It’s late morning in mid July and we’re in a field surrounded by a herd of two hundred milking cows and a few sturdy looking young bulls who are watching us with curiosity. Behind us are the Blackstairs mountains acting as a stunning backdrop to a perfect day in Ireland. The countryside is beautiful, the air is fresh, the sun is out and it’s a gorgeous temperature. Don’t be fooled, it’s not always like this! Ireland is often referred to as the ‘Emerald Isle’ in reference to it’s rolling green hills and greenery, and for good reason. Ireland has rich and fertile land and the temperature climate keeps the grass lush and green which in turn allows animals to graze outdoors for about ten months of the year on grass and natural herbs. All of this leads to happy cows, high milk yields and in the case of Killowen Farm, great tasting yogurt made literally 10 meters away from the milking shed. But more of Killowen Farm a bit later.
Local, sustainable food production is a theme that we’ve come to learn more about and on our short trip we get to see this in action. Breda Maher of Cooleeney Farm is making a range of handmade Irish Farmhouse cheese at her family farm. Like Killowen Farm, Breda has her own herd of cows and the milk travels just meters from the milking parlour to the cheese production unit. Further north is Siliver Hill Farm famous for their high quality duck which, once processed are exported across the world. John Stone, are suppliers of quality Irish produce, expertly selecting, ageing and butchering quality Irish Beef. It doesn’t stop on the land, Ireland has a well deserved reputation for high quality seafood and just a few days previously we were aboard a small fishing boat visiting an organic salmon farm at Clew Bay off the west coast of Ireland, to see how the salmon are reared in the Atlantic Ocean.
None of these businesses are new, in fact they come with long standing credentials and history, but each business has transformed over the years by using technology and improved processes and standards which are not only required to meet legislative requirements, but which also make good business sense and add to their bottom line. Not only that, but most importantly for the consumer, they produce exceptionally high quality, tasty food. Sustainable food processes means that there’s also full traceability of a product, which is something that more customers are asking for.
Each business has a shared passion for producing high quality food, being respectful to the environment and finally, as an added, but essential, benefit, being able to export their produce across the world, something none of them dreamed about at the very beginning of their business.
“What the Consumers want
In response to growing concerns among customers about traceability, the demand for more grass-fed dairy products is a key global trend providing an opportunity for Irish dairy producers to leverage their sustainable practices and accreditations” – Bord Bia.
I’m in Ireland on a short press trip from Dubai to learn more about Origin Green which is a voluntary national sustainability programme that brings together Ireland’s food industry, Farmers and food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice operators with the common goal of sustainable food production. The programme enables them to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets that help them reduce environmental impact, achieve efficiencies in their daily running of their business, improve their impact on society and most importantly, their overall bottom line as a business.
- Over 50,000 farmers in the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme, representing over 90% of all beef in Ireland.
- 18,000 dairy farms (90%) are certified under the Board Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme
- 240 certified members of the Sustainable Egg Assurance Scheme (97%)
- 281 Certified horticultural Scheme members of the Sustainable Horticulturla Scheme – Source Bord Bia, Origin Green
During our short trip we learned about the operation of the programme literally from the Board room through to the dining table and beyond. Our trip took us from the offices of Bord Bia where we learned about Origin Green standards and auditing processes plus it’s impact on the Irish economy through to meeting the people involved in bringing good quality, local, sustainable produce to the Irish dining table and beyond.
Over three days we covered 850km’s through some stunning scenery and landscapes to meet five different businesses, SilverHill Farm, Marine Harvest, John Stone Beef, Cooleeney Farm and Killowen Farm. Each has reached the final level of Origin Green to become verified members of the programme in that they have planned for and implemented numerous measures to make their business practices more sustainable. 95% of the producers exporting from Ireland across the world have reached this stage of being verified by the Bord Bia Origin Green programme.
Silver Hill Farm
First stop, Silver Hill Farm. This family business started over 50 years ago with six ducks and now employs over 200 workers, exports across the world and has won many awards. Over the years the farm has diversified so that now they are responsible for all aspects of duck production from breeding through to processing, cooking and packaging. Not only this, but they also have their own, secret, breed of duck which has been bred specifically for it’s flavor, succulency and tenderness. On our visit, our senses are assaulted, in the nicest possible way, with the flavors of cooked duck and hoisin sauce, just one of the ways in which the duck is cooked before it makes it’s way to the supermarkets. Whole ducks, processed in a special way make their way into some of the finest Chinese Restaurants and supermarkets where they have a great reputation.
