Zwartbles Farm | co. Kilkenny

The weeks following the Paris Attacks, nothing seemed of importance anymore. Certainly not travel or my microadventures I usually like to write about here. One thing kept me sane though: reading about people’s kindness, about their humanity eclipsing the surrounding darkness. It reminded me then that I had met an extraordinary woman last year whom I hadn’t talked to you about yet and I promised myself I would write about her as soon as writing made sense again.
Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm

I was lucky to meet Suzanna during a blogging trip to Kilkenny last year. A handful of bloggers and I were invited to explore the county’s food and craft trails. Just as our journey was coming to an end, Suzanna very generously invited us all in her farm at the last minute. As our car pulled up in her courtyard, it felt like we had just entered the setting of an epic Victorian novel. The farm house looked like the cosiest place on Earth.

The woman of the hour, like an unwavering captain, gave us a brief introduction of her fleet and the work she does at the farm. After a few minutes, it became apparent to my untrained ear that there was a melodic American twang in her speech. Indeed, Suzanna was born in New York but she later moved to Ireland to manage the farm that has belonged to her family for generations. Against all odds, she invested in a few Zwartbles sheep whose black wool was rather unpopular. Undetered, Suzanna managed to get people on board with her project and she’s now famous for the beautiful dark blankets, rugs and yarn she produces from her herd.

Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm

She then led us in a tour of her property. First stop, the apple and pear orchard where crates full of produce awaited us. We were invited to pick some and this simple gesture filled me with glee, knowing that I would be able to cook with an ingredient that had freshly fallen from one of the happiest trees in Ireland. We also bonded with Bodacious, the cat shepherd which stunned Suzanna a bit as he’s not usually that friendly with strangers. They must have been some powerful cat ladies in our group!

It was then time to meet “Suzanna’s girls“. Here they come…
Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm
As soon as we stepped inside the Zwartbles pen, a wave of chocolatey fluffiness charged at us. I’m not going to lie, for a second I thought I was about to get trampled in a stampede. I had never witnessed such enthusiastic sheep behaviour, they jumped around us like excited puppies. Suzanna had a name for each one of them and the fact that she mentioned in passing that their meat tasted sweeter because of the apples they eat from the ground didn’t even make me shudder. She prides herself in giving her animals a good life and it showed, unequivocally so.
Zwartbles Farm

I could have photographed these little cuties all day, I actually was the last one to leave the pen while Suzanna was patiently waiting for me to close the gate. Unfortunately night was falling fast and in the dusk’s last breath, Suzanna quickly showed us her other pride and joy, a herd of Clun Forest sheep. Funnily enough, this breed stands on the opposite side of the personality spectrum. They’re rather frail and timid creatures, and in lieu of a friendly stampede, they felt more comfortable at a distance, observing us, their rabbit ears pointing towards the sky.

To my greatest joy, we also met some alpacas and discovered a rather amusing fact. They’re used on the farm to protect the animals from foxes. They’re actually very efficient guards as they’re able to knock the predators out with their fast side kicks. Who knew alpacas were ninjas in disguise?!

Zwartbles Farm
Zwartbles Farm
We then met the horses and had a wander through the kitchen garden where grew, to my surprise, grapes. Actual grapes in Ireland, isn’t that amazing?!

When it got to the point where we couldn’t see our own feet anymore, we followed Suzanna in her cosy kitchen for a cuppa and chats. Inside, she surprised us with lamb chops, sprigs of sage and a recipe of her own including all of the ingredients she had so kindly given to us that eve. I unfortunately couldn’t stay as I had a train to catch but one thing I’ll say is I felt energised and inspired by this meeting, I love how Suzanna went with her gut feeling and made the ‘black sheep’ happen in Ireland but above all I admire how she’s in tune with nature, working with it to place on her table and her customers the most beautiful produce.

