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By Ellen Neumann
13th April 2012
Ciara O’Dowd grew up in the hospitality industry. Her family owns and operates Woodlands Country House in Killinierin, Gorey, Co. Wexford, a 5-star guesthouse renowned for its scrumptious food and gracious hospitality. She worked with Glanbia Foods as a systems administrator for many years. She married Paddy O’Dowd and together they started their first production line: that would be their children: Cein age12, Aoife age 6, Darragh age 9
Her passion for food began at an early age and for many years she has been producing artisan products at home as gifts for guests, family and friends. Everybody got a hamper for Christmas - no surprises there! Because of the encouragement she received and the demand for home produce, she decided to develop a small artisan food business last year with just a couple of her favorite products. As you can see, she has a lot of favourites! There are now over 24 products in the range. Ciara refers to herself as an accidental entrepreneur. She lives in the Sunny South East Coast of Ireland, an area renowned for its divine fruit growing.
With a commercial kitchen at her disposal at Woodlands Country House, the temptation to start her own small business was impossible to resist, and “Ciara’s Pantry” producing for Ciara’s Artisan Foods Ltd was born. Ciara registered with the local health board and took the necessary environmental and food safety courses drew up a quality manual and HACCP plan (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and began developing her range of products. When she actually looked at what was on offer in the specialist food shops, she was amazed at the quantity and quality of imported foods, which many people perceived to be Irish, and indeed a lot of the produce was actually mass produced and not of the best quality at all. She developed her brand, designed her packaging, and did numerous high profile product tastings around the county to give her brand sufficient exposure.
A local business started at a Country Market would be the first to sell her products. Ciara’s business grew as two local artisan shops immediately contacted her to supply them with her products. Following feedback from their customers, more shops came on board by word of mouth. It is a business that is growing “organically”.
Ciara entered and won a “Dragons Den” style competition in Wexford, which raised her profile and gave her great media coverage. She now supplies shops in the South East and her business is continuing to expand in a natural manner. Ciara is currently working to expand to a larger premise that will be purpose built to increase volume and meet demand while maintaining the integrity of the product and keeping it pure and free from additives, powders, stabilizers, artificial sweeteners and over processing.
All ingredients are sourced, to ensure freshness and quality. Only natural ingredients are used, and indeed some are just freshly picked from her extensive garden, in tandem with the seasons whenever possible. Gardening is her second love and the whole family is involved in maintaining these wonderful gardens. Ciara, Paddy and their three darling children are always out and about in the family gardens although picking currants can become a little monotonous, it most certainly is the “Good Life”. Indeed she awoke one morning in September to be met by a horse outside the kitchen door - the horses had a little jail break from their paddock and had eaten whole four baskets of the previous evening apple picking much to the children’s dismay! Paddy helps with the gardening side of things as much as possible, builds and mends the fences, He is of course the chief taster of all the products; an enviable job indeed ! Ciara uses vegetables and herbs fresh from her garden whenever possible
Ciara’s Pantry produces a delicious range of all natural products made from fresh ingredients, all sourced to ensure freshness and quality. Absolutely no artificial colours, flavorings, artificial preservatives, sweeteners, additives or powders are used. Traditional methods produce the sweet and savoury jellies, which in the past were considered one of the crowning glories of the dining table because of their versatility and convenience. These are made in the old fashioned open pot, in small batches, and dripped through muslin overnight, to maintain the quality, clarity and flavor. The jellies are made from real fruits, vegetables and pectin stock from apples to give a wonderful smooth consistency, unlike most commercial jellies which are made from powdered pectin’s and flavouring. Many may remember their grannies turning stools upside down and tying muslin to make crab apple jelly! …well it’s still pretty much the same today. You most likely would not find Char-grilled pepper Jelly, Jalapeno or even balsamic jelly was ever on Grannies’ old school menu!
Ciara’s Pantry offers a sensational range of savoury and sweet jellies. The savouries enhance cheeses, meats, the sky is the limit! The sweet jellies are bursting with zingy fresh fruity flavour.