Hardly anything goes to waste it seems as Silver Hill ensure that the entire duck is utilized, including the soft white duck down which is processed by their sister business Silver Hill Down which specializes in using the duck down, to make quality duvet and pillows.
Where to get it in Dubai : Silver Hill duck will soon be introduced at Novikov.
Origin Green: ~ “Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme is a World first for any Country, which gives Irish producers a real point of difference versus their competitors. The Origin Green programme has gained recognition from a lot of potential customers around the globe, so being part of it gives us a real advantage when explaining why Silver Hill farm is different from any other Duck producer.” – Barry Cullen, Head of Sales, Silver Hill Foods.
“We believe that 5 elements make great beef : Environment, Farmer, Selection, Ageing, Butchery”John Stone
Probably the most well known business of our trip to consumers, John Stone, founded over fifty years ago by master butcher, John Stone (MBE), is a business known for supplying a range of the finest dry aged, grass fed Irish beef and lamb which has been sustainably farmed and hand selected. We visited a busy beef production facility to meet Martin Casey, Operations Manager and butcher responsible for selecting the best loins of beef using a ‘EUROP’ classification scale and the unique John Stone marbeling criteria. Using the two criteria John Stone Beef is finally selected by a visual inspection by Martin to ensure that it meets the John Stone criteria. Once identified as John Stone, the beef is moved to a special ageing area where it is dry aged for between 21 and 28 days under close supervision and in a carefully controlled environment before being expertly cut by hand by master butchers.
Having seen the whole process I’m reminded of someone talking about Saluki dogs who said “every saluki is a dog, but not every dog is a saluki” – the same principle can be applied here. Not every piece of beef will make it to be a John Stone cut of beef and when you compare two pieces of beef side to side, you can see why.
“Our beef is grass fed, outdoors for 300 days per years – no tricks, no hormones no nonsense – just our good know how.”
Origin Green : “Our commitment to Origin Green, the world leading sustainability programme, ensures that we only work with Irish farmers whose cattle are 100% free from hormones to produce the very best beef” – John Stone.
More on John Stone – do check out my short feature and video with Chef Chris Graham at At.mosphere where he showed me how to cook the perfect steak using John Stone beef.
Where to find John Stone Beef in Dubai : At.mosphere at Burj Khalifa, Al Muntaha at Burj Al Arab.
It’s our last day of the trip and we find ourselves driving to the foot of the Blackstairs Mountains in County Wexford to Killowen Farm which has been the Dunne family home for over 200 years. We’re greeted by Nicholas Dunne and his wife Judith who are the third generation members of the Dunne family. In the background their eldest son can be seen working too so it’s good to know that the business will be in safe hands going further down the generation line.
Killowen Farm produce natural yogurt made from their herd of cows which graze nearby in their fields. The cows are grass fed outside for ten months of the year and then fed grass silage, maize silage, beet, straw and meal for the rest of the time when they have to be indoors. The cows are milked on site and the milk has to travel less than 10 meters from the milking parlor through to the yogurt production line. The yogurts have no preservatives or additives and is made from milk, live cultures and real fruit sourced locally wherever possible with a small amount of sugar.
“We owe it to our cows to produce the best yogurt using only natural ingredients so we never use preservatives or additives. Our natural yogurt is as natural as you can get, it is made with milk and live cultures; good bacteria that help keep your digestive system working well.”K
Origin Green – In conversation Nicholas says that their commitment to the Origin Green program has helped with presentations to potential suppliers who have paid more interest to the product when they know that the yogurt production is underpinned by the programme. On a day to day basis, he says that managing the farm to Origin Green standards helps focus on better ways of farming and production without adding unnecessary or non beneficial bureaucracy to his business.
Over a late breakfast, we get to sample the yogurt as well as to feast on home made scones served with a big mug of tea. Favourite flavours include the blackcurrant, lemon curd and rhubarb – they were so good!