I’ll end this post by warmly recommending you to follow her on Instagram / Facebook / Twitter if you haven’t done it already. I’ve never seen a business use social media in such fun and genuine way before. Every day, she involves her followers in the daily tasks of a farmer. From the birthing of a lamb to Bodacious, the cat shepherd, sleeping in the crockery, her and her companions will make you smile, sometimes several times a day; and lately, I’m sure you’ll agree, we all need that extra dose of cheerfulness.

More information on Zwartbles Farm and its shop on their website.

Kilkenny Food & Craft Trails | co. Kilkenny

Abbey House b&b

Here is Day 2 of the blogger tour of Kilkenny I took part in at the end of the month of October. If you missed Day 1 and want to get caught up, you can find the summary of the day here.

After a cosy night at the Abbey House bed & breakfast, I woke up to a beautiful autumnal view outside my window. I packed my stuff and all of us went to Goatsbridge Farm for breakfast. We gathered around Mag & Ger’s table to hear the story of trout fishing in the region and how his father started the family business. The visit of which was our first stop of the day on the Kilkenny Food trail.

goatsbridge trout farm
goatsbridge trout farm
Goatsbridge Trout Farm

Ger gave us a tour of the farm, telling us all about trouts from egg to mature fish. We had a look at the different ponds where the fish hang out in what seems like a constant rush hour, swimming against the current.
Goatsbridge, as well as being a farm, is also a visitor centre and a shop where they sell their beautifully packaged trout products: trout caviar, fillets & pate. They even have a snazzy website with an online shop if you want to have a look and treat yourselves to some local fish delicacies.

Goatsbridge Trout Farm
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.goatsbridgetrout.ie
Opening Hours: 9am-5.30pm (Mon-Sat)

karen morgan ceramics
karen morgan ceramics
Karen Morgan Porcelain

Next, we visited Karen Morgan’s studio & shop, where we admired her beautiful homeware collection. She makes these elegant flowy pieces, inspired by the movement of clay and water. Her jugs, cups and dishes have that whole Scandinavian minimalist vibe that is so pleasing to the eye. She also stocks in a couple of places around the county, and she has an online shop as well.

Karen Morgan Porcelain’s studio & shop
Market Street
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.karenmorganporcelain.com/
Opening Hours: 10am-1pm/2pm-6pm (Tue-Sat)

jerpoint glass
Stoneyford
Jerpoint Glass

We then managed to squeeze a speedy visit at Jerpoint Glass Studio. There was no glass blowing demonstration unfortunately that morning but Roisin led us in the gallery and told us all about the story of Jerpoint glass. Back in the Sixties, her father went to Sweden to train as a master glass blower and then decided to come back in Ireland and set shop in a beautiful converted barn in Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny. You will find there today a gallery, a shop where they display their colourful creations and you can also attend glassblowing demos. Added bonus, the view outside the barn rolls out on miles and miles of a patchwork of fields. I couldn’t help snapping a quick picture on my way back to the car.

Jerpoint Glass
Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny
http://www.jerpointglass.com/
Opening Times

knockdrinna cheese farm
Knockdrinna Cheese Farm & Shop

At Knockdrinna Farm House, we discovered that Helen’s business started in her back kitchen where she decided to experiment with cheese making about 10 years ago. Fast forward to today, Knockdrinna Farm house holds a visitor centre, cheese making classes and a cute little shop-cum-café. You’ll find there cow, goat and sheep cheese and this month they released a nifty little thing, a combination of soft cheese and pesto, or relish, on top, that looks a bit like those fancy yogurts with jam on top (for my Irish readers, I think it is available in Supervalu). Helen generously gave us a little prototype pot and I can tell you one thing  it was such a success that it hardly had any time in the fridge.

