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Donal Skenhan: Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver

A Taste of Ireland

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Donal Skenhan: Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver

His father loved food. “He was my original food hero,” says Peter. “He travelled the country selling cattle and always brought food home from wherever he had been: beef, cheese, fish or black pudding.”

After leaving school, Peter worked for the Dunnes Stores supermarket chain. They sent him to Tipperary where he met his wife, Mary, at a local dance.

The pair saw a gap in the market for a speciality food store and in 1982 they set up Country Choice in Nenagh. In the years since then, the shop has become a haven for anyone with an interest in food.

“We sell food we like ourselves, food we would serve our visitors on a Sunday,” explains Peter. 
When they first opened, their stock consisted of Mary’s jams and the finest produce to be found at local agricultural shows and country markets.

“I’d go and see who had won what prizes,” says Peter. “Then I’d ring them up and order supplies from them. That’s how we developed our contacts with people.”

Their focus was always on organic, natural food. “We had duck eggs, brown soda bread and jam in the window that first day,” remembers Peter. “They could be our family crest because they are still the basis of what we do today.”

In the 30 years since then, he and Mary have added more and more produce to their shelves. They also make and serve the best of Irish food in their café. 

“For us, it’s all about where the food comes from,” says Peter. “Who makes it and how do they make it. These are the important questions.”

In fact, Peter thinks these questions might just give us the answer to Ireland’s current economic problems. “Nobody is going to drop out of the skies into the rural parishes of Ireland,” he says. “We need to look to our own and what we are good at, which is tourism and food. Combine the two and work from there.”

He believes every tourist coming to Ireland should look forward to tasting Irish lamb, beef, butter, bread and milk. “And we should deliver on that promise,” he continues. “It’s treasonable to give our valuable guests cheap, foreign, mass-produced food.”

Visitors to Country Choice in Nenagh and to the shop/café now open in Limerick’s Milk Market will certainly find that Peter and Mary deliver on the promises they make to their customers.

“Country Choice is a home away from home for us and all our customers,” says Peter. It’s a home where you’ll always be invited to sit at the table and savor the best of Irish food. www.countrychoice.ie

Did you know that Ireland has been renowned for its dairy produce for centuries? The city of Cork was once home to the largest butter market in the world and Irish butter was shipped from there to destinations as far away as India, Australia and Brazil.

One family is doing its utmost to restore Ireland’s reputation for fine dairy produce. Glenilen Farm is to be found at the end of a winding country lane in West Cork. Here, the Kingston family have a herd of cows whose milk they use to make the creamiest of yoghurts, butters, creams and cheesecakes.   
“We aim to make the freshest and most natural dairy produce,” says Valerie Kingston. “All of our butter, cream, yoghurts and other products are full of natural goodness and don’t have any additives or preservatives. This gives them a pure, authentic farmhouse taste.”

Glenilen Farm has been in Alan Kingston’s family for generations but it wasn’t until Alan married Valerie (also a farmer’s daughter from West Cork) that they started to make dairy produce. 
Valerie had studied food technology at university and set up a cheese-making enterprise in Burkina Faso after she left university. Finding herself newly married, she decided to use the skills she had learned at university and refined in Africa to make cheese from the milk produced by the farm’s cows.

It wasn’t long before she was making cheesecakes and yoghurts in her kitchen. Pleased with the results, her next step was to set up a stall at Bantry’s Farmers’ Market. She soon had regular customers who loved her produce as much as she did.

That was 1997, and what started as a kitchen enterprise has now become a business employing more than 20 people. Glenilen products are now stocked throughout Ireland and in Tesco in the UK.
These changes have meant that Alan and Valerie have had to increase production and automate some of their processes. Despite this, their principles remain the same as ever.

“Our products are made using the best ingredients available, reflecting our steadfast belief in the goodness of wholesome, natural food,” says Alan. 

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