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Foodfile: Something fishy about this year’s Blas winners

Marie-Claire Digby rounds up the week’s food news

Finalists in the Blas na hÉireann awards gather at Dingle harbour with their products. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Finalists in the Blas na hÉireann awards gather at Dingle harbour with their products. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Liam, Ronan and Fintan, the three brothers behind Quinlan’s Fish, have added the Blas na hÉireann supreme championship to their impressive haul of awards this year. With fishmongers in Cahirciveen, Killorglin, Tralee and Killarney, and fish bars in Killarney, Cork and Tralee, last weekend’s victory in Dingle follows on from the company’s Bord Bia win in March and a strong showing at the Great Taste awards in London last month.

Two varieties of their smoked salmon earned the highest accolade at Great Taste, but it was their Kerry crab that triumphed in Dingle. “We have been cracking crab for the last 20 years, 99 per cent of which is caught locally off the Kerry coast,” Liam Quinlan said. “It’s landed nightly and cooked within hours to capture and lock in flavour and freshness. The cooking process is totally natural with nothing added.”

Tracking down a sample of the winning product proved difficult in Dingle, as there was none to be found in the marquee where the finalists in the annual awards were on display. “I thought I had sent adequate samples for the final judging and the showcase event, so I was extremely upset when I didn’t see it in the tent, and expected the worst,” said Liam. But Blas chairman Artie Clifford had the explanation: “It was so good the judges ate it all, there was none left to put in the marquee.”

Praise indeed, and if you want to try the winning product, it can be ordered at kerryfish.com or tel: 066-9473131.

Other big winners at the Blas awards include Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers for their honeysuckle shrub (best new product), Hannan Meats (best export opportunity) and Báinne Codladh for Lullaby Milk (best artisan product). The full list of winners is available at irishfoodawards.com.

Whiskey tasting in a crystal showroom, chocolates in a millinery shop, and cured pickled salmon served by a Michelin-starred chef in an art gallery – you can expect the unexpected at Dingle Food Festival, and last weekend’s ninth running of this popular fixture on the food calendar was no exception.

The Taste Trail, which winds through the town and involves almost 80 businesses offering tastes of their food and drink, or hosting makers of great products in their premises, is one of the festival’s big draws. Generous portions and friendly rivalry among participants to put up the most popular offering make this a highlight of the weekend.

Jim McCarthy of the Chart House restaurant said 600 of the 800 taster plates they prepared for the weekend were sold on the first day, leading to an early Sunday morning session painstakingly wrapping black pudding in filo pastry and caramelising onions for a goat’s cheese tartlet to replenish stocks.

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Maia Binder’s cheese shop had queues down the street for raclette and a wonderful fondu made with Irish cheese and Crean’s Dingle beer.

Dingle Dexter beef sliders at Fenton’s and cones of fish goujons and chips at Reel Dingle Fish generated good-humoured queues. The Fish Barr Seafood & Wine Cafe at the Marina was inundated with requests for tandoori prawn skewers.

Chocolate brownies and ice-cream at Murphy’s Ice Cream shops and chocolate cups and raspberry-poached pears at the ultra-stylish Crinkle Stores kept those with a sweet tooth happy. Those in need of an afternoon pick-up found it in the Badger & Dodo espresso martinis at the new Bean In Dingle coffee shop, where you could also pick up a wonderfully aromatic and sticky cinnamon bun by Bácús craft bakery.

At the Global Village restaurant, Fáilte Ireland food ambassador and chef Martin Bealin’s tasting menu for the weekend featured wonderful wild boar from Ballinwillin House in Mitchelstown. Space was also made available for the much talked about Milesian restaurant in Castlegregory to showcase its work on the taste trail. On Orchard Lane, Donal and Virginia O’Gara of Cork’s My Goodness Food were serving South American pupusas, vegan cakes and probiotic kefir mocktails. And in the TradeIT marquee, bakers from Italy and Poland and salami makers from Spain and Portugal were among the participants at a networking event for small food producers across Europe.

Chef Michel LeBorgne, founder of the New England Culinary Institute, drew the crowds in for his One Chicken Three Meals demonstration. The now retired but “always cooking” former executive chef at Yale university was in Dingle as part of a six-week tour of Ireland and said he was “amazed at the quality of produce”.

Blasket island lamb and root vegetables came in for special mention by the chef, who was visiting his former student Trevis Gleason, a Seattle chef now living in Dingle.