Blas na hÉireann announces Bretzel Bakery as Supreme Champion
Blas na hÉireann team have been working tirelessly since March to ensure that this year's award programme has gone ahead, maintaining its commitment to celebrating the very best in Irish food and drink
5 October 2020 | 0
Blas na hÉireann, the Irish food awards, has announced this year’s winners of the 2020 awards, with its perfectly matched pair of awards going to the Bretzel Bakery, crowned Supreme Champion for its Pain de Maison Boule, and Irish Gourmet Butter awarded Best Artisan Product for its Lightly Salted Butter.
The Bretzel Bakery is a local Dublin bakery that has become a municipal treasure over its 150-year history. Born out of a desire to serve a community, the Bretzel’s long history of baking good bread is based on being open to new ideas while keeping spirit and traditions intact, and the focus is on long fermentation and excellent ingredients to give great flavour, aroma and digestibility. Previously Blas award-winning for its baguette d’Espard and for its San Francisco sourdough, this year’s Supreme Champion award goes to the Bretzel Bakery’s Pain de Maison Boule, a naturally fermented large round sourdough loaf using both wheat and wholemeal rye flour.
The boule marks the pinnacle of Bretzel’s sourdough journey that began with the Real Bread Campaign movement and is the culmination of 15 years’ hard work by the Bretzel team of bakers. The recipe and long fermentation process for this large boule was first trialled for the Bloom 2019 market stall, inspired by William’s passion to create a Bretzel loaf in the same traditional form as the great Poilâne.
Irish Gourmet Butter was set up in 2017 by Billy and Mary Sharpe on the Dunhill Ecopark, in Dunhill, County Waterford. Billy and Mary might have been new to the business but butter making was very definitely in the genes. Mary’s grandmother was an All-Ireland butter-making champion in 1936/37 and went on to lecture in Dairy Science in Maynooth, and Billy also remembers as a child helping to make butter. The idea of producing butter came from their daughter Bronagh, and with the support of the family, Irish Gourmet Butter was formed. They have already won silver in the flavoured butter category at Blas na hÉireann for their Garlic and Herb Butter in 2017 and were also finalists in 2018. Lightly salted, churned in the traditional manner, this year’s winning Lightly Salted Butter is made with love and care, using milk from grass-fed cows with ground sea salt added.
Show must go on!
The team at Blas na hÉireann have been working tirelessly since March to ensure that Blas 2020 has gone ahead, maintaining 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.
“Faced with restrictions around college campuses and meetings in place, our Blas judging this year was very different to our usual format,” said Clifford, “but under the watchful eye of academic director Professor Joe Kerry of UCC, we relocated the Blas judging to Dingle in July, and ensured it was handled with the same care and attention as always.
“We are delighted with how it worked so well this year under challenging circumstances, and are so very pleased to announce our perfect pair of winners — an exceptional bread from one of the country’s oldest bakeries, and an excellent butter from a relatively new family company. Bread and butter, a celebration of something so central and essential, and a phrase that literally describes, too, what we all depend on for our livelihoods — our bread and butter.”
‘Refocusing towards retail’
“At the Bretzel Bakery we are delighted to be crowned Supreme Champion for our Pain de Maison Boule,” said bakery owner William Despard. “It has been a hugely upsetting time for producers up and down the country, and our own experience echoes that of many others.
“Our valued corporate and restaurant accounts are facing severe challenges, but with the lockdown(s) creating a new interest in real bread and sourdough in particular, our customers soon taught us that even when the economy stops, the demand for good bread doesn’t,” he added. “By refocusing our hospitality business towards retail, we have been able to ensure that the Bretzel doesn’t just survive this crisis, but is thriving. A Blas Supreme Champion award is a great acknowledgement of the incredible hard work and laser focus of all the wonderful staff at the Bretzel Bakery who have helped make our award-winning breads available in more retail outlets than ever before.”
‘Vote of confidence’
“Our first award with Blas na hÉireann in 2017, soon after we began the business, was a massive boost at the time,” said Mary Sharpe, who runs Irish Gourmet Butter with her husband Billy.
“It was a vote of confidence and made a real difference to our business for customers to see the Blas medal logo on our butter,” she added. “We have to thank the farmers we work with, who ensure we get the best possible quality milk to work with, and to be chosen too from such an inspiring list of amazing producers — well, we couldn’t be prouder or happier.”
Rigour and commitment
“The founding mission of Blas – establishing quality benchmarks for Irish produce on a level playing field – has been strictly adhered to and measurably applied again this year, despite the challenges we have all faced,” Artie Clifford added.
“We thank all our judges for their rigour and commitment, and as always we thank all our wonderful participants, producers and sponsors. While we’ll miss our annual gathering in Dingle, we will join together to cheer on colleagues and friends during our virtual awards announcements on October 3rd, ensuring that #Blas2020 trends all day!”
The Supreme Champion and Best Artisan Product awards are proudly sponsored by Bord Bia.