A new and exciting selection of dressings is made from only the best natural ingredients and pro-biotic cider vinegar which is full of health benefits. Enjoy flavour combinations that will make every day a salad day for the whole family. Dipping sauces may also be mixed through with mayonnaise or cream cheese for variations. These are all totally natural in beautiful vibrant colours, Cheeky Chilli & Ginger, Basil & Lime with Pine Nuts, Raspberry Salad Dressing to name but a few.
A range of chutney’s will delight you and warm up any evening with a classic balance of sharp and sweet, together with the warmth of spices that will remind you of open log fires, Christmas, days gone by and will leave your taste buds tingling all year round. These chutneys are made from the freshest ingredients as well, harvested from the garden at the peak of perfection. Some chutney is made with wines and port. Only the highest quality ingredients are used. One even takes two days to make but the result is pure class in the world of chutney, which makes it stand apart from the rest.
Fruit vinegars made with cider vinegar rely solely on the preservative qualities of the sugar and vinegar to maintain the quality of Fruits. This allows the finished product to taste simply and sublimely of fruit.
Of course Ciara’s Pantry offers traditional preserves such as Raspberry & Apple, Blackcurrant & Apple or Four Fruit marmalade to grace your table everyday. Delicious combinations of Fruit to give an intensely flavoured spreadable jam! For the more adventurous, there is Raspberry with White Chocolate and Kahlua which is simply delicious with chocolate torte. A beautiful range of smooth, delicate curds made from Free Range Eggs are currently in development. Lemon Curd, Coffee Curd and Lime Curd will be available in stores soon and each has fabulous recipes which will be available on Ciara’s Pantry website (www.ciaraspantry.com)
The possibilities are endless but the entire mission of her company is as follows: “everything must taste as if it was made in your own kitchen by a master chef!” Believe me, they do! Ciara hopes to grow and diversify in the coming year and expand into new markets. She also hopes to develop an online sales business. Her range is new and exciting. While they are a niche product, they are just incredible to taste and enjoy; a true gastronomic delight. All Products are made in small batches for the true connoisseur, every mouthful a testament to the work and love that has gone into each handmade jarful.
Ciara’s passion for food is truly reflected in each jar.
At Ciara's Pantry they fervently believe that using natural ingredients sourced locally produce mouth-watering tastes to compete with the best food-producing regions of the world. Ciara’s Pantry is located at Killinierin, Gorey, Co Wexford, Ireland.
Using local ingredients produced with nature's best intentions helps to boost Ireland’s agri-food industry and protect local jobs. If you'd like to help put Ireland on the gourmet map by stocking Ciara’s products, all contact details are on the website.
*A special thanks to Anne Devereaux
Copyright © 2012, DPNLIVE – All Rights Reserved
Written by Margaret O’Farrell
Mossfield Organic Farm is owned and operated by Ralph and Lorraine Haslam and is based in the Midlands of Ireland in Clareen, Birr, Co Offaly at the base of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Did you know that the Slieve Bloom Mountains are reputed to be the oldest mountain range in the world? Even older than Mount Everest! Ralph wonders does that make him the oldest farmer in the world. He says it feels like he is sometimes!
There is so much history attached to the old house and farm! The family of Charles Carroll, a signatory on the US Declaration of Independence lived on the property. Charles’ ancestor, Daniel, a descendant of the O’Carroll’s - Lords of Ely - left the property around 1659 and travelled to Maryland, USA. I am sure when Daniel was leaving he did not realise that it would be a grand descendant of his that would be one of the 56 signatories on the American Declaration of Independence.
After the departure of the Carroll’s, the next famous family to live on the land was the Stoney family. Bindon Blood Stoney was a brilliant inventor who devised an ingenious way to build dock walls (and also designed the first diving bell). He was born in Clareen. Bindon and his brother, George (who ‘invented’ the electron) worked at one point as astronomical assistants on the great Leviathian telescope at Birr Castle
The land at Mossfield consists of limestone pasture with a grass interwoven with wild herbs and clover - producing lush green grass - so suitable for dairy farming. Ralph and Lorraine have been farming here since 1970.
