“The world is edible” ~ René Redzepi, Ballymaloe , 2014
Stepping into the grounds of Ballymaloe House, you instantly get a feeling of genuine, refreshing, Irish countryside.
The fields surrounding the house were dashed with flushes of greens and yellows, with trees and birds all finding their place amongst the people. The house, an impressive building, was covered with the most beautiful purple flowers draping the windows and walls and gave off an image of pleasant grandeur.
This glorious location was the main hub for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, 2014.
I arrived on the Friday before the festival kicked off for the night on the house grounds. Myself and my mother checked into the seaside town of Ballycotton, dropped our bags off and headed to Ballymaloe Cookery School to explore the many acres of land and take a tour of the world renowned gardens and glasshouses.
The festival itself was to take place at Ballymaloe House and at the cookery school, with a shuttle bus operating on the half-hour to take you from one place to the next.
We were kindly welcomed to the festival at an event in the Grainstore that evening, hosted by the charismatic John Bowman, along with speeches by Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell. With a glass of bubbly in hand, everyone bustled along for some music at the Big Shed, one of the festivals main venues.
This year, the festival, aka LitFest, invited an astounding amount of brilliant speakers and demo-ers from Ireland and abroad, including the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi (Jeruseleum), Ross Lewis (Chapter One), Diana Kennedy (From My Mexican Kitchen) and Australia’s Maggie Beer (Maggie’s Table).
The events which ranged from food and wine talks, debates, book signings. cookery demos and stalls was split between two aspects of the festival – main and fringe events with a vast variety of things to head to. The majority of the big talks were sold out well in advance, but there was a great selection of free events that people to could just pop along to.
I was incredibly lucky to be one of the few people who got to head on the foraging walk with acclaimed gardener and urban forager Alys Fowler and head chef of René Redzepi of Noma (recently named again as San Pellegrino’s Best Restaurant in the World).
As we walked through the grounds of Ballymaloe Cookery School, we came across some of the most delicious wild treats. Who knew that dandelions tasted so good as fried fritters?
Alys stressed that it was vitally important to have at least three books to cross-reference before foraging and the pair also emphasised the need to be frugal and never to take too much, so that nature could keep doing what it does best. This was definitely the highlight of the weekend!
After my foraging adventure, I managed to get a lift and headed back to the main house for a wander around the Big Shed, and soak in more of the atmosphere. The smell of food wafting through the grounds was unbelievably good and you got a real sense that this was food and wine heaven.
Later on in the afternoon with the sun was still high in the sky and after eyeing up one of the beanbags, I managed to nab one in front of Myrtle Allen’s walled garden. Armed with my glass of Jameson, it was like the perfect summer day surrounded by fellow food and drink lovers.
Saturday evening, a group of us headed along to Ballymaloe House for an exquisite meal like no other hosted by Kerrygold. It was my first time into the building and was honestly like stepping into another world, with the grand exterior reflected in the furnishings of the interior.
Shades of rich blues and golds were scattered throughout the rooms, and despite the pure luxury of it all, it still felt quite warming and homely.
Seated in a gorgeous blue dining room, we were treated to a six-course meal with a wide range to pick and mix from. I went for a light potato soup with wild garlic for starters, followed by lobster served in a scallop shell and an asparagus risotto with topped with Parmesan. The sauce surrounding the lobster was so creamy and rich, dripping off the fish and wrapping itself in the meaty flesh.
Following the main dishes we got to sample some of Kerrygold’s best cheeses with a customised cheeseboard (including beautiful vintage cheddar and delectable Cashel Blue) and then a selection of desserts and petit fours – Wine was flowing out of our ears!
Topping it all off I had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful five star Hayfield Manor Hotel in Cork City, where after a long day of meeting friends and basking in the grounds of Ballymaloe, I filled up the tub for a midnight bath with Lyric FM in the background (one of life’s amazing luxuries surrounded by bubbles!)
All in all it was by far one of the best weekends that I had spent at both a festival and in Ireland. I’ll definitely be heading back again next year, and fingers crossed, the weather will be just as magnificent as it was last weekend.
Some tips for the festival:
Try not to use your phone too much! There are a lack of plugs on the grounds and the recharging stations are almost always busy. Make sure you charge them overnight and are at 100% before you head out – I brought my own charger with me to the LitFest.
There’s Wi-Fi on the grounds but the network is quite awful, the Big Shed has pretty much no signal. Best spot was near the house itself but it probably also depends on your phone network.
Bring a bottle of water with you. Food and drink is good but best to keep stocked up.
Book your tickets for the big events well in advance, they sell out quickly but they’re worth it.
There’s a lot of gravel on the grounds and the dust gets all over your shoes and blows around.
The nearest ATM is Cloyne, then Midleton, so make sure you’ve enough cash on you, but you can pay by card in a few areas and Ballymaloe Cookery School does cashback, as well as the petrol station in Shanagarry.
Find the Facebook groups to carpool if you’re not a driver (like me), also a lot of people were kind enough to give a lift.
Don’t be afraid to approach well-known faces, there are no VIPs at the festival – everyone mingles!
A huge thanks to James Kavanagh of ThinkHouse and Kerrygold for making my weekend quite special. You can see all that went on during the festival on the LitFest website here, and hopefully I’ve enticed you to head along next year!
This article is written by Una Kavanagh (@unakavanagh) and Originally appeared on Her.ie