The region that surrounds around Ashford Castle is well known for its outstanding Irish produce, whether it’s fabulous meat, exceptional seafood or outstanding cheese and yoghurt. John Ward is the founder and owner of Dooncastle Oysters, who supply Ashford Castle with superb quality oysters harvested from nearby Galway Bay. Here, he talks to us about the ethos behind the company, his favourite way to eat oysters and why Connemara is a food lover’s dream destination.
Can you explain to us how oysters are grown and harvested?
‘We favour quality over mass production so prefer to take a hands on approach when it comes to growing our oysters. We start off with the baby oysters which are grown on our farm for almost two years before they are finished in Galway Bay and harvested, packed up and sent out to our customers.”
Talk us through a typical day for you?
“A typical day for me starts at around 4.30am, when I’m usually packing up and getting deliveries out before a day working the tides. Oysters are best harvested during the daytime as the tide will be out, which makes it easier to locate the oyster reefs. I’ll finish the day getting more orders ready for delivery so I normally won’t be done until 9pm or 10pm. Recently, I’ve also been working on the Connemara Oyster Festival which includes live demos from the likes of Jonathan Keane, Head Chef at The Lodge at Ashford Castle and Ashford Castle’s Executive Chef Philippe Farineau.”
How did your relationship with Ashford Castle come about?
“It actually came about on Twitter! I got talking to Philippe and asked him if he’d like to try our oysters and we went from there. That was about two and a half years ago and we’ve been working together ever since. They’re now a regular feature on the menu, not only in the George V Dining Room but also at Cullen’s At The Cottage as well as Wilde’s at The Lodge.”
What makes Dooncastle Oysters unique?
“We really try to focus on the quality of the meat and the shape and size of the oysters, and we’re well regarded for our excellent and reliable service. The provenance of our produce is clear, we only farm in Grade A waters and we strive to produce oysters with an excellent meat to shell ratio. We can be relied upon for our continuity of supply and quality and we haven’t changed much at all since we first started out.”
What’s your favourite way to serve oysters?
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a purist and I like them best on their own! I love the dishes that Philippe and Jonathan create with our oysters because it allows for really interesting flavour combinations, such as “Dooncastle Oyster Fed in Beet Juice” which is served in the George V Dining Room.
What is it about Connemara that makes it such a rich area for artisan food and drink?
“I think we’re very fortunate to have a community of people who are passionate about creating outstanding food and drink. Our natural habitat is also outstanding and free of pollution; the land is a mix of bog, marsh and soil, which adds its own unique flavours to our produce. The level of attention to detail that people give to their produce here ensures the quality is really second to none.”
Sample Dooncastle Oysters for yourself, alongside plenty of other exceptional local produce, at Ashford Castle.