In 1999 the Haslam’s made the decision to “go organic”; a brave decision at the time. However, being forward thinking is an important factor in today’s Ireland. Farming is after all a business, and there is a need to constantly rethink and reinvent methods and procedures. !
Like so many farmers Ralph had to start thinking ‘outside the box’ as sticking with just traditional farming was no longer a viable proposition for the farm. In 2005 it seemed a natural progression.... Mossfield was producing delicious organic milk, so why not look at producing cheese?
In the initial stages the cheese was made off-site, but as its reputation grew and it won many awards, it was time to re-evaluate again The decision was made to build a purpose-built cheese manufacturing facility on the farm. This was a huge decision! Ralph and Lorraine so believe in their cheese that they knew it was the right thing to do.
The cheese is now hand-made at the facility using milk straight from the farm. Lorraine supervises the cheese making, it is all handmade, and hand turned. This Gouda style cheese is available in a number of different flavours and as they use vegetarian rennet it is suitable for vegetarians.
The younger cheeses have a lovely mild flavour, and as it matures the taste gets stronger. My personal favourite is the cumin seed cheese! Absolutely delicious!
Ralph is a passionate advocate of the Mossfield organic brand and has a successful track record in selling. Despite limited resources the brand has achieved a high profile, and has consistently won awards - Great Taste, Bridgestone Award, and Irish Food Writers Guild Award.
The popularity of the range of cheeses has grown enormously from those early days. Now Mossfield Organic cheese is in demand not just in Ireland, but has become an international brand. It is now available in various European countries, and most recently in the USA.
On his last trip to Ireland, it is rumoured that Bruce Springsteen bought the entire stock of Mossfield Cheese from one Dublin shop - he liked it so much!
Ralph and Lorraine are not resting on their laurels though!
Jonathon, Ralph and Lorraine’s son, has now joined the team. Jonathon runs The Organic Store in nearby Birr, but recently has been working with his father on developing other by-products from their milk!
Cartons of Mossfield Organic Milk are now in selected stores. The newly branded Cheddar - Slieve Bloom Cheddar is available as well as the Mossfield Organic Buttermilk and yoghurt. Mossfield Organic Butter will soon be hitting the shelves as well. Just wait until you taste their cream cheese! I’ve had a preview tasting - it is delicious.
Mossfield Organic will continue to diversify and review its product range, building upon the consumer’s desire for pure, clean and delicious products.
Tel: 00353 (0) 86 8928375
Web site: www.mossfield.ie
Copyright © 2012, DPNLIVE – All Rights Reserved
- Written by Alfie McCaffrey and Margaret O'Farrell
- Parent Category: Cottage Industry
- Category: Artisan Ireland
by Alfie McCaffrey and Margaret O'Farrell
There was a time when every farmhouse in the country kept a couple of pigs. Even now when you look at any old farmstead there will still be evidence of the pig sty. Pigs were kept for their meat but were also a great way of disposing of any waste.
There was a slop bucket kept by the kitchen door for any food waste. If there was any wastage from the fields that was fed to the pigs as well! There was no real cost to keeping the pig and in the end you had bacon and ham for Christmas.
I remember visiting my Granny’s house on the edge of Roscrea town. Many of the neighbours kept pigs in their suburban gardens and all the neighbours saved their household slops to feed the pigs and got a nice piece of bacon in return. This was “true community farming”.
Why did this tradition stop?
It stopped because it was perceived as being a “poor” thing to do. If you kept pigs and cured your own bacon you obviously could not afford to buy it. Such a concept seems so strange to us today, when we all love the idea of rearing our own meat. As Ireland got wealthier many people moved away from the rural farming areas to a more urbanized lifestyle in the cities. The pork and bacon industry turned into a much more concentrated process.
