When it comes to Christmas, the best is always worth it

“Christmas dinner is the most important dinner of the year,” says Ray Colleran, third generation butcher in the city’s Mainguard Street. “And this year it’s more important than ever.” I was challenging Ray on the price of turkeys. One international supermarket chain is selling frozen geese for €25, how can they do that?

“We have been using the same supplier for 35 years. Our prices are exactly the same as last year, and probably a bit cheaper,” says Ray. He believes that this year, however, there is a nervousness out there, an uncertainty about jobs, the endless drip of bad news and rain. Families are feeling threatened. “We have already noticed that whereas last year, there may have been two people sharing a turkey, this year the same couple have ordered a bigger one because they are going to their mother’s, or family are coming home. It’s time to circle our wagons and see how we are all getting on. And there is no better way than sharing guaranteed quality Irish food, good talk and being together.”

Colleran’s home baked ham, on the bone, is so good you will never cook a ham again.

Divilly’s of Westside, headed up by Martin Divilly (again a third generation butcher ), is more blunt. “ People are ordering quality turkeys because Christmas is special. One family told me that they bought a cheap turkey last year, cooked it for the prescribed number of hours and you could still bounce it off the ground.”

John Tormey, Galway Shopping Centre, said prices of quality, hand-reared turkeys and geese are the same as last year. He tried to beat down the price from the producers ( Tony O’Reagan from Cork for geese, Margaret McDonnell for turkeys and chickens from Co Kildare, and Paul Hogan from Co Meath for turkeys ), but accepted that their costs were realistic. They had to make a modest profit too. John takes particular pride in his prime rib of beef on the bone, supplied by his own cattle on his farm at Kilbeggan. His meat is dry-aged for a minimum of 28 days to ensure its tenderness and taste.

James McGeogh, Oughterard, says there is a major problem confronting local butchers this Christmas. “Some places are selling turkeys from France and Italy at such ridiculous prices that Irish turkey producers may not survive. I believe that the Christmas turkey should never need a passport.”

And to prove that McGeogh’s can out-class any competitor from the continent, try their outstanding Parma ham. Air-dried for two and a half years...it’s tastier than the real thing.

Raw natural state

You can buy McGeogh meats at McCambridge’s, as well as an outstanding range of local and Irish foods in their new laid-out shop and pavement cafe. McCambridge’s is one of Ireland’s great food emporiums, where customers are welcomed by an experienced and attentive staff, invigorated by a third generation of the family headed by Owen, Natalie, and Norma. They get their turkeys from Ronan Byrne from Athenry, who markets himself as ‘The friendly farmer’. Ronan had two cooked turkeys on display at the McCambridge’s Food and Wine fair last week, and in no time there were only a few bones left on the plate.

Of course you don’t have to eat meat at all to enjoy Christmas. Natasha’s Living Food attracted a great deal of attention at the fair. Vegetarianism has moved well beyond a salad, coleslaw, smothered in mayonnaise. Natasha’s range of foods (all of which are available in McCambridge’s ) are totally imaginative and delicious. “ My range of raw and living foods are completely free of animal products and chemically processed or pasteurised ingredients.” She uses fair-traded ingredients whenever she can. She never uses flour, dairy, wheat, eggs, meat or fish. In Natasha’s kitchen in Stoneybatter, there are sacks of seeds and nuts, fantastic raw cacao nibs and Lucama powder from Peru, hand-pressed coconut butter from the Philippines, agave nectar from Mexico, and Irish fruits and vegetables. Everything comes in its raw, natural state. Natasha also makes baby products and cosmetics, but try her cumin and coriander hummus, and her Irish kale crunchies. Amazing.

Organic grain

I find it interesting that many people involved in food production here are from other countries. Natasha originally came from Guildford. Our Dutch and German organic farmers and cheese makers have making a major impact on our Saturday market, for the past 30 years. Jorg Muller’s awarding winning teas, Solaris Botanicals, which sell in Harrod’s of London, are blended here. Jorg is an interesting young German. He is also a champion gymnast.

Frenchman Fréderic Gervais of Le Petit Delice, originally came to Galway as a teenager on a field trip with his class. He loved what he saw, and is now living here, making delicious breads, pastries and chocolate Santas at his kitchen at the Ballybrit Business Park. I have written before about J-Me Peaker, a New Zealander, who runs the delightful Builín Blasta tea shop in An Spidéal, and makes unbeatable chutneys and salad dressings also sold in McCambridge’s.

But back to turkeys. Martin Divilly, who probably speaks for all the craft butchers in Galway, emphasises that the quality of feed given to turkeys and geese dictate its taste at the end of the day. Customers have told him that his turkeys remind them of the Christmas dinners they enjoyed as children. Divilly’s turkeys come from Margaret McDonnell’s Ballysax farm on the Curragh, and from McCaughey’s Farm, Broomfield, Castleblaney, Co Monaghan. Their free range geese come from Tony and Margaret O’Regan’s farm in Ballyviniter, Co Cork. All of which are fed only organic grain.

More on Galway produced food and products next week


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