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Slow Food – Meet the Makers

September 27, 2014
Meet the Cheesemakers

Meet the Cheesemakers. Photo kind permission Ian Sewell

Have you heard about slow food? When we first came across the term we took it literally and  thought it meant taking time to cook wholesome food and eat it slowly so that we might appreciate the flavours and care that had been taken to put the food onto our plates. We didn’t realise there was more to it and that it had the potential to change the way we shop and make purchasing decisions.

What is Slow Food?

If you’re not familiar with it, Slow Food is a non-profit making member supported organisation that showcases sustainable agriculture and artisan food production. It connects producers with consumers, often educating us where food comes from, how it’s produced and it can help to create a positive social change.

I imagine the way the global Slow Food movement spreads the word differs from place to place but the way we’ve learned about it in Kilkenny is by interesting and very honest accounts from the food ‘makers’ themselves.

Meet the Maker in Kilkenny

On a regular basis, Keith Bohanna from Biabeag has organised a two-hour session at Highbank Organic Orchard where he invites three food or drink makers to a themed event.

Setting the scene

Slow Food - Meet the Makers

Photo: Kind permission of Ken McGuire

The upstairs of the character filled barn is divided into a staged area with comfy sofa, rugs and side tables where the producers are encouraged to relax in an open and informal way. Rows of chairs are set out facing Keith’s guests, so it’s much like watching a play perhaps.

For the first part of the evening, each producer is asked to talk for thirty minutes or so about their story. They might share how they came to be in business, what they do now, how their business impacts on their families, the costs involved, the difficulties and pitfalls, highs and the lows and they usually offer tasters of their products. After we’ve learnt their stories, the makers are invited to take part in question and answer sessions, both from Keith looking on in his ‘Mastermind’ swivel chair and also from those of us watching on. There’s a small fee to attend the event (€5 slow food members, €8 rest of us) and afterwards an opportunity to buy some of the products directly from the makers.

Has Meeting the Makers changed our shopping habits?

On a day-to-day basis no, it hasn’t changed our weekly shop. We’re feeding five people which is costly. We simply can’t afford to buy artisan food on a regular basis however much we’d like to. What the Meet the Maker series of events has done however, is increased our knowledge about what and how we buy things and made us more aware of the challenges small food producers face. That might be whether to make a financial and emotional decision on whether to upscale their business or not, how to eat or prepare certain foods or drinks to get the very best from them or the steps involved in turning a product from its raw form (i.e. bean or milk) into the end product with care and thought at every single step, from the farmer onwards.

Food Gifts

Like many, we might not be able to buy artisan food every week, but I’ve recently taken to buying it as gifts on the assumption that some of our friends and family are in the same place as us and might therefore share our pleasure. Last Christmas we arranged for a Kilkenny hamper to be sent over to Mum and Dad in their Lincolnshire home in the UK, containing pottery, cheese, cider and chutneys (Glasraí & Goodies have some gorgeous hampers.) This year we might extend that idea to other members of the family.

I sometimes buy treats for Mr G when I’m out at various food events and as a result of the Meet the Roasters evening, on this occasion it was a small bag of coffee from Ferg Brown of Roasted Brown, a difficult decision as the Badger and Dodo and Ponaire coffee smelt equally as lovely. It’s also as a result of taking an interest in the source of our food that we now keep our own pigs and hens and why I encourage folk to grow their own vegetables to experience the flavours that are often lost with commercialisation.

Slow Food - Meet the Makers

Brock Lewin at Meet The Roasters by Ken McGuire

Future Biabeag/Slow Food events

If you’re interested in learning more about your food, the next Meet the Maker event taking place in Kilkenny will be on the 8th November at Highbank Farm. It could prove to be very popular as we’ll have the opportunity to meet two chocolatiers and a chocolate maker. If you live further afield or that doesn’t suite you take a look at the Slow Food website for more details of events taking place in a country near you or the link at the top of the page for Irish events.

If you like the images above of the coffee roasters that Ken McGuire took, he has several more really cool ones in his post about the event. Ken also recorded each coffee maker so if you missed the event you can watch them here.

Have you found a local food or drink producer that you’ve switched to? As a result of the coffee event, Mr G is now weighing and measuring his coffee every morning and immediately noticed the difference in flavour and consistency.