Knockdrinna Cheese Farm, Shop & Café
Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny
http://www.knockdrinna.com
Summer Opening Hours: 9.30am-6pm (Mon-Sat) / 11am – 5pm (Sun)

feta & beetroot salad
Cafe Sol Bistro

For lunch, I was happy to be back at Cafe Sol Bistro where my feast took place the night before. I decided to go for a lighter option this time and picked the feta & beetroot salad, which was very tasty but also filling. Beetroots are my faves <3

Cafe Sol Bistro
Low Street
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.restaurantskilkenny.com

thomastown school of food
francis nesbitt
Thomastown School of Food

After lunch, we went on the site of a former boys’ school in Thomastown. This is where the food education centre, the whole county has been raising money for the night before, will stand. Francis Nesbitt, the project coordinator, gave us a tour of the grounds and explained us where everything will be. Once the school is up and running, chef training and public cooking classes will be available. If I’m not mistaken, construction is supposed to start this month but they haven’t reached their target quite yet… Almost there, though! So if you want to give the little push they need, here is the link to donate.

zwartbles farm
zwartbles farm
Zwartbles Farm

And lastly, Suzanna kindly invited us over at her farm where she raises a cuddly fluffy breed of black sheep called Zwartbles. She sells yarn, rugs and blankets made of their unusual wool. What a tremendous place and what a freaking amazing woman. I felt like I had been propulsed inside one of those big countryside saga novels. I left truly inspired and I wish I had more time to roam around, pet the sheep (we were losing the light fast) and unfortunately, I had to catch the bus back to my urban surroundings. Sigh.

Zwartbles Farm
co. Kilkenny
http://www.zwartblesireland.com

I’d like to dedicate a whole post to some of these places so keep your eye out for that if you enjoyed these Kilkenny posts. Also, I wanted to apologise for the few phone pictures inserted in these, I had just opened an instagram account and sometimes forgot to take photos on my DSLR when taking instagrams. I hope you don’t find them too offensive.
A huge thank you again Dee, Susan, Mag, Ger and all the Kilkenny producers for this splendid introduction to Kilkenny. It was amazing to hear all your stories. And finally, I wanted to thank my fellow bloggers Elaine, Billy, Margaret, Janine, Sadhbh & Miriam for their awesome company.

(For transparency purposes, this is not a sponsored post, but accommodation & meals were kindly provided)

Savour Kilkenny Festival & #1000Feasts | co. Kilkenny

Kilkenny Day 1
Last month, I was super lucky to be invited along with a handful of Irish bloggers to a trip to discover the food and craft scene in Kilkenny. I had never been to the city, or the county for that matter before, my knowledge of Kilkenny city extended to ‘somewhere there is a castle‘ (which, in fairness, could apply to pretty much anywhere in Ireland) so this weekend ended up being the most perfect introduction one could dream of really. I have to say Kilkenny found a cosy warm little spot in my heart after two intense days of exploration and meeting the lovely people behind the local food and craft scene.
I thought I would reminisce with you what happened during those two days and I’m crossing my fingers that I manage to somewhat convey the warmth of this beautiful county through your screens.
Here is Day 1.

Kilkenny Day 1

On the first day, Dee from Green and Vibrant and Mag from a local trout farm welcomed our little group of bloggers in front of the castle (that castle!). The blogger tour was taking place as part of the #1000Feasts campaign (more on that later) and Kilkenny food festival Savour Kilkenny. After all the introductions were made, we had a little wander around the festival, smelling and sampling the best food of the county.
We then headed to listen to a talk on ‘War Stories from the Kitchen‘, an insight into the Irish restaurant business. It was an interesting peek behind the ‘kitchen curtain’.

Kilkenny Day 1
Wild mushroom gnocchi in the Bula bus #1000Feasts #kilkenny

Then all of a sudden, it was lunch time and we made our way to Billy Byrnes pub which shelters the Bula Bus in its backyard. A literal hidden gem.
The Bula Bus serves street food with foraged seasonal goods. I absolutely loved that take on the cuisine genre and the place oozes so much coolness, what with the double decker rescued from the Manchester public service and its street art makeover.
I had the wild mushroom gnocchi which were little mouthfuls of melting joy, accompanied with a side of sweet potato fries. The garlic sauce was so on point, it wasn’t even funny.

