I’m not a gardener and as such, I’ve never really had an interest in attending Bloom. That was until recent reports that it’s now as much about the food as it is a gardening festival. I was intrigued. Securing a media pass helped my cause, so yesterday Ali and I headed to the Phoenix Park to take in Bloom’s 10th year and soak up the sights.
Our lazy Sunday morning meant that we were behind schedule and having skipped breakfast, we made a beeline for the food village. After a quick look around, we settled on a simple steak ciabatta, Ali got some hot coffees and pastries and luckily enough, she found 2 spare seats for Catherine Fulvio’s cookery demonstration at the big stage in the middle of the food village. We happily took our seats and tucked in, taking in the big stage at the same time. It was an impressive set up with plenty of screens dotted around to catch the finer details of the cooking. It was an enjoyable demo with the smell of caramelised pork perking everybody’s nostrils.
After the demo we took a tour around the various marquees housing a host of Irish producers, showcasing everything from crisps, preserves and lemonades to smoked trout, craft beers and strawberry wine (more about that later). I was surprised to see more established and well-known brands given the majority of space with less room for upcoming, smaller producers but there was plenty of good food on offer none the less. I stocked up on some of my favourite cheeses – St. Tola, Cashel and Gortnamona while Ali bought vanilla fudge from the magnificent Mella’s Irish Butter Fudge (which I am enjoying while writing this, shh say nothing!). Our food highlight was definitely finding the Bean and Goose stall. Dark chocolate with the most imaginative of fillings, we couldn’t help buying four bars to sample over the coming weeks: Smoked Irish Sea Salt & Cocoa Nibs, Rosemary & Olive Oil with a Sourdough Crumb, Roasted Almonds & Irish Sea Salt and finally Roasted Spiced Hazelnuts & Wexford Honey. I think I should invest in some bigger jeans!
The GIY (Grow it Yourself) area was informative and inspiring, making me desperately want to have another go at growing my own veg. Having had numerous failed attempts over the past few years, I know that it’s a step too far at the minute; I sometimes struggle to keep the herbs on my kitchen windowsill thriving. There were plenty of little tents dotted around the food village providing information on wildlife, polytunnels, conservation and more – I really liked the beekeeping tent. It had lots of information on beekeepers around the country, the power and uses of honey, the tools you need to start your own bee hive and of course, bees! It was amazing to see the bees at work producing lots of honeycomb. We are hearing so much lately about the decline of bees and it’s great to see so many people interested and active in their conservation.
Apart from the food, Bloom is all about the show-gardens and that’s where we headed next. Each exhibit looked magnificent in the sunshine but at times it was quite difficult to truly see and enjoy the gardens with the hoards of people surrounding each one. It was my one major issue with Bloom – it was just too bloody busy! This might be seen as a good thing by the organisers but it did take from my enjoyment of the day and I can only imagine how families with children felt. In saying that, it is a completely family friendly festival and it was great to see young children mesmerized by the gardens, enjoying the playgrounds, participating in creating pottery from clay, drawing and colouring, learning about farmyard animals and the art of sheep shearing.
Bloom certainly is as much a food festival as it is a gardening festival. Although there were many small food producers there, it did feel like the focus was on bigger brands, who probably don’t need the same promotion as the artisan producers. It also perplexed me to see so many meat stalls but with only one promoting free-range production. Surely a festival of this scale and magnitude would be the ideal place to promote higher standards of animal welfare? It would seem that it wasn’t high on the priority list. The demonstration stage was a great addition, with numerous top chefs working their way through a plethora of recipes over the course of the weekend. A special mention must also be given to Moineir Wines – I never thought I’d see the day when wine would be produced in Ireland and although it’s strawberry wine, I’m still counting it! It is delicious – think of a fresh and light Rose with a strawberry aftertaste and at 11% volume, it can be enjoyed generously without the worry of being legless.
Ali and I had an enjoyable day at Bloom and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a day out with the family. The weather was fantastic and pockets of live music dotted around the venue really added to the atmosphere. It is busy but that’s for a good reason and once you’re not in a hurry, there is much to see and do.