will all be collated and the final decisions revealed later this summer. How many 3 Star Awards will be given? I don’t know but we found some in Cardiff!

Did I enjoy myself, ABSOLUTELY!

Even though, as a Rookie Judge, seeing Charles Campion get his game face on and settle for some serious tasting was a little disconcerting at first, I had lots of help, advice and encouragement from fellow judges and would love to judge again next year.

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Monday 25 May 2015

Abergavenny Food Festival First glimpse

 This year the Abergavenny Food Festival will be held 18-20th September and excitement is building already.

As usual the first event, on Friday evening, will have a major figure in conversation about their work as a perfect introduction.

TV’s favourite Michelin starred chef, Tom Kerridge, will headline the festival on Friday night (18 ), talking exclusively about his new cookbook, Tom’s Table: My Favourite Everyday Recipes, with food journalist Xanthe Clay.

In Tom’s own words  “This will be my second visit to the food festival in Abergavenny and the first opportunity for people to get my book before its release on 24 September, which is very exciting. I am looking forward to sharing some of my new recipes with the audience and hope it gets the same warm reception I have always received at the festival.” (last time Tom was here the session totally sold out in minutes)

Star bloggers and Vogue columnists  Hemsley + Hemsley sisters, Jasmine and Melissa, are amongst the star attractions too! The food loving siblings take centre stage for two events on Sunday 20, demonstrating  colourful and nutritious recipes from their international best seller, The Art of Eating Well, and also  cooking up recipes for the audience to try with organic vegbox company, Riverford.

Observer Rising Star of 2015, Olia Hercules, a food stylist and recipe writer will join the line-up to demonstrate some cherished Eastern European recipes from her debut cookbook, Mamushka.

Chief Executive of the festival, Heather Myers spoke about this year’s festival and  said: “Every year we get some of the best names in food and this year will not disappoint. There is a lot more to announce but we hope this teaser will whet people’s appetites for what is set to be another amazing weekend of food, drink and entertainment.”

In addition to the well established Cheese and Wine Market, this year  the festival introduces the Meat Market,. Dedicated to the very best meat producers from across the UK, with butchers, demonstrations, speciality knives and accompaniments, it will be The destination for meat lovers.

Last year’s runaway success the Night Market returns transforming the Lower Brewery Yard into a magical place to eat, drink and hangout as a brilliant collection of speciality street food vendors stay open until 10:00pm on Saturday night (19).

You can get hands on with personal attention from an expert in artisan food and drinks production as well as making a product to take away with you at the Artisan Kitchen School.

Children can, as always, also get stuck in at the Food Academy with a weekend of exciting hands on workshops and activities to tempt budding mini-master chefs to get into the kitchen and learn about food, a real skill for life.

Wash all that down with some of the best of Wales’ craft brews and stay for an evening of music, dancing and food in the special atmosphere of Abergavenny’s ancient castle for the Party at the Castle.

Over the next six weeks the Festival will be announcing the full line up, exciting new collaborations for 2015 and exclusive news looking ahead to the 2015 festival.

Wristbands will get you entry into over 200 food and drink exhibitors across five venues, live cookery demonstrations, children’s activities, entertainment, live music and much more still to be announced.

For more information and to get your tickets visit

And there is a special competition for early online purchasers of tickets.

 September may be a while away, but I can't wait!
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