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Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards 2024

Sustainable Excellence celebrated at Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards
Irish Food Writers’ Guild advocates for ethical practices in Ireland’s food & drink sector
“If we don’t address the crisis facing Ireland’s restaurant sector we will not only see the closure of many more local businesses this year, but the potential demise of our wider vibrant food industry,” according to Caroline Hennessy, chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) who addressed food industry guests prior to announcing the eight winners of the 2024 IFWG Food Awards.
“Notwithstanding the challenges facing small food and drink businesses right now, we have a sector of which we can be extremely proud,” said Caroline Hennessy. “Today’s IFWG Food Awards are a celebration as we shine a light on exemplars of the country’s thriving, world-class artisan food and drink industry. But Ireland’s producers need support from government, from supermarket and restaurant buyers and from consumers who want to eat and drink exceptional and sustainably sourced Irish produce.
“From oysters to organic meats and chicken, traditionally made pastry and Ireland’s first and only vermouth, this year’s winning produce together with our chosen producers and innovators are the heart and soul of our domestic food industry and they deserve our support,” said Caroline.
The winners of the 2024 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards are:
Food Award: Carlingford Oysters, Co. Louth. A Pacific oyster with a sweet nutty flavour followed by a slight tannic lingering aftertaste that takes more than three years to reach maturity.
Food Award: Regan Organic Chicken, Co. Wexford. A case-study of an alternative food system at work, each step of the Regan Organic Chicken process is designed to care for the welfare of the birds and to maintain a close connection to nature and natural food production.
Food Award: Roll It All Butter Pastry, Co. Meath. Comfort and convenience all rolled into one, Mairead Finnegan’ uses simple and honest Irish ingredients to produce a pastry that is easy to use and free from additives and preservatives.
Irish Drink Award: Valentia Island Vermouth, Co. Kerry. Ór Valentia Island Vermouth has been making a splash as the first ever Irish vermouth created by the innovative wife-and-wife team Anna and Orla Snook O’Carroll.
Notable Contribution to Irish Food: Conor Spacey, Co. Dublin. Through his work with organisations such as Food Space, and as co-creator of The Chefs’ Manifesto, Conor Spacey shows that a zero-waste approach to food in hospitality settings is not only attainable but cost effective too.
Environmental Award: Rare Ruminare, Co. Sligo. The goal at Rare Ruminare is to produce the heathiest and best tasting meat possible. Clive Bright’s holistic grazing management approach uses carefully planned grazing events followed by long recovery periods, moving the cattle around to emulate natural herding behaviour.
Community Food Award: Cork Urban Soil Project, Co. Cork. CUSP was established in 2017 by a collective of forward-thinking activists and creative dreamers who see food as a tool for social change. Their aim was to test and model a ‘closed loop’ community-scale waste system, one that treats food scraps as a valuable resource for the community.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter and Mary Ward of Country Choice, Co. Tipperary. Peter and Mary Ward have ben passionate champions of local food since they opened Country Choice in 1982, selling the best and most natural ingredients they can source. Citations on winners attached.
The awards, now in their 31st year, spotlight excellence and distinguishable quality in Irish produce and its committed creators. Sustainability is a consistent thread and numerous family businesses have been recognised over three decades not only for their excellent produce and practices, but also for the lasting and enduring legacy they are creating for current and future generations.
The IFWG Food Awards serve as a timely and significant reminder. They not only celebrate producers’ hard work and their love for their craft but also prompt us to consider the impact of current economic conditions on our sector and explore solutions for the long-term success of Ireland’s artisan food industry.

Caroline Hennessy continued: “Every time a restaurant or café closes, an essential revenue stream for our small producers is severed. We exist within an ecosystem, and the convergence of high energy costs, labour expenses, and other challenges affects everyone involved. Jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance and it is our responsibility to take action. By supporting these producers, we are also supporting the local economy and communities that rely on them.”

