Food Summer School explores potential of artisan food sector

Artisan food topped the bill of discussions at the fifth annual Food Summer School led by the TASTE Council of Ireland along with Bord Bia.

The day-long symposium took place today (August 24) in Brooklodge Hotel, Co. Wicklow, and brought together key stakeholders from the Irish artisan and mainstream food industry, tourism sector, media and academic institutions.

High on the agenda at last year’s Food Summer School was the challenge for artisan food producers to differentiate themselves in a market filled with industrial food brands calling themselves ‘artisan’ and ‘farmhouse’.

Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and TASTE Council Chairman said that it’s definite that consumers have a desire to connect with real people and real food but it was being exploited by major brands, misleading the consumer.

This year, the culmination of three years work, the FSAI in conjuction with the TASTE Council has produced industry guidelines governing the use of the terms ‘artisan/artisanal,’ ‘natural,’ ‘farmhouse’ and ‘traditional’. The guidelines are the first of their kind in Europe.

This is the most important event of the year for artisan and farmhouse food producers.

“They come from Ireland’s hills, valleys and seashores to share ideas and experiences with the aim of growing and developing Irish food culture,” Sheridan said.

The Food Summer School included several sessions and discussion workshops on ways to develop the artisan and specialty food industry, which has tremendous value to the food and hospitality sector.

Delegate and long-time industry advocate, Darina Allen (Ballymaloe Cookery School/Slow Food Ireland) said Ireland produces some of the best food in the world because it has strong values in agriculture and artisanal food production.

“As a country we should protect these values and reap the benefits of having a unique food culture, not allow our standards to be eroded in a race to the bottom.

“We must pursue policies that help our industry to thrive, not rush towards trade agreements like TTIP which have the potential to impact on every aspect of our lives and trade with disastrous consequences for our artisan producers and Ireland Inc,” she said.

We must not squander what has been achieved so far, Ireland can lead the world with food people can trust.

Also on the agenda at Food Summer School 2015 was the possible future of Irish Food Tourism.

Representatives from the Irish tourism development authority Failte Ireland, leading Irish chefs, food producers and advocacy groups are having vital discussions on the value of the ‘food tourist’ to the economy and what challenges might bar the way to a thriving industry.

Chief among the challenges on most chefs’ minds is the crisis-level chef shortage, which must be addressed urgently.

CEO of Bord Bia, Aidan Cotter, said that the values at the core of this sector also remind us how, in many ways, it has been a pathfinder for the broader food industry.

“Around the world, there is growing recognition that successful agricultural systems must work in partnership with nature rather than simply take advantage of it.

“This thinking was highly influential in the development of Food Harvest 2020, which spoke of the opportunity around ‘smart, green growth’ and it continues to be central to FoodWise 2025,” he said.