On Thursday 20th May a gaggle of food bloggers descended on Bord Bia at 11am for the first food blogger event that was brought together byBord Bia and Donal Skehan of the Good Mood Food Blog. I turned up a little early, and was worried that I would be the first one there. I was met at the door by Maeve and Klara of Bord Bia, who handed me a name tag, which included my blog's name and led me into the demonstration room where I was introduced to Donal and the lovely Móna of the Wise Irish Blog.
Maeve did some amazing memory work for the first 10 or so bloggers, where she managed to remember the names of all those who had arrived and introduced them individually to the new arrival. I was seriously impressed, plus it helped me to cement a few of the names myself.
After a little nervous mingling with tea and coffee, we were called to order for the first talk of the day. The main theme of the event was pork, as Bord Bia are trying to promote Irish pork in the wake of the 2008 dioxin scare and our first speaker of the day was David Owens of Bord Bia's Meat Department, who told us all about the Quality Assurance Mark and pork production in Ireland.
A couple of points that I found particularly interesting were that pork production is the third most important agricultural sector in Ireland after beef and dairy, that Ireland has a higher level of animal welfare for our pork production than some other European countries and that we export 50% of the pork that we produce. I was also quite excited to learn that as well as having the Quality Assurance Mark for produce that you buy in supermarkets, Bord Bia are working on a Quality Mark for butchers that would cover all the meat they sell in their shops. I'm pretty fussy about my meat, so knowing that everything a butcher carried is Quality Assured would be very reassuring.
After David had finished his talk, we next had a vegetarian based demonstration from Lorraine Fitzmaurice of Blazing Salads. First she demonstrated a spelt soda bread, some of which was passed around the room for us to try. It disappeared pretty fast! It had a lovely, rich flavour to it combined with a slight sweetness. I will definitely be making it at home myself. She also told us about spelt and why people who are coeliacs can eat it, as she was cooking it.
Next Lorraine made a miso pesto, served on tagliatelle with broccoli and green beans. She explained the miso is very important in vegetarian and vegan diets as it provides much needed vitamin B12 to their diets. A bowl of both the miso paste and the miso pesto were passed around the room, the smells from both were amazing. We also all got to try the pasta dish and, again, it would be something I will be trying at home, even though we're not the most vegetarian of households.
While we guzzled our pasta samples, Pat Conway of GMIT prepared to give us a demonstration of pork butchery. The hilarious Pat was clearly a man who knew his way around a set of knives. In the 15 minutes allotted to his talk, Pat demonstrated to us about 12 different cuts of pork. The first few coming from the loin of pork, included a rack of pork, pork cutlets and the loin. The second joint that Pat butchered was the fore of pork, from which you can get the chump chop.
Pat also gave out some helpful hints; such as using the bones from your joint as a trivet when you are roasting it as it prevents it frying on the bottom of the roasting tin. He also mentioned that the ideal ratio for a sausage is ⅓ lean pork, for the smoothness, ⅓ main ingredient for the flavour and ⅓ pork fat to make the sausage light. His final useful piece of information was that if you were unsure of whether your pork it cooked or not, so long as the core temperature has reached 75°C the meant will be safe to eat.
Next up was Maire Dufficy, a Bord Bia Food Advior, who demonstrated a range of easy to cook pork recipes which included a delicious looking, slow roasted pork belly and noodle dish, minced pork pita pockets and pork on ciabatta. The smells from her cooking were amazing, never before have I been part of a mass drool. The only pity was that we didn't get to try any of it.
Maire was also a hot bed of useful tips. My favourite was her suggestion that you ask your butcher to vacuum pack your marinade with the meat. That way there are no spills in your fridge and it's easy to travel with.
When Maire was finished we were all dying to get to our lunch, but we had one more speaker before we could eat. Damien Mulley sympathised with our hunger pangs before talking to us about how best to market our blogs by using services such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. He also spoke about how to make contact with journalists and publications.
Lunch was of course pork, the most delicious pork belly as well as some roast pork, all served along with a variety of salads and potatoes.
This was the best chance for chatting to some of the fellow food bloggers. I was seated next to I Can Has Cook, An American in Ireland, Adventures in Veg, Daily Spud and Dinner du Jour. There were lots of other bloggers there, who I only got to speak to briefly but their links are all to the the right now (if it's not, please let me know).
Just as we were thinking about digesting our lovely lunch, dessert arrived, a beautiful strawberry tart and with it we were treated to a talk by Eoin Purcell on the transition of blog to book. It was very interesting hearing about what it takes and the time scale of getting a book published.
In the afternoon session we were treated to a demonstration of food styling and food photography from Erica Ryan and Jocasta Clarke. Erica told us all the tricks of the trade for making food look good and the sometimes odd tools they use to achieve this, including cotton buds and glycerine. Jocasta showed us how a bit of pre-planning can improve pictures and how to reflect the light using things as simple as a sheet of kitchen paper.
She and Erica also did a step by step demonstration of styling a bowl of pasta, showing us how much different lighting and accesories can change the feel of the picture.
We also got to see some very realistic fake ice cream and possibly some of the most luridly decorated cupcakes I have ever seen. I will definitely be trying to incorporate some of their tricks into my photos from now on.
Afterwards their talk, there was a chance for mingling and grabbing some swag, thank goodness we were told to bring a bag with us, or I would never have got it home. I managed to snag a rosemary plant from Living Flavour, some amazing cheese from Mossfield Organic Farm (highly recommended), tasty biltong (a kind of beef jerky) from Biltong.ie, beautiful smoked trout from Goatsbridge (we ate it as a starter for my mum's birthday), a tea-time biscuit from Lilly Higgins (in the cutest packaging ever!), churtney from Sheridans, seeds and spouts from Good 4 U, rooibos and pu-erh tea from Barry's and a delicious fruit salad from Garden Orchard.
Arms and bag bulging, I had to run off to meet my mum for tea, as it was her birthday, and missed out on socialising with the rest of the bloggers. However, I had a terrific day and I'm really looking forward to the next one.