Milestones of the Sligo Food Revolution

by Hans and Gaby Wieland May 2019

On our Sligo Food Tours we often delve into the rich history of the Sligo Food scene. We believe that Sligo was often ahead of its time and provided a blueprint for others to follow. Just look at the programme of “The Northwest Festival of Fine Food” from May 1994:

“Food farming & the Future”, panel discussion with Tom Hobson, Dolores Keegan and Richard Woodmartin, Organic Roadshow and displays, “Organic versus quality wine” by Colm Brangan, “Meet John and Sally McKenna”, “Darina Allen on the significance of local produce”, “Seaweed Walk at Easkey  led by Frank Melvin”, “Visit to Clam farm at Strandhill led by Noel Carter”, “Farm Cheese-Making Demonstration by Hans and Gaby Wieland”, “Open Day at Eden Plants”, “Garden Walk at Templehouse followed by an introduction to Markree Castle”, “McNean Bistro in Blacklion” (now Neven Maguire’s McNean House and Restaurant) was amongst the following restaurants: The Cottage, Eithnas’s Restaurant, Pierrot Gourmand and Truffles Restaurant.

Here is our personal account of the first formative years of the Sligo Food Revolution

The Sligo Food Trail, a network of producers, cafes, restaurants, markets, hotels, pubs and food experiences, is only the latest development of Sligo’s thriving food scene, which is part of a national movement showing the world that Ireland is one of the finest culinary destinations. The last 40 years has seen a revolution in Irish food and cooking.

John McKenna from McKenna’s Food Guides said a few years ago at a conference in GMIT that Irish Cuisine went from initial imitation to improvisation. We think it is fair to say that with so many inspired food producers and chefs we are now at the stage of imagination: “What can we do with all this great produce?”

But where did it all start?

Most likely with the late Myrtle Allen and her husband Ivan at Ballymaloe House and Farm back in the late 50s. Her philosophy of using local artisanal ingredients and changing her menu daily to reflect the best offerings of the season was "revolutionary at the time." She summed up her philosophy of food in the following nine words “local, seasonal, organic, flavoursome, sustainable and superbly cooked food”, which is still the benchmark for any chef or establishment in 2019.

Darina Allen, Rory O’Connell and Rachel Allen are all continuing the work of Myrtle and Ballymaloe Cookery School, established 1983, and their prestigious Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate Course had a huge influence on establishing Sweet Beat Café and Knox restaurant in Sligo.

 

The Leitrim inspiration – Eden Plants

Less remembered, but not least important, is the arrival of Rod Alston in Co. Leitrim in 1973 and the establishment of Eden Plants at Rossinver with Dolores Keegan. He has described the scenario himself: "In February 1975 I moved into an almost derelict cottage, surrounded by the absurdly optimistic nodding yellowness of daffodils, and a chaos of thorn and bramble. I came with the necessary ignorance and naivety and possessed, I suppose, a sufficiently stubborn twist of mind to remain here…. I have attempted to make a garden that is both productive and beautiful, and a farm that is capable of supporting those living here."

When he started supplying local restaurants in Leitrim and Sligo with organic vegetables and herbs it changed the Irish food scene forever and his involvement in the emerging organic movement lead to the establishment of IOFGA, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association in 1982.

… and the Sligo Connection

And who remembers Anthony Kilcullen, organic farmer from Enniscrone? Anthony began farming in 1962 and in September 1984 he changed to organic farming. In many ways Anthony and his son Danny, who came on board in 1986, were ahead of their time. They had a farm shop for a while that sold a range of goods including vegetables, potatoes, lamb, milk and butter - all produced on the farm. Gaby and I bought his organic wheat for our sourdough breads in 1985! Anthony is still very much involved in farming. However, these days he is more than happy to hand things over to Danny. (Source: Grace Maher, 10th December 2014, Indo Farming)

Tir na Nog – The Melting Pot

Back in Sligo Town the brother and sister duo of John and Mary O’Donnell started Tir na Nog at Easter 1980, one of the first ever Health Food Stores in Ireland.  In 1985 they still ran a Coffee shop upstairs. They had a cheese counter in earlier times and sold their own bread, baked in the bakery next door. Mary sold our first ever sourdough rye bread in 1987. They even had a grain mill to mill fresh flour for customers, revolutionary at that time. Elizabeth and Dick Woodmartin’s free range eggs were available in the shop.

From the start Tir na Nog had and still has a huge range of locally produced fresh vegetables. They always try to be up to date with the newest trends. From wheatgrass when it was more popular to fermented vegetables and drinks right now. And it was only natural and logical that vegetables and herbs from Eden Plants were sold there. Volkmar and the late Claudia Klohn from Crimlin Farm in Tubbercurry were the other most important vegetable and cheese suppliers from 1986 onwards.