Sponsored by Bord Bia, Una Fitzgibbon, Director of Marketing added: “As a connector of Irish food and drink products to the world, it is entirely fitting that Bord Bia continues to support the work of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild as it celebrates and honours the exceptional quality of Ireland’s artisan food industry. Congratulations to all eight winners and thank you for your contribution to the Irish food and drink industry, which sets an inspiring example to the wider industry.”

About the IFWG Food Awards: The IFWG Food Awards are unique in that no business or individual can enter, nor do they know if they have been nominated for an award. The Guild is the sole nominating and decision-making body* whose members nominate and anonymously buy products for tasting. Proportional representation voting is undertaken at a Guild tasting meeting. Winning products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be Irish grown or produced.

The Irish Food Writers’ Guild Food Awards were celebrated at Dublin’s Suesey Street, with a lunch created by Head Chef Matt Fuller, featuring the winning produce. The Guild is grateful to the team at Suesey Street, Liberty Wines and Teeling for their continuous support of the awards.

IRISH FOOD WRITERS’ GUILD FOOD AWARDS 2024
Winners’ Full Citations:

Food Award: Carlingford Oysters, Carlingford Oyster Company, Co. Louth.
We have some of the best oysters in the world in Ireland – they are nature’s real treasurers. Many people will be familiar with Carlingford Oysters, a Pacific oyster that has a sweet nutty flavour followed by a slight tannic lingering aftertaste. It is this unique taste and high meat content that has made them a highly regarded specimen in many of the top restaurants here in Ireland and right across the United Kingdom.
This is a family business based in the heart of Carlingford Lough where oysters have thrived for many centuries. The origins of the business can be traced back to the late 1960s when Peter Louët Feisser and his wife Anna sailed into Carlingford Lough on a wooden yacht. Struck by the Lough’s natural beauty, they decided to make it their home. In 1974, Peter started growing oysters and – now in his 80s – can still be found working in the Lough at low tide. Peter’s son Kian and Kian’s wife Mary are at the helm of this family business, while Peter and Anna’s grandchildren work on the farm in their holidays.
It takes over three years for Carlingford Oysters to reach maturity. They are rich in protein and low in fat with exceptionally high levels of trace elements such as iodine, iron, selenium copper and zinc. Taking advantage of the perfect growing conditions available in the Lough, Carlingford Oysters are as natural and pure as food can be, making them a well-deserved winner at today’s awards.

Food Award: Regan Organic Chicken, Regan Organic Farm, Co. Wexford.
In a world of relentless food noise, the stalwarts of local, quality food production are often lost in a haze of superficiality and misleading hype. But a few products break through. Their simplicity is a measure of their integrity, an expression of a deeply considered food philosophy.
Mary Regan’s organic chicken is a singular and exceptional example. It is a case-study of an alternative food system at work. From the breed, the feed, the everyday lifestyle of the birds and through to the final slaughtering stage, each step in the process is designed to care for the welfare of the birds and to maintain a close connection to nature and natural food production.
For the consumer, this ethical and humane approach delivers a product of outstanding quality and taste. Quite simply, it looks like a chicken that led a life that chickens were meant to have, and it tastes like those from the near-forgotten era of the special Sunday roast dinner.
In Ireland, poultry is the most highly consumed meat. Most production is undertaken at an industrial level and the market is also supplied by cheap international imports. The environmental, welfare, and food culture costs of such a model is of considerable concern.
Those who operate outside this productivist model are rare, admirable, and exemplary. Mary Regan’s farm is certified organic and they even have their own on-site abattoir to reduce stress on the poultry. Her approach – and her organic chickens – are strong, distinctive, and valuable counterpoints to the established system. It is a pleasure to celebrate their excellence.

