From the very first day we started here at Ballymaoe, one thing has been very clear: if you are going to participate in the world of food, you should not settle for any less than the best. Darina and her team are so passionate about sourcing the most incredible ingredients and working with the best people.
Fast forward to this week and we had the privilege of meeting Martin, Noreen and Matthew Conroy who run Woodside Farm, a pig farm that started as a hobby but is now a thriving business that can’t keep up with demand.
Martin and Noreen are adamant that the pigs they raise must have the best life possible. They are completely free range on a farm of 30 acres, are not put anywhere near artificial feeds or antibiotics and are raised slowly. Martin was so passionate in his beliefs and really has a problem with the way meat and food in general is produced in our society today.
Woodside farm products are only sold at farmers markets here in Cork. They do not supply supermarkets and in this way, they can retain complete autonomy over their produce. People flock from far and wide to buy the nitrate free pork sausages which has a shelf life of only 4 days, as opposed to a couple of weeks and is much healthier.
My favourite quote from Martin: “it’s not what goes into our products that is special, it’s want doesn’t go in to them.” Why in this day and age do we feel the need to tamper with everything that is usually better left alone! It is unfortunately uncommon today to find food producers so filled with integrity that they are willing to turn down big supermarket contracts to ensure their ethics at adhered to. I cannot express how impressed I was with Martin and Noreen in words, you will have to go and visit them at Midleton, Mahon, Douglas and Wilton farmers markets.
Yesterday, we were lucky enough to cook with Woodside produce while making full Irish breakfast and it was spectacular.
Darina correctly says regularly that there is no such thing as cheap food. Low priced meats and all that is added to them will bring the cost of damage to our health and pressures on our health system in the long run. She says “we are sleepwalking into a crisis” when it comes to our food system and we need to wake up!
Although I felt clued in before this course, I will never buy cheap meat again and if there is one lesson I can pass on, it is that investing in your ingredients is investing in your health. With beautiful ingredients, it’s difficult not to cook a beautiful meal.