The Burren Smokehouse in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, is one of Ireland’s best fish smokers. Good enough to for its salmon to be served to the President of Ireland and the Queen of England any way.
I’d worked with Birgitta, who runs the smokehouse, before – producing a series of documentary photographs. At the time, I thought it was hard work. Getting up at 3AM to photograph master smoker Peadar Reilly working his magic on the fish: filletting, salting and prepping the smoker with oak shavings. I mean, 3AM. It’s ungodly. No wonder it’s known as the Devil’s Hour. Continue reading
Baker kneading dough © 2012 Roger Overall
Making food requires skill. Watching a butcher make sausages or a baker knead dough is mesmerising – to me, at least. Their hands move faster than it seems possible for their brain to control. And when they are done, they have crafted something that I can’t. They’ve also produced something that I really want.
It’s a shame, then, that proper butchering and baking skills seem to be dying out. A high-end butcher friend of mine laments the demise of his craft. He is keeping the flame burning, but worries about the next generation. He once told me of a prediction made at a meat conference in the US: “Soon the only two cuts of meat available will be steak and mince.”
Partly that’s because it’s what the consumer wants. And what the consumer wants, the consumer gets. They barely know any different, because the number of skilled butchers who can show them different is declining. So they stick to what is familiar. It’s a vicious circle.
Some say it’s too late for the tide to turn. Society has progressed too far down the track away from artisan food production, they counsel.
So we should enjoy watching skilled food producers at work while we still can.
Maybe in doing so we can contribute to the slowing, if perhaps not the halt, of society’s dash towards the embrace of ever more industrialised food production.