TOWARDS TERRA MADRE – Weekend in Kenmare

17 Sep 2004

Five thousand food producers from five continents-farmers, fishermen, shepherds, cheesemakers … – will meet in Turin in October as part of Slow Food’s groundbreaking Terra Madre event. Until then the site will monitor the preparatory journeys of the project’s collaborators.

From 26th-28th March the little Irish town of Kenmare in County Kerry hosted the second annual event organised by Slow Food Ireland. It was attended by most of the Irish Convivium leaders, as well as Slow Food members, people unfamiliar with the movement but curious about the weekend programme, producers of the two Irish Presidia (smoked wild salmon and raw milk cheeses) and many other local producers who set up a market in the small town square. What better occasion to present the international food communities meeting to be held in Turin in October to the Irish public?

During cocktails to welcome everyone at the Park Hotel, I made my presentation of the event and invited the public to contact us and recommend communities for Terra Madre. Interest in the project was palpable: at the end of my speech many of those present came over to ask questions and suggest possible ways for Ireland to get involved.

The enthusiasm of the public was no coincidence: work had been underway for several months, thanks to an excellent Terra Madre work group consisting of Giana Ferguson, governor of Slow Food Ireland and producer of Gubbeen raw milk cheese from County Cork; Darina Allen, East Cork convivium leader and owner of the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School just outside Cork; Clodagh McKenna, West Cork convivium leader; Con Hurley, journalist for Farmer’s Journal; Seamus Sheridan, refiner and owner of the shop Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Galway, and his associate Fiona Corbett.

The Irish event was an opportunity to meet them in person and talk about food communities from Ireland that could take part in Terra Madre. Giana and colleagues had already found at least forty people for the event in Turin – a series of representatives of the island’s best traditional quality products: cheesemakers, butter producers, organic farmers, butchers, breeders, black pudding producers, as well as farmers’ markets, retailers and promoters of typical products, seed savers organisations and restaurateurs committed to food quality.

On Saturday the participants could choose between three excursions to get to know the local area and producers, accompanied by three outstanding guides. The first trips was to discover Millens cheese, with John McKenna, journalist and co-author of the prestigious Bridgestone Guides; the second was a visit to the farmers’ market of Miltown and Raymond Hilliard’s Kerry cow breed farm with Regina Sexton, writer and expert in Irish food history; while the third trip was a tasting of Frances Burns’ black pudding and Skelligs Chocolate Company’s chocolate, with Darina Allen.

This was an ideal opportunity to meet the producers and the restaurateurs who gave us lunch, as well as to involve John McKenna in the Terra Madre work group. John explained how beer production in his country is dominated by one large brewery to the detriment of smaller traditional ones. But there is hope: the small Irish breweries have been up in arms in the last ten years and have organised a series of very interesting small but fine quality products. Obviously we are counting on seeing some of these at Terra Madre, thanks to John.

Regina Sexton’s tour took us to to the Kerry cattle farm in Killarney owned by Raymond Hilliard who is also secretary of the Kerry Cattle Society, working to guarantee the future of Ireland’s only native cattle breed. Only a handful of Kerry cow breeders remain, and during aperitifs I met one of these, Olivia Goodwillie, who breeds Kerry cattle in her farm near Kilkenny. I hope to see her again in Turin.

Sunday was almost entirely dedicated to Taste Workshops. The choices included the consequences of immigration on Irish cuisine, bringing children closer to food, the Irish Salmon Presidium, wine and food, the Raw Milk Cheese Presidium… The cheese laboratory was an opportunity to promote the quality of these products at a very difficult time for Irish raw milk cheese producers.

Just a few days before our weekend in Kenmare, the Irish Minister of Agriculture had confiscated a stock of raw milk cheese from producer Bill Hogan, claiming it was dangerous for human health. Thanks to the help of international experts, Hogan (who was present at the Irish Slow Food event) proved that these accusations were unfounded, but the matter is not yet closed, in his opinion.
This is certainly a useful starting point for possible seminars at Terra Madre, as it is of interest to raw milk cheesemakers worldwide, not only those of the Irish Presidium. .

Silvia Monasterolo is the Europe area coordinator on the Terra Madre project

Adapted by Ailsa Woods

This is an abridged version of an article which first appeared inSlowfood n° 3.

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