In the June 2019 issue of Irish Country Magazine, Laura Sinnott of Wexford Home Preserves and Owen Mullins of Zanna Cookhouse share the journey of their thriving food businesses. This article is brought to you by Dunnes Stores.
A TASTE OF HOME
Ellen O’Leary started out making her jams and marmalades at home and her products quickly became kitchen cupboard staples for her neighbours in Wexford. The demand spurred Ellen on to set up her business, Wexford Home Preserves, in 1988. When she retired, her nephew Tom and his wife Laura took on the business and have been delighted to continue the amazing reputation Ellen has built up over the last three decades.
“Ellen worked with us for a year, teaching us the recipes and, I suppose, the tricks of the trade,” says Laura. As well as perfecting their cooking methods, Laura and Tom developed wonderful relationships with local producers and growers.
Their products are created using traditional cooking methods and local ingredients. On average, they produce around 2,500 jars per day — the team peel and cut everything by hand on site in New Ross. “For the likes of the marmalade, we get in the citrus fruits, we wash it, we cut it, we take all the pips out by hand, it’s a two-day process.
“We are very lucky we have fantastic growers around us like Des Jeffers from Ballykelly Farm. We get all our blackcurrants from him and they are just amazing. We won three stars in the Great Taste Awards for our Dunnes Stores Simply Better Blackcurrant preserves and when you hear the comments from the judges it just makes you so proud.”
As well as supporting local growers, Laura and Tom have a strong relationship with organic farms in Sicily and Seville, from whom they source fruit such as clementines and oranges.
A huge breakthrough for the business came in 2013 when Dunnes Stores got in touch and asked if Wexford Home Preserves would like to produce a range for the Simply Better brand. Laura and Tom saw it as an amazing opportunity to expand as well as a chance to collaborate with one of the biggest retailers in Ireland. “We said ‘right look this is our chance we’re going to take the risk’, we bought the units and we expanded.”
Laura praises the Simply Better team for their support: “We have a great relationship with the team. They have the same ethos as us; using Irish ingredients and using the best ingredients.”
They’re no strangers to awards, as many of Wexford Home Preserves’ products have received praise over the years from the Great Taste Awards, Blas na hÉireann, and the Irish Food Quality Awards. “We took the risk, we didn’t know starting out how it would go but every year we were doing new products for Simply Better – we started off with five preserves for Dunnes and now we’re up to about 18 products. The majority of them have won awards and it’s great to work with them because they have great ideas and they spur us on.”
Owen Mullins always loved to cook as a hobby but after spending 30 years working in transport, at 49-years-old he decided to pursue his real passion: “I took myself off to Ballymaloe Cookery School and did a three-month course down there. When I came back I worked with Kevin Dundon in Dunbrody House and I started making some quiches, pies and pâtés for the local farmers’ market,” explains Owen.
He runs Zanna Cookhouse, based in Carne, Co Wexford, with his wife Lorna and their son David. Their wide range of wholesome foods were a huge hit with locals and they even grabbed the attention of retailers like Dunnes Stores who, to Owen’s delight, reached out to see if he would be interested in creating a range of products for Simply Better.
“It worked really well because they weren’t asking me to change or make a cheap product, they were asking me to make a good product and that is crucial to what I’m all about. We don’t use any additives or preservatives, we just use good wholesome food. And the values of the Simply Better team ran exactly parallel to my own values, so it was an easy match.”
NICHE FOR QUICHE
When it comes to making their award-winning quiches, Owen explains that there is a three-day process involved: “The pastry is all made in-house and then we have to press out the shells and they have to be blind-baked. All the ingredients are prepped and cooked by hand before they go into the quiche, and then they’re cooked, then chilled and packed.”
Working with Simply Better gave Owen the opportunity to make new connections with local producers and this has inspired some of his recipes: “We use Wexford Home Preserves in one the their Simply Better Brie and Cranberry Quiche, and there is a little line on all the boxes showing how the Simply Better team are using small Irish producers and it’s been a huge, huge boost for us.”
For their award-winning Simply Better Handmade Irish Smoked Trout Pâté, which won an outstanding three stars at the Great Taste Awards 2018, Owen sources the smoked trout from Goatsbridge Rainbow Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny. Similarly, for their Simply Better Quiche Lorraine, they use Knockamore Cheddar, which is handmade on the Lonergan family farm in Co Waterford.
Reflecting on the success, Owen smiles at how far they’ve come in the past five years: “I think our original order with was for 80 cases per week and last summer we sent over 800 cases in a week so it’s grown so much. It’s been absolutely huge and very successful. That’s the thing about Simply Better, it’s about providing people with good quality food that tastes like it used to taste and how it should taste.”