Interestingly enough Mary O’ Donnell and Darina Allen were head hunted by Rod Alston to sit on the first Board of Management of his new brain child, The Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co. Leitrim in 1995. With their educational courses and training programmes a whole new generation of gardeners, growers and food producers emerged on the scene. Without the inspiration and the produce from The Organic Centre the development of the Sligo food scene is unthinkable.

Kate’s Kitchen followed suit in 1982 with the forward thinking Kate Petit and Frank Hopper. And there was always Cosgroves Delicatessen, one of the oldest shops in town, established in 1898, bringing the first ice cream, yoghurt and German salamis to Sligo. Anecdotal evidence has it that the first avocado was sold in Cosgroves in the 80s.

Gaby and I arrived in Sligo in 1985 and our first cheeses, sourdough breads and vegetables produced at Neantog Organic Farm were sold in Tir Na nOg and later in Kates Kitchen and Reveries restaurant in Rosses Point, ran by Paula Gilvary and Damien Brennan from 1985 to 1991.

Further food landmarks in Sligo with ripple effects way beyond the county

Bernadette O’Shea opened Truffles restaurant with their new age pizzas in 1988. “More than perhaps any other cook, Ms O’Shea hit upon the radical, the truly radical, idea of re-inventing an established culinary form – the pizza – and exploring how it could be reinterpreted to reflect not just the skills of a dazzlingly talented cook, but could also be used as a reflection of a local food culture, which produces uniquely fine foods. She brought the international back home to the local, and in this synthesis she created something utterly magical.” (John McKenna in the foreword to Pizza Defined, 1997)

Brid and Mark Torrades opened Glebe Country House in Collooney in 1990, inspired by the late Myrtle Allen from Ballymaloe House. It became famous for wild salmon, Culleenamore mussels and locally grown vegetables. Brid’s seaweed cooking was featured on Nationwide TV in 1998, more than 20 years ago. Her husband Marc and son Tommy have recently founded Seapunk Vegetables, continuing the tradition.

Sligo – The seaweed capital of Ireland

Over 500 varieties of seaweed grow wild in Ireland and seaweed has long been used in coastal areas to provide fertiliser for growing potatoes. Seaweed has many uses.

In 1912 Kilcullen’s bath house opened in Enniscrone offering traditional hot seaweed baths.

Back in the late 1980s, Frank Melvin decided to become a seaweed harvester in rural Cabra, West Sligo. The seaweed trade was miniscule then, but now it's become a global phenomenon. Frank in an interview with the Sligo Champion said that his company, Carraig Fhada, exports a lot of its harvested seaweed out of Ireland. Much of it is used either for the cosmetic or food industries. "When I started off, it was more the traditional seaweed, such as Carrageen moss and Dillisk seaweed that we picked.” (Source: Emma Gallagher, Sligo Champion 5th November 2013)  

Dr.Prannie Rhatigan, from Streedagh, who grew up with seaweed started guided walks and seaweed courses as part of The Organic Centre’s educational programme from 2004 onwards. In 2009 she published “Irish Seaweed Kitchen – The comprehensive guide to healthy everyday cooking with seaweeds” starting the re-emergence of seaweed as a superfood and bringing Sligo’s seaweed to an international audience. Prannie is – in our view - the leading Irish seaweed expert and an ambassador for Irish seaweed all over the world.

Another leader in seaweed is VOYA in Strandhill.  The Walton family has revived the Irish seaweed baths and their reopened baths in Strandhill are now one of only a few in the country. Seaweed baths have been a tradition in Ireland for hundreds of years and are Ireland’s only indigenous spa therapy. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated 300 seaweed bath houses in Ireland and nine in the small town of Strandhill alone.

Sligo’s Country Houses setting standards in food provenance

What is now trending under “farm to fork” existed in County Sligo in the late 80s and early 90s with Temple House and Coopershill House. There aren’t many places serving up home-produced venison, but the O’Haras' fallow deer farm that visitors pass on the driveway up to Coopershill House provides meat for the kitchen as well as restaurants and some speciality shops. So you may well find venison on the dinner menu along with seasonal home grown fruit and vegetables, all produced in a beautifully maintained kitchen garden behind the house that is a delight to the eye as well as promising to the taste buds. What began in the early 90 with Lindy and Brian is now continued by Simon and Christina.