Where to get Killowen Yogurt – You’ll find it being served to First Class customers on Emirates Flights and also on the breakfast buffet at Burj Al Arab and At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa Buy online also at Secrets Fine Foods. www.secretsfinefood.com
Cooleeney Farm Cheese
“You only have to try our cheese to realise two things: Mother Nature was definitely a cheese lover and you’ll never find another range of cheeses quite like those at Cooleeney Farm.”
Breda Maher and her family are fourth generation dairy farmers and have been making cheese for over thirty years. We meet Breda on a hot sunny day and chat over a gorgeous late afternoon tea complete with scones and jam, yellow local butter, freshly baked bread, a hot apple pie and a platter of Cooleeny Cheese.
Breda explains that the farm is nestled in the heart of Tipperary’s prime dairy country and has peaty soil, a perfect climate and clover rich grass which provides perfect food for the Cooleeney pedigree Friesian herd. Cooleeney cheese is only made from milk from the farm’s own herd ensuring milk of the highest possible quality for the production of artisan cheeses.
On the table for our tasting are three types of cheese a Soft Cheese which is camembert & brie style cows milk cheese with a creamy butter flavour – my favourite!. Gleann Óir a semi-firm goat cheese and Gortnamona a goats cheese with a white mould rind.
Origin Green : Origin Green is our platform to maintain and increase, how we repay nature. Through animal welfare, community engagement and waste reduction we have aligned our environmental targets with our strategic goals. In this respect, we maintain the quality of our product, while preserving the land and caring for the livestock that assists us in producing this quality.
Where to buy in Dubai : Unfortunately Cooleeney Farm cheese is not available here yet, but I’m sure it may come in the future. Failing that whilst the infamous words of this song says “It’s a long way to Tipperary” (Jack Judge 1912) actually it’s not that far given modern means of transportation.
Marine Harvest – The Irish Organic Salmon Co.
“Respect for Animal Welfare, Respect for the Environment Sustainability, Traceability’
It’s just before sunset and we are waiting on the Harbourside for a boat to take us out to the Clare Island Seafarm which is located in Clew Bay on the West coast of Ireland. We’re here to see how organic salmon are farmed, a business which started in 1995 and was the first salmon farm in the world to achieve organic certification in 1995. The site, we find out later, is one of the worlds most exposed and challenging sea farms due to it’s location, but thankfully on our visit the sea is relatively calm.
On average, it takes three years to rear the salmon and we manage to spot a few salmon jumping out to eat some food which is being fed to them whilst we are there, although it seems that the unusual hot weather means they are staying below the surface to avoid the heat. An ‘ egg to fork’ approach allows their customers to be able to fully trace the origin of each salmon literally back to the hatchery.
What makes them taste so good? The Irish Organic Salmony Company say its down to the purity of the water plus the raging Atlantic currents which means healthy strong fish rich in Omega-3 and essential minerals so the salmon “taste as Nature intended”
Do watch my short videos firstly from Annette Rodgers from Marine Harvest who talks about the Irish Organic Salmon and also Eoin a temporary member of the boat crew who talks about the salmon and his opinion about how they taste! His top tip to cook this salmon – simply with butter, garlic and some herbs. Sounds good to me!
Sadly we don’t get to taste any of the salmon on the trip, perhaps they should invest in a small food truck at the side of the harbour to gain traction from tourists who are visiting Clare Island… Thankfully, you can buy the salmon here in Dubai so you won’t need to make a trip to Ireland to get a fix, but I seriously you might want to anyways!
And finally, some thoughts on Sustainability following the trip mostly sourced from the Bord Bia Origin Green website.
Is Sustainability another buzz word or does it have a real impact on the environment, the world in which we live and the food landscape?
“Sustainability is becoming a way of life and is influencing all aspects of our lifestyles with consumers expressing concerns about sustainability in everything from food to fashion. Mintel research (on European consumer trends) confirms that sustainability and the environment are high on consumers’ agenda, with, for instance, more than half of the UK fish consumers saying they would like suggestions about sustainable alternatives.…”
Board Bia and Origin Green are providing real measurable proof of Ireland’s commitment to sustainable food and drink production. It’s bringing together farmers and food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice operators with the common goal of sustainable food production.
