The Ballymaloe LitFest

Ballymaloe Lit Fest participants
Ballymaloe Lit Fest participants

By Matt Skwiat, May 22, 2013

An exciting new food and literary festival from Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork.

Ireland and food have a complex history. Visitors have always been struck by its lush greenery and iconic potables like Guinness and Jameson, but have often failed to take note of its food.  All that has changed in recent years, and a food festival at the beginning of the month speaks to Ireland’s increasingly high caché in the culinary world. Reclaiming Ireland’s former title of “breadbasket of the world,” The Ballmaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine is restoring Ireland’s food heritage. The three day event brought together an international gathering of world renowned chefs, culinary writers, bloggers, and food enthusiasts.

The Festival was held in the beautiful Ballymaloe House and Cooking School located on a 100 acre organic farm in County Cork, Ireland.  Headed by Darina Allen, the acclaimed Irish chef and T.V host and daughter-in-law of Irish slow food movement pioneer Myrtle Allen, the Ballymaloe Cooking School began in 1983 with an initiative to bridge the gap between the farm and the table with an emphasis on quality and organically grown products.  The farm was purchased by Myrtle and her husband Ivan in 1947 and since then it has remained in the family, with all of Myrtle’s children involved and Darina’s daughter-in-law Rachel continuing in the family’s tradition. Ballymaloe has hosted such guests as Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley, Sarah Ferguson, and Bill Clinton.

This year marked the first ever Ballmaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. Visitors were presented with opportunities to experience the joys of farming, wine tasting, cooking, and most importantly eating. A variety of events took place inside The Big Shed, a beautiful structure that a few days earlier had housed grain for the Ballymaloe House.  Admission inside was free, and offered a cornucopia of activities from gardening and food stalls to an Irish barista and educational area for children.  A variety of exciting events, demonstrations and talks spanned three days of the festival, from a cooking demonstration by famed expert on Indian cuisine Madhur Joffrey, or a wine tasting by renowned wine enthusiast John Wilson.  The events included both paid and free demonstrations by the panel of speakers and included lunch and dinner with such tantalizing options as shellfish and Albarino to homemade pizza.  To wash it all down you could have paired it with a variety of wines, or choose instead to have tea with Myrtle Allen herself.

Much more than a festival about food, the Litfest brought together an array of culinary writers and farmers to explore the best ways to grow and cook food.  The Ballmaloe Literary Festival brushed aside the elitist and high brow mentality that is currently plaguing the organic food industry, and instead highlighted the fun and importance of home grown cooking.  Most importantly, it uncovered in the process a new culinary awakening for Ireland, founded on healthy, entertaining, and delicious food.

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