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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Litfest 15 a great experience

In just its 3rd year Litfest, or the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine is established not just in Ireland but globally.

A three night, two day, sensory experience it just has to be on your Must Do list.

Rory O’Connell, one of the Directors, summed it up by saying, “You have to have written a book to be a guest speaker” but it is not just about speakers. Hell, these are people who write about food, many of them chefs, brewers, winemakers so there are a lot of masterclasses, pop ups and tastings going on.

Some of the big names sell out in minutes and with names like Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Rene Redzepi and Yottam Ottolenghi that’s hardly surprising.

Based on the farm at Ballymaloe House and in the Cookery School a couple of miles down the road a number of venues are available and all are used hard.

There are formal venues, The Grainstore, Carrigaun Room and the Demo Room and kitchens of the Cookery School, but the Farm buildings are converted into venues, The Drinks Theatre, The Big Shed and, it is a Literary Festival after all, The Book Shop.

Displays and talks extend to the gardens with guided tours and this year a very strong Grow It Yourself presence and, for the first time The Garden Tent, a marquee set in a corner of the formal garden.

There’s activity from 9:30 till gone 6 and then a host of dinners and events to fill your evening with some great entertainment and a host of really good local food producers staging popups.





My big formal events this year were the coffee sessions with Tim Wendelboe, learning about cupping and expanding my knowledge of the beautiful liquid far beyond its prior understanding, A Beer tasting with Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewing Company and a talk about Spices with Arun Kapil of Green Saffron. Janet chose Wine and Soil as her highlights. It’s that kind of event, and we were disappointed to find that the pop up restaurant by OX Belfast sold out in 5 minutes so we didn’t get to taste Northern Ireland’s finest.

Tim Wendelboe talks about influences on Coffee

Mark from Golden Bean pours tasters for cupping
1 of 6 tasted
Oliver Garrett of Brooklyn Brewery took us up the alcohol scale to 13.5%

There’s a very lively Fringe at the Festival, Demos, Blind Tastings and entertainment in the Big Shed and the Garden Tent hosting more informal events such as Caroline Hennesey hosting “Ravenous” the Cookbook Chronicles where anyone can talk about their Favourite/Least Favourite, Oldest/Newest cookbook.


Joe McNamee,  who writes the Menu column for the Irish Examiner, hosted a series of Rants, Raves and Ruaille Buaille. Again anyone could take part and had a chance to win the prestigious Golden Gob Trophy. Children’s Menus, Lack of Food Education in schools, Hipster Food such as Dude Slaw and Small v Big Food Business all got debated and in the end, I have to confess, the title came back to Wales as a result of my rant about Vegetarian Options on menus.


In full flow


The Golden Gob Trophy

Food and Drink wise it is very easy to graze all day with a host of pop-ups available in the Big Shed, We had superb Chicken on Sourdough from Annie’s Roasts and Arbutus Bread respectively, my caffeine habit was fuelled by Badger & Dodo and The Golden Bean throughout the weekend, Iyers CafĂ© had tasty Vegan food from Kerala, Jane Russell’s sausages filled a few gaps and on the sweeter side of life Yum Gelato lived up to their name and we had a Carrigeen Panacotta made with milk from the rare breed Kerry Cow.

Discovery of the year though was Oh My Goodness Minty Limey Keffir made with triple filtered rainwater. Such taste and so refreshing too. Their quirky stand won the Best Dressed award.


But away from both the formal and fringe side of the festival it is a great chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

We always have great catch ups and meet new people. One nice touch is that Ballymaloe Relish make badges for anyone who wants one with their name and most importantly their Twitter handle on. Often you bump into someone you follow on twitter, but have never met and the handle leads to lots of “Oh, so you’re” conversations. My own this year was with Peter from Blackwater Gin a new distiller from Waterford. We had been discussing Gin online and were hoping to arrange an impromptu Gin Off between his and our Da Milhe Seaweed Gin from Wales. Sadly the Blackwater had proved so popular that it had sold out entirely so the match might take place at Ginapalooza in London later this year,

Nonetheless a tasting took place and the aforementioned Minty Limey Kefir proved the perfect mixer for the Seaweed infused. Though we didn’t get tickets for the OX pop up, we were introduced to them on the basis that the restaurant has a Gin Bar and they were looking for new and great ones. More friends made, and an increasingly hazy evening.


But that is what Litfest is all about, lots of people with Food in common coming together to learn, talk eat drink and celebrate.

Personally I can’t wait for next May to bring around #Litfest16

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