Food Award: Roll It All Butter Pastry, Roll It Pastry, Co. Meath.
Mairead Finnegan’s Roll It All Butter Pastry is comfort and convenience all rolled into one. Her pastry dough can be the basis for many meals from the homeliest to the most sophisticated. It can be used to make childhood classics, like chaussons aux pommes and galettes des rois or some fun jambons on a lazy Sunday morning. Most importantly, it can be used with the confidence you feel around food that has been made consistently, simply and excellently.
Mairead makes the pastry at a production kitchen beside her home in Kells, Co Meath. She uses simple and honest ingredients, including Irish butter and locally milled flour. Some of her doughs are enriched with a bit of sugar and vanilla and all are consistent in their deliciousness and ease of use.
Few things in life are more satisfying than warm pastry just out of the oven and with Roll It All Butter Pastry you can be both satisfied and confident that you are using the best of Irish ingredients.

Irish Drink Award: Valentia Island Vermouth, Valentia Island Vermouth, Co. Kerry.
Vermouth has long been associated with Italy and the south of France but in the last few years, Ór Valentia Island Vermouth has been making quite the splash as the first ever Irish vermouth created by the innovative wife-and-wife team Anna and Orla Snook O’Carroll. Anna is originally from Bristol while Orla – who grew up in Co Wicklow – had roots in Kerry due to her father being from The Kingdom. The couple moved from the UK to Ireland in 2018, having fallen in love with Valentia Island. Anna’s background in hospitality led her to a pivotal moment at a vermouth tasting, sparking an idea that resonated. Orla had learned about foraging from her beekeeping Dad, picking up knowledge of plants as a child. On Valentia Island, the couple began to explore the island’s rich tapestry of flora and botanicals, experimenting in their kitchen and developing their vermouth.
The base of the drink is Spanish white wine sourced from the Rueda Valley, made with the Verdejo grape. Then use locally foraged Valentia Island plants and herbs among the 20 different botanicals that go into every bottle. Gorse is an indigenous local ingredient that gives coconut and vanilla flavours. The name Ór comes from the golden colour that the gorse infuses into the vermouth.
Anna and Orla are pioneers in their field, establishing a new drinks category in Ireland. They have actively engaged with the Irish food and drink community, travelling the length and breadth of the country for tastings, talks and events. They hope to grow the business and open a distillery on the island, building a name for Irish vermouth, one sip at a time.

Notable Contribution to Irish Food: Conor Spacey, FoodSpace, Co. Dublin.
At a time when food waste is a known contributor to factors leading to climate change, in a world where there is more than enough food to feed the global population – yet never greater inequality of access – Conor Spacey’s relentless championing for the better use of food that we buy, cook and consume by actively reducing waste all along the food chain is an issue of utmost importance for everyone.
In 2023, he released his first book, Wasted. The book was immediately considered to be a groundbreaking primer for both domestic and commercial kitchens, enabling them to rethink their approach to food waste and to find ways to eliminate it. Through his work with organisations such as Food Space, and as co-creator of The Chefs’ Manifesto (a global network of chefs committed to finding better solutions to the global food system), he shows that a zero-waste approach to food in hospitality settings is not only attainable, but cost effective, opening a new and exciting culinary lexicon for both chef and diner.
Conor expands that further, demonstrating that zero waste can be achieved in schools, at home, and in the supply chain from farm to fork. He positively politicises this in his work as a food champion and advocate for various initiatives under the remit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the global action project #BeansIsHow. Conor Spacey has been a chef for over thirty years. This award recognises his long career as an ambassador for change – and his contribution to Irish food – as important, timely and relevant.

Environmental Award: Rare Ruminare, Co. Sligo.
Clive Bright has been managing his family farm in Ballymote, County Sligo since inheriting it from his mother in 2003. Fourteen years ago, as he began exploring organic practices, regenerative grazing methods became key to his successful transition from conventional farming. In 2013 the farm gained organic certification with the Organic Trust.
Passionate about short food chains, he soon began selling his meat direct to local customers under the brand Rare Ruminare. He now delivers nationwide. Clive’s herd of cattle consists of a mix of traditional rare breeds including Hereford, Shorthorn, Angus, Red Belted Galloway and Irish Moiled. The motivation behind this is to seek out animals that are naturally adapted to thrive within the farm’s environment. The herd is solely pasture fed and never supplemented with high protein concentrated grain mixes.
The land is managed as an entire ecosystem with soil and soil life taking as much precedence as the animals themselves. A network of ponds has been integrated into the fields and agroforestry is currently being implemented throughout the farm. Clive’s holistic grazing management approach uses carefully planned grazing events followed by long recovery periods, moving the cattle around to emulate natural herding behaviour.