Origin Green has 335+ verified members who now account for over 90% of Irelands total food and drink exports, a figure which has grown for the last four years.
The entire base of 500 Origin Green participating companies account for 95% of total food and drink exports.impact on a particular goals, such as energy and water, or where it can actively contribute to the achievement of a goal, such as responsible consumption and production.
The Origin Green programme aligns to nine of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The nine areas are those where the Irish food and drink industry either has an on a particular goal, such as energy and water, or where it can actively contribute to the achievement of a goal, such as responsible consumption and production.
Having met some of producers who have signed up to the Origin Green programme, it’s clear to the that the scheme is having a real tangible impact on the way in which they conduct their business and their ability to get their local produce to market, both locally and abroad which can only be of benefit to all of those concerned.
How does Origin Green work?
On the Farm – Farmers (over 50,000 of them) are certified under the Origin Green programme through Board Bia Quality Assurance Schemes. The farmers are assessed by independent auditors looking at areas such as traceability, animal health and welfare, greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation soil management, biodiversity – all with the focus on food safety and sustainable agriculture.
Processing – There are over 339 food manufacturer and retail verified members who have committed to a minimum of six sustainability targets under the Origin Green Charter.
Retail/foodservice – A new addition to the Origin Green portfolio this ensures that all levels of the supply chain are involved in the programme.
Consumers – the final link in the food chain. Consumers are encouraged to look out for the Bord Bia Quality Assurance mark on produce and to buy local and in-season products or even to grown your own food if you are able to.
From a supply chain point of view one of the Origin Products, the Board Bia Dairy Carbon Navigator is playing a key role in sourcing and procurement of products.
Sustainable production is a key part of the business strategies of many supermarkets and foodservice customers. The strategy filters down to the suppliers who are responsible for implementing sustainable practices on their dairy farms to reduce their Carbon Footprint. In practical terms this means that the farms have to manage areas such as increasing the length of the grazing season, Reducing Nitrogen Efficiency etc
And it’s working! The carbon footprint of Irish dairy and beef production has reduced by around 15% since 1990
What’s the big deal about grass-fed beef?
Followers of Paleo, Dukan and the Ketogenic Diets, to name but a few, have been advocating eating grass-fed beef for a long time and if you think about it, that’s how beef used to be ~ back in the day.
Slow-grown grass-fed beef has not only been known to taste better, but studies have shown that it has a lot of health benefits too compared with intensively produced beef. These include:
- Higher levels of vitamin E
- Lower levels of saturated fats
- Higher levels of antioxidants
- 50 per cent more omega-3 and
- High levels of polyunsaturated fats
Pssst – butter lovers can rejoice as similar health benefits are said to be had by eating butter from grass fed cows and one of the biggest suppliers of this that you will find on the supermarket shelves here in Dubai is Kerrygold butter produced by Ornuq who work with 15,000 small grass-fed dairy farms.
Where we ate – Irish Food
As you might expect, we got to sample quite a lot of local Irish food on our trip. It’s easy to spot as it’s on just about every menu. I love the fact that menu’s often tell you where the produce is sourced from and a bit out the producer. Would love to see more of that here in Dubai, but know that it’s not quite so easy.
Our itinerary was well researched by the Bord Bia team and we visited the following places.
Asador – Barbecue & Grill (Dublin)
Asador source the best of Irish produce and cook it over a bespoke 1.2 tonne ‘Asador”. The chefs have spent time in Spain, Portugal & Argentina honing the skills necessary to cook over fires of lump wood charcoal and indigenous hardwoods and this is reflected in the simple, yet tasty menu on offe.
On Irish Produce :
- Meats~ McGloughins Butchers
- Fresh Seafood ~Doran’s of Howth Pier, Dublin & Mourne Seafood
- Fruits & Vegetables – Caterway, Dublin.
The Oarsman – Carrick on Shannon
This is a cute ‘ye olde worlde’ type of Inn full of nooks and crannies and bustling even on a weekday afternoon. Dating back to 1781 the menu is modern and tasty.