Sandy and Deb Perceval from Templehouse near Ballymote also belong amongst the pioneers of the Sligo Food scene with their organic lamb, their Kerry cows and organic vegetables from their big walled garden in the early 80s. Now Roderick and Helena continue the work.

As outlined at the start this is our personal recollection and we very much welcome any additions, corrections, updates and recollections to write the modern history of the Sligo Food Scene. Please e-mail your contributions to sligofoodtours@gmail.com or call us for a chat at 087 6122082.

 

 

There’s more to beer than hops and malt or why we love our local artisan craft beer

by Hans Wieland

Growing up in Germany our introduction to beer in our late teenage years was always accompanied by a toast “Hopfen und Malz, Gott erhalts!” meaning "God save hops and malt” and often by a lecture of an adult about “das Reinheitsgebot”, that mostly went like this:

“According to a 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops (yeast was not known yet). This German Beer Purity Decree or Reinheitsgebot was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye to ensure the availability of affordable bread.

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations and which is in use in its 2011 version is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. Top-fermented beer is subject to the same rules, but a wider variety of grains can be used, as well as pure sugars for flavour and colouring.”

Beer or Wine, that is the question

I was never a real beer drinker in my teenage years and I put it down to the fact that my father was working in a local brewery and beer was freely available at home and drinking it did not really qualify as an act of rebellion. Drinking Riesling was much more rebellious!

Arriving in Guinness-Land in the 80s and drinking the “black stuff” as an immigrant soon lost its novelty factor and we resorted to “import” German Rieslings for private consumption as soon as our fruit-wine experiments faded out. Lately our interest in beer was awakened by the arrival of the artisan craft beers. One of my early favourites being 8° from Skibbereen, whereas Gaby loved Galway Hooker, followed by Kinnegar and then our own Sligo craft beers White Hag and Lough Gill.

Breweries in Sligo - a very short history

Sligo has an interesting history if it comes to breweries. In the 1820s there were five breweries and distilleries operating locally. Talking to James Ward on a recent visit to his Lough Gill Brewery he told a story about Love Lane, who supposedly brewed beer in Sligo in the 1700, had to leave for Chile and founded the first brewery there, but this is a research project for another day.

Confirmed is that in 1834, the firm of Davy & Cochran built a brewery on a site at Old Shambles Street now Kempten Promenade off Bridge Street. The business was named Lough Gill brewery and operated until 1842 before closing due to bankruptcy. It was then acquired by Charles Anderson. Anderson operated a brewery on Water Lane and transferred his business to the larger site. After Anderson’s death in 1882, the brewery continued to operate for a time.

Anderson’s Brewers in 1875

Anderson’s Brewers in 1875

For a short period, O’Connor, Walsh & Company operated a Sawmills and timber warehouse at the site. By 1889, the buildings were bought by Edward Foley who returned the buildings to brewery use and later mineral drinks production until it closed in 1972. 

In the late 1970’s the Rehab Centre took over the building till 2000. It was then bought in 2006 by Philip McGarry and renovated into The Velvet Room nightclub. Today, it is run as Anderson’s restaurant bringing the old name back into use.

How artisan craft beer came to Sligo

The renewal of beer brewing in Sligo kicked off with well-known Keash publican James Ward. While Lough Gill Brewery is the first brewery to be based in Sligo town for over 100 years, it is Ward’s second beer-making operation. In 2013 he founded the White Hag Brewery in Ballymote, Sligo before selling the company on to the group of investors who initially backed the project.

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Asked for the reason behind setting up breweries in Sligo James says: "The raw products available here are of excellent quality and the water is perfect for brewing. While creating employment, we also want to create an important tourist attraction. Our brands will include the heritage of the region."

He and his wife Valerie are now running the Lough Gill Brewery, continuing the tradition of brewing in Sligo. His 16 Hectolitre Brewery near Doorley Park produces 7 core beers and a myriad of interesting editions based on seasons, history, new flavours and ingredients. While his bestselling IPA is brewed with American hops, which gives it a distinct fruity flavour, many of the new creations with seaweed, sea salt, pecan and macademia nuts or the sour beers are, he says, “consumer driven” and “we always try to come up with new and exciting recipes”. They also collaborate with other breweries and have just returned from a trip to the USA, brewing beers to be released just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

The finest ingredients make the best beer,

James and his team, like most small craft breweries, produce from grain to beer: Milling, mashing, boiling, cooling, fermenting, filtering (aging in barrels), carbonating, canning and packaging. Using the finest Irish Malt and some speciality grains from Belgium and Germany,American and Indian hops and water from Lough Gill they create beautifully flavoured beers, winning awards along the way. The latest prize was: Best beer at the Dublin Craft Cup for their Barrell Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

but it needs people with a passion!