Clive says, “farming should be about harnessing the resources we already have, the land that we steward, the plants we grow, and the free energy source that the sun provides”. By creating a diverse, close-to-natural habitat for his livestock, Clive has found an ethical and perpetual way of producing nutritionally dense and tasty beef that enhances the environment while producing food for the community and beyond.

Community Food Award: Cork Urban Soil Project, Co. Cork.
Cork Urban Soil Project – CUSP – was set up in 2017 by a collective of forward-thinking activists and creative dreamers who see food as a tool for social change. Their aim was to test and model a ‘closed loop’ community-scale waste system, one that treats food scraps as a valuable resource for the community that creates it, rather than unwanted pollutant waste to be shipped elsewhere as someone else’s problem.

Why not convert urban food scraps into quality compost? Why not use that to grow quality food, improve local biodiversity and foster healthy soil? Why not show that the problem of food waste can be part of the solution for strengthening food sovereignty, and that healthy soil can retain water to help prevent flooding and sequester carbon to fight climate change?
This was the thinking of Virginia O’Gara of My Goodness, a Cork-based producer of fermented foods and drinks that is built on the principles of permaculture. With the help of food creative Molly Garvey, human-rights activist Sean Binder, project manager Erin O’Brien and other community-focussed allies including Cork Environmental Forum, O’Gara sourced a second-hand Joraform aerobic biodigestor that could transform up to 700kg of food scraps a month into 350kg nutrient-dense compost.
The beauty, says O’Gara, is that none of those involved were experts when they started out. “If we can do it,” she says, “anyone can”. To date, the model has inspired similar composting projects in communities as diverse as defence force units, a university campus and a five-star hotel, and CUSP are talking to ChangeX about how to communicate their learnings internationally. Cork Urban Soil Project is an inspiring example of being the change you want to see.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter and Mary Ward, Country Choice, Country Choice, Co. Tipperary.
“A country grocer” was how American food writer Colman Andrews described Peter Ward in his James Beard Award-winning The Country Cooking of Ireland, before going on to list some of Peter’s many jobs: making pots of tea for Nenagh locals at Country Choice, the independent grocers and café that he runs with his wife Mary; weighing out slabs of local cheddar behind the counter there; travelling to cook for dignitaries in Capetown and Alicante; addressing government panels on food regulation policies; distributing and selling the best of Irish and imported foods. A shopkeeper to his fingertips, Peter has always had a foot at home – anchored by Nenagh native Mary – while still being involved in the world at large, particularly the food world.
The couple have been passionate champions of local food since they opened Country Choice in 1982. It was a time before small producers were properly acknowledged and celebrated, but the Wards could see the bounty that was available nearby. Peter remembers discovering “wonderful people who were showing food at the county and agricultural shows. If you went to these shows, you could get an endless supply of ducks, geese, Madeira cakes, apple tarts, jam, tomatoes and Beauty of Bath apples. That was the bedrock of my business at the time.”
Peter is one of the great communicators of Irish food, making the most of every platform available, be it stage, radio, television or his popular social media posts doing tastings with Mary. He has never shied away from emphasising that everyone has their own role to play, supporting “the butcher, the baker and the artisan” today rather than bemoaning their loss tomorrow, and realising – much too late – that cheap does not equal value. We can add country grocers to that list of professions to be cherished. For their long-held belief in, and support for, local indigenous Irish food, the Irish Food Writers’ Guild is pleased to award Peter and Mary Ward with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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