Beef : Country of Origin : Ireland – Hereford Beef, Dawn Meats, Balyhaunis, Co Mayo
Sage Restaurant, West Port
Westport was a surprising find, with a lot of interesting restaurants and pubs. The Sage is run by a husband and wife team and the place was packed. Don’t be put off by the plastic menus, the food is superb. One of the best seafood platters I’ve had in a long time.
Sage uses only the best local suppliers. 100% Irish Beef, Lamb and Fish.
- Dry Goods – Redmonds Fine Foods
- Lamb & Beef : Seamus Hawkshaws’ Family Butchers
- Meats – Chicken, Ronan Byrne The Friendly Farmer,
- Sean O’Grady – Murrisk Shellfish, Murrisk,
- Gerry Hassett, Keem Bay Fish Products, Achill Island
The Fatted Calf, Athlone
The Fatted Calf is Run by husband and wife team, Feargal and Fiona O’Donnell who focus is on finding the best, fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients served up as “modern Irish” food, served in a relaxed, comfortable, setting.
We visited after a trip to John Stone and were treated to some exceptionally good John Stone Beef selected to showcase different cuts of beef.
Suppliers : We use artisan suppliers for the best Irish seasonal produce.
- John Stone Beef – Beef and Lamb,
- McGeough’s Cured Meats,
- Fagan Foods – Irish Chicken, Eggs and Duck,
- Bell Lane Coffee
The Duck Terrace Restaurant, Marlfield House
The Duck Terrace Restaurant & Café is located in restored courtyard buildings in the grounds of Marlfield House. We dined indoors, but outside there was a gorgeous terrace overlooking the kitchen garden filled with vegetables, soft fruits, herbs and roses.
Would love to revisit here and stay and dine again! The food was modern, tasty and innovative, with a playful ‘duck themed menu – cuter than it sounds on reading!” My craving for simple ‘soul food’ meant I choose Fish & Chips – they were exceptionally good!
We buy from local food producers in Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow and beyond. We grow lots of our own vegetables and herbs in our kitchen garden through late Spring, Summer and early Autumn.
- Fish: Duncannon fish & Atlantis seafood Co. Wexford
- Meat: Slaney Valley, O Neills of Co.Wexford
- Poultry: Glin Valley Co. Cork
- Game: Wild Irish Game Co. Wicklow
- Fruit, Vegetables & Herbs: Cullens & Keelings Co. Wexford and an abundance from our own kitchen garden
- Berries: Greens berry Farm Gorey Co. Wexford
- Dairy: Killowen Farm & Wexford Creamery
- Eggs: from the happy, roaming hens of our neighbours Samuel & Maurice Allen
- Our cured meats, salamis olives and oils from Artisan producers in Luciano Southern Italy are sourced directly for us.
FX Buckley – Dublin
The Buckley Family has achieved legendary status in Dublin over the last six generations – originally as butchers and purveyors of the finest quality meats, and subsequently as operators of some of the nation’s favourite steakhouses, gastro-pubs and bars.
We visited on A Thursday night at the place was packed. My T-bone was cooked perfectly and was extremely tasty. Huge portions and a fabulous Espresso Martini signaled the end of the trip, but I know I will return.
All our steaks come from grass fed traditional heifer breeds and are dry-aged in our meat lockers for a minimum of 28 days.
Dry-aging means that we lose up to 20% of the meat’s weight, but we think that this is a small price to pay for beef that’s simply out of this world.
Irish Produce in Dubai
If I’ve peaked your interest in Irish products, then Irish produce is stocked in most of the large retail supermarkets. On-line you can purchase some Irish produce from Secrets Fine Food. As well as the places we visited take a look out for some of the products that the other visiting Dubai team came across during their trip including : Homespun, Boutique Bake, Jelly Bean Factory and Aines Chocolates, Keoghs Crisps, Butler’s Chocolate Factory, Broderick’s, Foods of Athenry and Flahavans Mill.
Alternatively take a trip to Ireland and do a road trip, I’m tempted to do that again soon.
Main sources of Information:
- Origin Green Briefing Overview 2018
- Bord Bia – The Dairy Carbon Navigator
- A-Z Guide to Food Sustainability In Ireland
Disclaimer: I was on a press trip sponsored by Bord Bia. All opinions are my own. All images were taken by me.