“Our Beer philosophy is to brew the best beer using the best ingredients and where possible to add some local indigenous ingredients to the brews. We like to experiment, we like to have fun but most of all we enjoy nothing more than watching our friends & family of customers enjoy our beers,” says James.

Lough Gill was awarded Best New Sligo Business 2017 and the company exports to USA, Brazil and the Netherlands and other countries and are now also available in Aldi stores.

We love their funky and artistic designs on the cans, developed in-house and with a street artist from Sligo. They are already collector’s items.

On our food tour Paul from Thomas Connolly’s Pub features Anderson’s Ale, which back in the 1800s was the most popular beer in Connacht when the Anderson family owned three breweries in the province. The new Anderson’s Ale produced by the Lough Gill brewery is revisiting that tradition. James told food writer Billy Lyons in an interview in 2017, that he and his wife Valerie went back to the region’s roots to brew a traditional Irish ale that is their interpretation of what was originally produced.

It is definitely a fitting finish on our food tour.

From Caro-Kaffee to Carrow Coffee

A personal journey by Gaby and Hans Wieland

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When Gaby and I first met Andrew and Paola about a year ago and heard about their Carrow coffee we immediately thought about Caro-Kaffee and our mind was cast back to when we were children in the late 50s and early 60s in post war Germany and only allowed to drink Caro-Kaffee or “Kinderkaffee” as our parents called it. Caro-Kaffee was developed in Germany in 1954 as one of the first cereal coffees on the market. It was made from chicory root, sometimes called coffeeweed, barley, malted barley and rye.

That was a long, long time ago and long before Barleycup was manufactured in England. And it took another 10 years before we made a foray into the world of real coffee and subsequently discovered espresso, cappuccino and café au lait on our travels as students. Needless to say, Carrow coffee, roasted in Beltra in Co. Sligo is something entirely different!

Coffee culture in Ireland

But first things first. After moving to Ireland in 1985 the highlight of our yearly trip to Dublin included a visit to “landmark” Bewley’s Café in Westmoreland Street. At that time the market was largely dominated by instant coffee according to a 1985 census by the representative body for the Irish Advertising Agencies (IAPI): 
"The Irish coffee market is dominated by instant coffees which account for over 90% of total coffee purchases from retailers. Within this highly competitive mature market are two key players, Maxwell House, owned by the international Kraft, Jacobs Suchard food company, and Nescafe,
part of the multi-national Nestle company."
                                                              A freshly roasted coffee from Bewley’s in the 80s was definitely a stand out!

Sligo itself has an interesting history to tell. (Watch out for our full article researching Sligo’s Coffee culture!) Our research led us to the first Café Cairo in Castle Street in the 30s. Older Sligonians will tell you about the Coffee Bean on the Mall, the Ritz and other early front runners, but the real coffee revolution for us in Sligo began with Bar Bazar, Richard and Tamsin’s little coffee shop with books and board games, who brought us Illy coffee. And now, since early 2018 we have the first ever Sligo coffee roastery.

 Sligo’s first coffee roasters

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During a recent visit to Carrow in Beltra, named after Carrowgarry farm where they are located, we were shown the new roastery with its impressive Probat gas-heated roasting machine sitting prominently in the centre of the room, a state of the art coffee grinder and espresso machine, plus various other pieces of equipment. But like with so many artisan food businesses it’s all about the people with the entrepreneurial spirit and partners Paola and Andrew have it in abundance and a fascinating story to tell.

Andrew has a background in journalism working throughout Europe, South America and Africa for over a decade including interestingly a four-year stint covering coffee for Bloomberg News in Colombia. Paola worked as a project and communications manager in the development cooperation sector, but more importantly for the new business was born in Trieste, one of Italy’s main roasting hubs and a city where coffee aromas waft through the streets and the home of the aforementioned Illy coffee.

Their passion for coffee grew in Colombia where they lived for four years, travelling extensively throughout the countryside to visit farms and learn about coffee production and the different processing methods. And it was in the attic of their apartment in Bogota where Andrew started roasting coffee on his Huky 500. Returning to Ireland to set up their own roasting business was a logical conclusion.

A taste-bud-opening visit to Carrow

Paola and Andrew are concentrating on roasting single origin coffee beans from small-scale farmers. They do compare themselves to winemakers and speak of the terroir of their coffee depending on the soil, the country and the climate the coffee is grown in. Beans are stored green, a state in which they can be kept without loss of quality or taste for about a year.

