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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Midleton and Douglas, A tale of two Markets

The Saturday of our Ireland trip was the first major sourcing of ingredients for the Christmas and New Year’s period. For years I have been putting in a quick weekend trip, so that I can get some foods that are unavailable in the UK, but are very much part of the celebrations in Ireland.

The best of foods can be obtained in the Markets so we had to visit three, two Farmers Markets and the legend that is The English Market.This post is about the Farmers Markets.

First off Midleton, the oldest Farmers Market in Ireland, started by Darina Allen and the banner on the way in says it all.

From the amazing Arbutus Bread, Dan Ahearne’s organic meats the Ballymaloe Cookery School stall, local vegetables, Farmhouse Cheeses, Gubbeen charcuterie and cheese, and on to Frank Hederman’s smoked fish products Midleton Market has something for everyone. Sadly bad weather prevented the fresh fish from being landed so one stall was missing.

Right at the top end Jane Murphy has her stall with her Ardsallagh Goat Cheeses. When we visited Jane was back on the farm desperately completing a huge supermarket order. This Christmas her Cranberry Roulade cheese was in all of the big Irish supermarkets and Jane had 500 to get out that day.

There is a different relationship between artisan producers and supermarkets in Ireland. This does not imply that all is sweetness and light but rather that the supermarkets react to the Irish sense of locality.

On any Irish high street the majority of shops are local independents, contrast this with say the corporate cluster that is Cwmbran. Butchers, Bakers and Greengrocers enjoy local support and, in the right geographic localities, there are fishmongers such as Ballycotton Seafood in Midleton. Costa and Starbucks have not achieved the near monopoly that they seem to have managed in the UK so local cafes and restaurants thrive.

It is this sense of locality that makes supermarkets behave differently. Firstly there is a big drive to Buy Irish, intensified no doubt by the recession so sourcing is on a national if not local basis.
Then there is immense local pride. In County Cork butter is likely to come from Bandon Creamery or Glenilen Farm, of course Kerrygold and Avonmore are there but the local brands more than hold their own. Cheeses will be as much local as the ubiquitous Mitchelstown and breads will include locally produced as well as Brennans, Pat The Baker etc.

One chain that really gets behind local producers is Supervalu, a grouping of independents coming together to achieve economies of scale. Each champions local food heroes and has photos of them around the store. Obviously each has different local producers highlighted.

So, back to the Farmers Market and Jane Murphy and Ardsallagh goat cheese. Jane has her stall right outside the Hurley’s of Midleton branch of Supervalu and a huge photo of her hangs on the external wall. Though Jane was not there herself, the stall was and we managed to get some of her more mature cheese to bring home. Temperature would not be an issue as it was December and the boot of the car was equivalent to a domestic fridge.

In fact it was so cold that we took shelter in Hueley's Supervalu.

I did have an ulterior motive in going into the shop, and one that illustrates the difference between supermarkets on opposing sides of the Irish Sea.

The first Saturday in December is the Supervalu Customer Party – don’t see ASDA, Tesco or Sainsbury doing that here.

Within seconds of entering we were tucking into hot sausage rolls and enjoying an Irish Coffee, perfect for beating off the cold of the Market. There was also a range of seasonal nibbles available with coffee, juice or wine to ease their progress. In fairness I was also looking for things to collect on the Monday to take home like Buttermilk, just can’t get the real stuff here.

Warmed both internally and externally we headed off to the second market of the day at Douglas in Cork.

Douglas again shows that big business and artisan producers can co-exist, being located in the car park of a large shopping centre. Just a couple of miles away Mahon Point has a similar relationship, the Market operating on a Thursday and using the ground floor of the multi storey if wet!

The beauty of Farmers Markets is that being populated by small producers each is different and you can go to a couple in a day and find different stalls in each. So some of the produce is going to be similar, veg is likely to mirror other markets especially if it is local and seasonal but there will be variations even within broad categories. Bakers make different loaves and particularly with Sourdough bread no two starters are the same so each has a unique range on offer.

A couple of stalls really stood out for me.

Annies Roasts offer rotisserie chicken and soups. Annie Murphy raises chickens near Youghal and attends both Douglas and Midleton markets to bring hot, chicken goodness to people. She also caters to parties and outside events from her unique Rotisserie on wheels – think large trailer crammed full of spits and you have the idea.

Though the sun had come out I was glad to lay my hands around a big cup of Annies wonderful chicken and vegetable soup. You could tell it was based on a really good stock made from great chickens.

Annie and I chatted for a while about chickens, production and markets in general before I wandered off to investigate other stalls and producers.

Dropping off at Badger and Dodo for a much needed Espresso I made my way to Ballyhoura Mushrooms.

Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribbin are the owners and operators of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, Mark being on duty that day. They forage and dry mushrooms at home on their Aga and have only recently moved into selling through Farmers Markets.

In addition to dried mushrooms, foraged amongst the Ballyhoura Mountains, and cultivated ones they sell Truffle Trees!

Small Hazel trees have truffle spores injected amongst the roots to give you the chance to grow your own, and you won’t need a pig or dog to sniff them out, you know where they are!

I picked up some nice Boletus, Chanterelles and a Forest Mix before sampling a very rich Soup made from the mushrooms and the stock produced when you soak the dried mushrooms before use. (I have recently used the forest mix and the stock to make a deep and rich Steak and Mushroom Pie).

Just before I left Mark said “Wet your finger, dip it in here and tell me what you think”. With that he poured a small amount of dust onto a plastic lid.

Finger duly wetted I complied and an absolute taste sensation flooded my mouth. Rich, dark, salty yet sweet with believe it or not a taste of Smoky Bacon Crisps this was pure Umami.

“That’s my Porcini Dust” said Mark, “we dry the Porcini and then powder it in the Magimix before adding a little Sea Salt”. I had to buy a tub, which can be used to give extra flavour to Soups or as a marinade. I first used it as a topping to a slow roast tomato with a touch of Balsamic and Parmesan in a starter for my New Year’s Eve extravaganza and it went well, even with one mushroom-detesting guest!

As we had already visited Midleton the market was drawing to a close though there was still a steady influx of shoppers so we left and went to review our purchases and plan strategy for completing the shopping list before heading back to the UK.

Strategising is of course best done in convivial surroundings with an alcoholic input so it was off to the Blackbird at Ballycotton for a planning meeting….

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