Meet the Producers
For this ‘Meet the Producers’ feature, we are heading to the coast of South West Ireland to meet Annascaul Black Pudding Company, a traditional artisan black pudding producer owned by Thomas and Eileen Ashe, and based in Annascaul, a small town on the Dingle Peninsula.
Annascaul Black Pudding Co.
2016 saw the one hundred year anniversary of the opening of the food store Ashe’s of Annascaul. The shop, first opened as a grocery store, included a butcher stall selling black pudding. The black pudding created was an original recipe but in keeping with local traditional fare. As time progressed, ownership of the store and the recipe passed on within the family. Today, Thomas & Eileen still use the original recipe and prepare product on-site. There is, however, much more to the Annascaul Black Pudding Co. story… …
Ashe’s of Annascaul just reached a fantastic milestone of a hundred years trading. How did you celebrate and mark the achievement last year?
100 years is a significant milestone for us. It is a reflection on all those who have participated and helped in ensuring the survival of the business through sometimes turbulent times over the 100 year span.
A number of events marked this milestone;
- We produced a calendar based on images of the shop through the years. These images included the receipt for the shop site purchased by Michael F. Ashe in 1913 from the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway and images of the shop down through the decades and up to today.
- Refurbishment of the shop was undertaken to give the centenarian a ‘facelift’ for the new century! A seated area was introduced to the shop and within this area we created a ‘history wall’. Life within the shop and hinterland of the Annascaul area is represented here.
- A series of in-store tastings was undertaken.
- A Radio Kerry programme discussing our 100 years of Business was aired in October and a commemorative video was produced. [see below]
- The Institute of Technology Tralee hosted an evening of celebration for businesses within the county that were in business 100 years.
Marking this business milestone created a buzz among locals and tourists alike and we learned many new stories and facts, (probably some fiction also!), from down through the years……
Do you run the store and the black pudding business as entirely separate entities or is there an overlap i.e. do you get visitors to the store solely to buy your black pudding?
Annascaul Black Pudding was made at the shop from 1916. Nearly every shop or farm would have made their own recipe black pudding back then. It continued to be made in the shop up until the mid 1990’s. At this point, we decided to add white pudding to the family and sausages, rashers etc were gradually added from this point. We then converted what had been the abattoir to a dedicated production unit in 2001 to accommodate & support the growth of this aspect of our business.
There continues to be an overlap between the shop and production and all of us work between the two. Our own product range sells very well from our own shop and we would have many tourists who come in especially to buy the products and ask about recipe ideas, history and to meet the people behind the products.
All of our products are made on our premises by ourselves & this is important to people who are interested in the provenance of their food. There are many great artisan food producers in local communities. Visitors to an area like to see and sample what is unique to an area. Many customers will want to only eat our products, others will love trying a different black pudding or sausage.
Can you tell us a little more about why the provision of quality, locally sourced product is important to you and is it a critical factor in producing the best black pudding?
Using quality, and where possible, local ingredients has always been a cornerstone of our philosophy. Knowing the producer and the level of quality of the raw ingredients has a direct affect on the quality of the final product. We use only fresh Irish beef blood in our pudding. This has a huge bearing on the taste. Dried blood cannot match this flavour. We add local onions, breadcrumb & milk. Herbs and seasonings are added also. The product stands on its own then without any artificial flavours or additives. The health benefits of such a product are high. Fat content is low and very importantly the iron content of a 100g slice is double an adults recommended daily allowance.
Given you are using the family recipe, do you take sole responsibility for preparing the black pudding or at least the herb / spice mix?
Yes, we make the pudding ourselves and prepare the seasoning and spice blend ourselves. It has been added to over the years but the recipe is still mainly the same as the original recipe.
In keeping with local tradition, your black pudding is ‘cake-like’ and square in shape. What is the origin of this tradition?
Traditionally Kerry black pudding was cake baked in trays and cut into squares. Up until maybe ten years ago, the only black pudding in square blocks that we were aware of were ourselves and Sneem black pudding. The square shape has become more popular in recent years yet the chubb of black pudding is still by far the most common. We keep to the original style and shape as the history and heritage of our black pudding is important to us. In an era when a lot of shops / products have become large, urban based and mass produced, it is important that local foods are maintained and continue to thrive.
And does it have an impact on texture or taste preparing it this way?