What goes into the animals feed is enough to terrify any normal soul.
Pigs don’t do ‘sick’, they are either healthy or dead. To minimize loss of animals, the pigs in most farms are feed a diet that includes antibiotics – just in case they should get some illness! Where do all these antibiotics end up? In the meat, of course! When the meat is eventually processed it is extremely tasteless, anemic looking and fat free. At that point it does not even come close to resembling real pork There are all sorts of arguments about how this type of intensive farming is not ‘bad’ for the animals. However, it’s not natural. Pigs are natural rooters and foragers. To be enclosed in slatted, concrete barns is just plain wrong. Sows are confined to farrowing pens where they cannot sit or turn around – that is not natural.
There is good news for Irish pigs - well, for some pigs anyway.
There is a tide change here in Ireland. More people are looking for pork raised in the traditional way. Free range pig breeding is on the rise. In a free range system pigs have access to the outdoors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pigs are very clever animals. If it is cold and miserable outside they will stay tucked up in a nice bed of straw and only venture outdoors when necessary.
Since we started keeping pigs almost 5 years ago, we have met many people who are doing the same. Not a month goes by without an enquiry to buy some piglets.
Some folks are just keeping a couple of pigs for themselves. Others like us are trying to build a business selling free range pork products. Free range farming is a very different process from the intensive, profit driven factory system.
Our pigs are born here on our farm, at Oldfarm, Redwood, Lorrha, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. They usually venture outdoors within 48 hours of their birth. It will only be a few steps outside the sty door before they scamper back inside to the cosy warmth of straw. The mothers all give birth naturally with no interference from us other than a watchful eye. No farrowing stalls are used. In the five years we have been in business we have never lost a baby pig due to the mother lying on it.
It is a most amazing thing to listen to Mother Pig ‘talk’ to her babies. She makes one particular noise to let them know she is going to lie down to feed them, then another happy grunting sound as she suckles. Within a short time the piglets start to nibble on feed. We feed our pigs a mixture of gmo free barley and wheat which is supplemented with vegetables from a local market gardener as well as whey and cheese from an organic farm.
Over time every pig we’ve ever had has developed a preference for something or other. Perky is very partial to potatoes. All the pigs love cheese and apples. Clarence loved bananas. Socky loved celery, and for Pinky it was oranges! You just never can tell!
The difference between meat from pigs reared in a natural environment and those from factory farms is spectacular. Thankfully, there are a growing number of people who appreciate our efforts.
There are still challenges facing us.
Land: Extra land would be nice - but not everyone wants to lease land for pig rearing - they do a good job of clearing out weeds and roots but not everyone appreciates that, and also agricultural land is so so expensive.
Meal: costs fluctuate - depending on the crop and harvest. Also we are adamant about non-GMO [genetically modified organisms] and sourcing meal that has been grown in a completely non-gmo way is important to us, and could become more difficult!
Fuel charges - which of course adds to the delivery charge. It would be nice if there was some sort of distribution system for small producers.
Education: a lot of our time is spent on educating consumers about our product - clean meat, no gmos (which an awful lot of people still know nothing about - so therefore they don’t even consider that factor).
Labeling: there is an ongoing battle of the labels; artisan, organic, outdoor reared, free range, gmo free. The term “Artisan” is used to such an extreme that it has become difficult to define. We are aware of large companies, using factory reared pigs, and selling their products under the ‘artisan’ label. Yet we fit the true meaning of the category.
We have chosen not to go the labeled ‘organic’ route as the costs would be prohibitive. We are a small holding and can only produce so much meat. The cost of being labeled organic would price our product out of the market.
We are working with Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) in the hope of developing a recognised free-range label. It is a slow process with so many interested parties having to be consulted. Taking these steps will hopefully give tomorrow’s consumer a better understanding of how we rear and treat our animals.
We are also talking to some other food producers in our neighbourhood in an effort to develop a shared delivery system.
Tel: 00353 (0) 86 8100 125