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Paula Hawes, left, of The Burren Butchers in Lisdoonvarna, winners of the Blas na hEireann Gold award as well as the Best in County Clare award for their artisan 6oz Steak burger. She is pictured after accepting the awards from Birgitta Hedin-Curtin of The Burren Smokehouse, a patron of Blas na hEireann. Photograph by John Kelly.

Clare food producers score at Blas na hÉireann awards

TWO Clare food producers tasted success on the national stage at the weekend landing awards in the prestigious Blas na hÉireann competition.

The Burren Butcher, from Lisdoonvarna, won gold and best in county awards for their six ounce steak burger.

The Hawes, Neil and Paula, who trade as The Burren Butcher, expressed their delight at being best in their category which is a competitive space.

“We’re in nice company there,” Paula told The Champion, “with the likes of James Whelan and Dunnes Stores.

“They’re a great award to get, very high-profile, so we’re thrilled. Hopefully this Gold Blas award and the award of Best in Co Clare will be a major boost to us , we are after all a busy family micro business and every little helps”

Neil Hawes Craft Butchers began trading in 2008 and was a multi award-winning butcher based in Lisdoonvarna specialising in locally sourced Burren beef and lamb.

The win, says Paula, is confirmation that being back in business as The Burren Butcher was the right move for the food business couple.

After a reluctant closure of the original retail business due to mounting competitive forces from discount retailers in the region, it wasn’t until June 2020 that Paula, a marketing manager and primary school teacher and Neil, a qualified Craft Butcher of 25 years, pivoted the business model during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic based on consumer insights and trends and focused on distributing 15 signature lines to premium restaurants and retail outlets in Clare.

Additionally, a pop-up market shop and Christmas Market took place on their premises showcasing local food producers and vegetables from the Burren region including The Burren Smokehouse, Nolan’s Veg Box, Wild Irish Chocolates, Gran Grans sauces with the focus on local, sustainable Clare food.

Fans of the artisan burger include Stephen Spielberg, Christy Moore and Brendan Gleason, who over the years, regularly frequented the butcher shop in Lisdoonvarna.

The award is especially sweet for the husband and wife team as in the middle of starting a new business they welcomed a baby daughter Cíana Rose in August 2020 to join their sons Daibhin, 4, and Caelan, 2.

Meanwhile, Inagh’s St Tola, a regular at these awards, took silver for their cream cheese. The renowned goats cheese producers also won three stars at the recent Great Taste Awards.

Grainne Casey of St Tola Goat Cheese in Inagh, silver winners of the Blas na hEireann award for their Dunnes Stores St Tola Divine product. She is pictured after accepting the awards from Birgitta Hedin-Curtin of The Burren Smokehouse, a patron of Blas na hEireann. Photograph by John Kelly.

Meere’s Pork Products, from Quin, also made it to the finals for the first time, having been nominated for their sausages.

With the annual pilgrimage to Dingle stalled, this year’s winners tuned in for a second year running from every corner of the country for a virtual celebration of the very best in Irish food.

The team at Blas na hÉireann has been working tirelessly since March to ensure that Blas 2021 went ahead, sustaining their commitment to celebrating the very best in Irish food and drink.

Chairperson Artie Clifford feels that now, more than ever, it is essential to shine a light and give that all important boost to the talented producers dotted around the island.

“These are the 14th annual Blas na hÉireann awards,” said Clifford, “and despite the very challenging situation, I am delighted to report a record entry level from producers right across the island.

“This large increase in entries has raised the bar across all categories, allowing us to introduce new products and producers to the buyers and press with whom we work, which is really exciting.

“Congratulations to all the winners and to every producer who participated. It is always such a rewarding experience to see the wealth of exceptional foods being produced on the island of Ireland, and this has been the best year yet.”

Now in their 14th year, the Blas na hÉireann awards are the all-island food awards that recognise the very best Irish food and drink products, and the passionate people behind them.

The biggest blind tasting of produce in the country, the criteria on which the product is judged as well as the judging system itself, which was developed by Blas na hÉireann with the Food Science Department of UCC and the University of Copenhagen, is now recognised as an industry gold standard worldwide.

Products from every county in Ireland were entered into this year’s competition to win Gold, Silver or Bronze Blas na hÉireann awards in over 150 food and drink categories, as well as key awards like Supreme Champion and Best Artisan Producer.

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