Cooking the black pudding in cake form does impact on the taste and texture. What differentiates our texture from that of other black puddings is that we do not use pin head oatmeal. The texture of our pudding is much smoother as a result. A lot of chefs prefer this texture when using black pudding in starter or main course dishes as it doesn’t crumble. We steam cook our pudding also which results in a more moist pudding than those that are boil cooked.
In some of our more recent articles for the site we’ve been interested in learning more about the blood used in black pudding. How and from where do you source your fresh blood?
Up until 2014, our blood came from the family abattoir. Mike Miller Meats then took over this abattoir and continues to provide us with quality fresh blood that is fully traceable and locally based. This process is overseen and verified by the Kerry County Veterinary officer and is HACCP approved.
Note: HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a systematic preventive approach to food safety.
At what stage would it become impractical for you to continue to use fresh blood?
Fresh blood is much superior in taste and flavour to re-hydrated blood. We have a quality, guaranteed source of fresh blood and wouldn’t use re-hydrated unless legislation made it impossible to do so.
Our ethos has always been to produce ourselves and to a level where we can maintain quality and service to our customers. Any level beyond that might compromise on values important to us and won’t be crossed.
You also produce a white pudding (very popular in Ireland). What are the key elements in making a great white pudding and is it as popular as your black pudding?
White pudding is very popular in Ireland also but our black pudding outperforms our white. This is due to the popularity of our black pudding as a starter and a main course ingredient in addition to a breakfast ingredient and also due to the health benefits of the black pudding.
The main ingredient in producing the white pudding is our own dry cured bacon. This coupled with our own blend of herbs and spices, pearl barley and crumb gives a unique pudding. Again, it is steam cooked in cake form and results in a moist, flavoursome white pudding.
We noted one of your local [Dingle] guesthouses, Castlewood House, was awarded ‘Best Irish Breakfast’ [which includes your produce] in the Irish Independent Reader Travel Awards 2017. How else are you involved in the local community and local businesses?
We are delighted to feature on Castlewood’s breakfast menu. Many local and not so local accommodation providers and restaurants feature our product range also. These people, like us, want to showcase high quality and local products.
There is a wonderful sense of community within the Dingle peninsula area and also within the Kerry area. Many groups and individuals work together to develop the entire area. This ranges from festival committees to Tidy Towns committees to Tourism committees to local community groups, for example: GoKerry.ie and TasteKerry.ie who promote many Kerry based artisan producers etc.
The Dingle Food and Wine Festival held on the first weekend of every October is an outstanding festival and hosts the ‘Blás na hEireann‘ food awards also. A food trail of almost 80 venues throughout Dingle town is a food lover’s haven. We cook a taste of our products at Foxy John’s pub each year during the festival and meet such fabulous people who are interested in food and the story behind individual foods. The Blás na hEireann Food awards are great recognition of quality Irish foods. We were delighted this year to see our gluten free sausage win a bronze medal at these awards.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) is an integral part of the fabric of every town and village within Ireland. We are involved in sponsorship, underage training and membership of Annascaul Camp G.A.A. club.
A group of us got together ten years ago to fund-raise for a Sports Hall for the community. Today, this hall operates to near full capacity and is host to play groups, pre-school club, senior and junior football, soccer and badminton, youth club, community games. The local primary school also has open access to the hall for PE, school activities and plays. Each year we host a fun (and serious for some!) 5 and 10K walk / run as a fundraiser. Refreshments featuring local sausages (!) etc. follows and make for a lovely community day out.
There is a lovely Irish saying – ‘Ar scáth a chéile ar aghaidh linn’ – meaning ‘Together we move along’. By working together, local communities can better the lifestyle, local amenities etc. together for the betterment of all.
If individuals want to try some Annascaul Black Pudding (or any of your product range), where can they buy from?
A full list of stockists is available on our website. We distribute ourselves throughout Kerry and to a certain number of Dublin based shops and restaurants via courier. Online sales are available also through our website. Orders are packaged in polystyrene boxes with ice sheets that maintain the temperature correctly for 48 hours.
Finally, do you have a tip or favourite recipe / meal for preparing or cooking your Black Pudding?
As the black pudding is steam cooked already, it requires brief cooking. The trick is not to overcook it as it dries it out. We love it cooked on a hot pan for a minute on each side and eaten immediately.
As a starter, it is delicious topped with some relish, wrapped in filo pastry and oven cooked. Serve with a jus of your choice or hollandaise sauce. We are continuing to add recipe suggestions and photos from various restaurants to our website and always welcome ideas from customers!
Thank you Thomas and Eileen!
Updated Oct17: Our competition prize accompanying the article was won by Mairead in London.