In the Irish Times Magazine last Saturday there was a feature on Country Choice‘s Peter Ward. Prestigious American foodie magazine Saveur is about to publish an edition extolling the virtues of Ireland’s artisanal food industry. One of the people mentioned in their “detailed who’s who of artisanal food in Ireland” is Peter, who has brought Saveur editor Colman Andrews to Nenagh several times over the last few years. Coleman celebrated the St Patrick’s weekend by coming to Ireland to cook with Peter and his wife, Mary, at a Slow Food Seasonal Irish Spring Produce meal in Country Choice and he has now marked Ireland as a destination for “gastrotourists”. All I’ll say is that they’re in for a lot of disappointment if they go anywhere off the trail marked out by Georgina Campbell and the McKennas‘ good food guides.
Apart from the Avoca Handweavers shops, it’s difficult to find good food on the move throughout the country. I’ve ranted here before about the quality of food in Ireland and Irish cafés and I’m not alone. Kieran at Ice Cream Ireland has given out about the quality of coffee available and Conor’s review of Café Paradiso has segued into a discussion of value for money in Irish restaurants.
But, complaints aside, what should we do – not necessarily in order to facilitate these mythical gastrotourists – but to improve the quality of food in Ireland for the people who live here full-time? Peter, coming at the situation from the perspective of the specialist food provider, believes that Irish agriculture has to change focus: “I’d love to see more primary producers of food such as milk, beef, lamb, eggs, chicken and pork start producing it for direct sale to customers, and respond to the changing taste in the market.” But he accepts that this isn’t going to be easy: “that can’t happen without a whole course of education for farmers,” he muses. And it’s not farmers that need to be educated. The blight of discount supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi is spreading across the land and you’re going to be hard pressed to find Irish goods in these stores, let alone artisan produce. Give me Peter’s Country Choice any day – if his ideas of an artisan food stand in every Spar, Mace and filling station across the country ever get off the ground I’d be a very happy traveller!