A stellar family history of food production, awards galore for his chorizo and other cured meats and a waiting list for his handmade knives that became so long he had to close it……such are the manifold blessings and challenges in the life of the irrepressible Fingal Ferguson, of the famous Gubeen Farm in West Cork.
The Gubeen name has long been synonymous with quality produce, starting with the now-famous Gubeen cheese that Fingal’s parents, Giana and Tom, started to make around the time of his birth, in 1979, and which today remains one of the doyennes of Irish farmhouse cheese. Today the farm, near the sea outside Schull, has grown beyond anything the family could have imagined, employing around 25 people and producing everything from salad greens and organic vegetables to bronze turkeys, oatcakes and of course Fingal’s superb charcuterie.
Among the 50 or so cured meats he makes is the smoked bacon we use regularly here in Chapter One, much loved by another Irish chef, Richard Corrigan, who once described it as ‘love at first taste.’ It is a key component of a signature dish that for a long time featured on our tasting menu: Pig’s Tail stuffed with Fingal Ferguson’s bacon and razor clams, basil puree, with land cress and mustard lime fruit.
Products of this quality – and Ireland is fortunate to have many – are the essence of our cooking. As Ross puts it: “If I were to nominate one dish to tell the story of Chapter One, this would be it. This is my cooking at its most heartfelt: making use of the tail of the pig. Nothing beats the flavour of pork and pork fat. There is almost a sweet flavour to it so we added a very rich, smoked bacon farce from Fingal Ferguson’s smoked bacon …….. A simple, earthy, sweet dish from our tasting menu, yet it sums up what our kitchen is all about.”
And like the food that comes out of the Chapter One kitchen, Fingal’s charcuterie is very much a collaborative affair, as the herbs he uses in his chorizo and salamis are grown, using biodynamic principles, by his sister, Clovis; while the ‘piggies’ (as he calls them) are raised on the family farm or chosen carefully from local producers who, like the Fergusons, raise their animals at least partly outdoors.
In dishes where we use his charcuterie, it is done in a similarly collaborative spirit. Rather than devise a dish that focuses solely on the meat itself – wonderful as it is – Chapter One chefs tend to use it in places where its appearance is more understated and, like all the best power couples, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Chorizo, like all charcuterie, offers a hit of that elusive ‘fifth taste,’ umami. Now, the science of umami is fairly impenetrable – it’s all about amino acids, particularly glutamate – but in essence it lends dishes a savoury, meaty flavour that is incredibly moreish. That characteristic is exploited liberally in our current dish of Halibut, Gubeen chorizo, squid, sea buckshorn, where the smoky richness of the chorizo comes through in the potato dumplings, its salty savouriness highlighting the sweetness of the fish, particularly the squid.
Who knows what varieties of charcuterie Fingal will come up with next, because there’s no doubt that the ideas keep coming. Whatever they are, they’re sure to be delicious, and we can’t wait to see what they are and how they taste. And to experiment with the myriad ways they can end up on the plate.