I was amazed and excited at the quality, variety and wonderful tastes from small Irish companies, all with very unique products to sell. Given the general atmosphere of doom and gloom which pervades this country at the moment, it's so heartening to see new small Irish producers with the finest quality food and we really should do our best to support them. Here's my highlights...
I met Michael from Irish Atlantic Sea Salt - the first ever Irish producer of sea salt from the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, which seems incredible, given that we're surrounded by salty water. I'm very familiar with the various French sea salts from my many trips to Brittany and Loire Atlantique & always bring home a stash of Sel de Guerande. Michael O'Neill is rightly proud of his Irish sea salt which tastes utterly delicious - I've used the sample packet he gave me for absolutely everything and it really brings out the flavour of every dish I've used it with. Keep your eyes peeled for this - it's fantastic
Image courtesy of Irish Atlantic Sea Salt
Next up was G's Gourmet Jams from Abbeyleix - I had seen them in my local SuperValu and thought they looked delicious. I tried the Apple Jelly at the stand and it was divine - very clear in appearance with a hint of cloves for a bit of warmth. They don't just make jam you know - they also have a great range of relish and chutney.
One of the stars of the show for me was the Donegal Rapeseed Oil Co. Even since I read English Mum's recipe for a lemon & almond cake using rapeseed oil, I've been dying to get my hands on some. I was thrilled to discover that Donegal is the source of high-quality rapeseed oil and excitedly brought home a bottle to play with. I am very impressed indeed... it doesn't splatter all over my hob (less cleaning up for The Hubs), it doesn't burn and it tastes flippin' great. Look out for it in your local shops - this is liquid gold!
Image courtesy of the Donegal Rapeseed Oil Company
Another fantastic product I sampled was Tomatoes Galore by Breheny's Bellish. Made in Ballyvourney, West Cork, this bottle of tomato yumminess works in so many different ways... as a ketchup, a salsa base, a pasta sauce, a dip - it's the perfect multipurpose product, made with the best ingredients. Mairead Hayes-Breheny is rightly proud of all the products in their range and you should try them...
Image courtesy of Breheny's Bellish
I'm convinced that Cork was sponsoring this exhibition because the next exhibitor I came across was Aaron from Finders Inn Gourmet Foods in Riverstick, Co. Cork. They pride themselves on selling fresh homemade restaurant quality foods and based on the products I tried, I completely agree. Their mushroom soup, red cabbage, ratatouille and rocket salad dressing are all wonderful - incredibly fresh tasting and packed full of ingredients you would use at home.
I also met the very charming Birgitta from Burren Smokehouse. Based in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, this organic smokehouse and visitor centre takes the finest Irish salmon and turns it into the most incredible hot or cold smoked salmon, sold worldwide. I tried the smoked salmon with Mead and it was gorgeous - very delicate and just the right hint of mead.
Image courtesy of the Burren Smokehouse
Another exhibitor I absolutely loved was Pandora Bell. Nicole's products and packaging are simply exquisite and I wanted to take one of everything home with me - just to give as a gift to friends, of course! I just adore her dainty cream milk churns which hide the most delicious Salted Butter Caramels & could be used for a multitude of storage solutions when empty (I'd stash my make up brushes in them...). The Honey Nougat is crammed full of crunchy almonds and pistachios and wrapped in the prettiest paper - just covetable.
Image courtesy of Pandora Bell