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And like the farmer who influences the coffee’s flavour through their choice of variety, harvesting and processing methods, coffee roasters like Andrew work with temperature, airflow and drum speed to create their own signature taste.

Roasting brings out the aroma and flavour that is locked inside the green coffee beans and Andrew tells us that he prefers light-to-medium roasts to create the best flavour. Although he uses his laptop to monitor the roasting process, he still uses the trier, a small device on the roasting machine, that he pulls out for manual inspection.  He tells us that freshly roasted beans still emanate Co2 in the first 7 days, that can lead to a bitter taste and recommends using the coffee beans only a week after the roasting date. That date is in his opinion more important for the consumer than a best before date, as coffee should ideally be drunk within a few months of its roasting date.

A Cupping Session

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After a short introduction to their business and philosophy they put us to work. Paola had five little glass flasks lined up and we had to sniff and identify the scent inside. And we can tell you, it wasn’t that simple to describe what we smelled and compare them to the smells of fruit, vegetables and other foods. After much probing and debating and with a little help from Paola we finally settled on hazelnuts, peach, cucumber (that was hard!), smoke and caramel.

Homework done, we were then treated to a wonderfully exciting cupping session by Andrew. He prepared four varieties for us, which we smelled dry, then brewed and finally slurped. Yes, we had to slurp to engage the olfactory system as well as our tongue. Apart from distinguishing different aromas and flavours the reason coffee professionals do this is to check for defects, such as an overly fermented or burnt taste.

We tasted Serra do Cigano from Brazil with a nutty taste, El Pensamiento from Guatemala, which had flavours of chocolate, and Negele from Ethiopia with fruity flavours like peach. It wasn’t that easy to remember the smells of the little flask from earlier and use them to tell the flavour of the coffees we tasted, but we both liked the Serra do Cigano and the unusual but round flavour of the Ethiopian coffee. Well, we are learning and this was hopefully just the beginning of our guided coffee tasting experience.

One of the reasons to visit Carrow and talk to Paola and Andrew was to meet the makers, so we have first hand information for our food tour.

Carrow coffee is available in Sligo at The Model café, Stoked in Strandhill and on the shelves of Kate’s Kitchen or go online www.carrow.ie

One last tip for brewing your perfect cup of coffee: Use 11 g of freshly ground coffee to 200 ml of water.

Enjoy your coffee!

 

New Beginnings - How Sligo Food Tours came about

Neantóg I - II - III

Sligo Food Tours is a culmination of all that has gone on since we landed in Glengarrif in the Winter of 1984 as “Tourists with a mission” to find a suitable farm for our project “new home abroad” which became Neantóg I. Neantóg is the Irish for nettle, an invogorating plant, stinging and healing at the same time and a great wild food!

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Neantóg I: Organic Producers

After coming back at Easter 1985 for another visit and buying a farm in June we finally arrived in a fully loaded camper van with two small children in the Summer of 1985. At the time we didn’t know where the journey would take us, but we were very determined to give it our best shot. So we became farmers, growers, bakers and cheese makers: in short organic food producers (and builders as well, renovating a cottage and building a house).

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Neantóg II: Teachers, Practitioners and Mentors

Getting involved with the organic movement in the Northwest and especially The Organic Centre project in Rossinver, where we began giving courses as early as 1996, changed life at Neantóg. We stopped cheesemaking as a business in 2003 and Gaby, having graduated as a Naturopath and Herbalist in 2004, started working from home in her clinic. Hans dedicated the next 22 years of his life to The Organic Centre to develop their courses and training programmes, helping to make the centre renowned nationally and internationally. Have a look at The Organic Centre Milestones. Throughout all those years we were growing most of our own food, baking our own rye sourdough and making cheese for ourselves. Gaby worked as a cooking instructor on many school and community garden projects and published her first cookbook in 2008.





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Neantóg III: There is no such thing AS retirement!

Being involved with the Sligo Food Festival since 1994 and becoming a member of the Sligo Food Trail from it’s formation in 2015, we began offering foraging experiences for tourists and tour groups. Hans has now retired from The Organic Centre and is ‘refiring’ with Gaby at home to concentrate on developing Neantóg Kitchen Garden School’s programme of courses and workshops on gardening, sourdough baking, cheesemaking, fermenting and foraging and natural herbal remedies; while Gaby is still operating her naturopathic clinic at Neantóg on a part-time basis. Having forged connections to cafés, restaurants and shops in Sligo as producers and mentored and inspired many chefs through courses it was only a matter of time before Sligo Food Tours would be born featuring our food hot spots and the hard working people behind the businesses.

We are really looking forward to bring you on an exciting food experience and hope you will enjoy the journey too!