Kilkenny Day 1

Replete, we had a little mooch around the town. Kilkenny is quite the charmer what with the cute shop fronts and the river running in its heart.
I was looking forward to have a closer look around the castle and had my mind blown to find a breathtaking autumn wonderland within its walls.

Kilkenny Day 1
Kilkenny Day 1Kilkenny Day 1
Another surprise and a bit of a culture shock also awaited for me inside. The Irish Conker Championship was taking place that very day on the castle grounds. I had never heard of the practice before but I soon found out that it is actually a very popular game in Irish and English school playgrounds. I watched grownups hitting nuts on a thread for a while and felt that I may have missed out on something in my childhood.
Kilkenny Day 1
After this entertaining if not slightly surreal interlude, it was time to go back to Savour Kilkenny where we were to meet some of the new food producers on the county scene. I sampled some tasty cakes from Eadaoin’s Kitchen and chatted with the sparkly Joan from Joan and Bob’s Juicy Jams. Artist husband and wife have put their creativity into the business of jam-making, in every steps from the beautiful drawn label design to the surprising flavour combination. Can you think of something more decadent than putting Strawberry, Peach & Prosecco jam on your toasts for breakfast?
Kilkenny Day 1
The festival closed its doors and it was time for us to head to our accommodations to freshen up before dinner. I stayed in the Abbey House B&B, just next to the Jerpoint Abbey in Thomastown.
Dinner parties were hosted all over the county for the night of the #1000Feasts. The campaign had for goal to raise money for the building of a food hub in Thomastown. The place will serve as a school to train chefs but also provide education for healthy eating and growing with a community garden. This is an important project not only for the county but also for Ireland as a whole to improve and build upon their food destination status. The operation was a great success but the target has not been reached quite yet, so if you’re feeling generous, here is the link if you wish to donate for a great cause.

Kilkenny Day 1

My feast took place in a little cosy restaurant in Thomastown called Cafe Sol Bistro. For starter, I chose the plate of halloumi cheese and orange, the combination was actually incredible. I would have never thought of it! For the main, I had a courgette roast, it was as delicious as beautiful to look at. All the flavours came perfectly through without it being too seasoned or spicy. A mistake I found is often made with vegetarian dishes. I was really chuffed with my choice.

For the second part of the feast, we met again with Mag, she welcomed us into her home where we enjoyed a tasty slice of cake for dessert and lively chats. Her husband Ger even treated us to a little impromptu singing performance. And there it was, in the candle light glow, the infamous Irish hospitality which made the whole campaign a success and a night to remember for years and years to come.

 I will tell you all about day 2 next week so do come back for more awesome Kilkenny people and cute fluffy sheep – edit here is Day 2. Also do check out my fellow bloggers who were also present on the trip: Margaret, Janine, Elaine, Sadhbh and Billy.

The Night of 1000 Feasts | co. Kilkenny

1000feasts

Tomorrow I’ll be heading off to Kilkenny to attend the Night of 1000 Feasts. This very special night is part of the food festival Savour Kilkenny and will see homes, local community centres, restaurants and hotels all across the county gather friends and guests around a meal. The goal of the evening is to raise funds to transform an old school into a food education centre, training garden and community space in Kilkenny’s Town of Food, Thomastown.

The centre will help consolidate Ireland’s position as a food destination and attract cookery students from all over the country. I was super lucky to have been invited to the event and I literally cannot wait to discover Kilkenny and its the local delicacies but above all I’m looking forward to experiencing the Irish hospitality first hand. If you’d like to have a little peep into an Irish home and their cuisine, keep an eye open tomorrow for the hashtag #1000Feasts on social networks. I will be myself updating my twitter, facebook and instagram throughout the night (by the by I just created an instagram account, was I the last person on Earth to join?). So make sure you follow me as well as the bloggers present to the event to join in the fun and spread the good word about Irish food!

PS: We will also attend events and activities, part of the Savour Kilkenny festival during the day as well as Monday so keep your eyes peeled for that too!