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The Empire of Ballymaloe, and its literary festival

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Today's Wall Street Journal has a long article on the spread of Irish artisanal cooking, and traces it to the success of Ballymaloe. The farm, and its 91 year old matriarch, have created a hotel, several restaurants, a cooking school, and work for many local individuals. It's estimated the kitchen alone counts 70 local purveyors of duck, fish, vegetables, beer, cheese, etc.



At first glance, the buffet at this Sunday feast seems laden with nostalgia—lobster vol-au-vents, boiled eggs piped with mayonnaise and flowery garnishes abound. But at its core, the generous spread represents a new confidence in the quality of Irish produce: salads of just-foraged pennywort, wild garlic flowers and watercress sit alongside platters of tiny Dublin Bay prawns, cockles, sea urchins and periwinkles. House-baked soda breads accompany hand-churned butter from Jersey cows. Whole sides of smoked fish, pâtés and charcuterie are followed by a proud row of roasted birds and rare beef. Farmhouse cheeses of various sizes, shapes and aromas round out the offering. Nearly everything is organic, handmade and locally sourced. There isn’t a boiled potato in sight.






Ballymaloe extends well beyond the House and the Cookery School, with the next generation of Allens running farmers’ markets, opening restaurants and organizing festivals.

Two years ago, the entire clan banded together to throw the inaugural Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine. The idea to launch a festival was initially greeted with skepticism. How could it be successful when the Celtic Tiger had retreated so spectacularly? After the financial crash in 2008, the country’s banking system was in ruins. In the years that followed, with unemployment reaching 15 percent, nearly 300,000 young Irish (from a population of 4.5 million) went abroad to find work. “There was a feeling that the bad old days were back again,” says Darina Allen, alluding to Ireland’s historic status as Western Europe’s poor cousin. “We had taken such a beating, everyone was afraid to take a risk and back Ireland again. For the first literary festival we weren’t sure if anyone would come at all.”


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