Olives at the centre of the West Cork food revolution

In need of larger premises, this month Olives West Cork moves into a new home in the original Clonakilty Black Pudding factory. As he approaches 20 years in business, proprietor Gerald ‘GIK’ Kelleher reflects on how Olives West Cork has grown from humble beginnings to now supplying local artisan products and Mediterranean fare at seven markets a week, as well as to some of the finest restaurants and delis throughout Cork and beyond.   

Like anybody who grew up in pre-90s Ireland, Gerald was raised on a diet that was wholesome but not terribly exotic. “We ate well and all our meals were home-cooked by my mum. A real fancy treat back then would have been something like a prawn cocktail for starters, a delicious lasagne for dinner and, on very special occasions, a strawberry pavlova for dessert!”

His food horizons broadened extensively whilst travelling in the eighties and nineties which, “really opened my eyes to some amazing cuisine. I think I lived on hummus and hot Turkish flatbreads, straight out of a wood-fired oven, for six months while I lived in Turkey.” He also spent time living in the Japanese city of Osaka and San Francisco.

Gerald recalls looking through recipe books back in the eighties and being constantly frustrated that some ingredients were either completely alien or just not available in Ireland. Thankfully, wandering Irish, and the new Irish, introduced us to other food cultures, and the markets of today are a completely different scene. “Nowadays it’s rare that you can’t find what you’re looking for to put together any recipe,” Gerald says. “The quality and selection of food and ingredients available, particularly at the markets, is mind-blowing and inspiring.”

Olives West Cork has played a major part in West Cork’s food revolution. A lot of Gerald’s raw products are sourced from the olive-growing regions of the Mediterranean. “We always strive to source the best grade and top quality products where we can. From there we create freshly-marinated olives using local herbs and veg where possible. We also create delicious pestos, tapenades and hummus, again sourced with the best available ingredients. We also operate our own smokehouse and use these smoked products, such as sun-dried tomatoes, to create our signature oak-smoked sundried tomato pesto. It’s a lot of work, and more than most would be willing to put in, but it is well worth it judging by our customer feedback.”

Also available on the Olives West Cork stall is fresh Macroom buffalo mozzarella, burrata and other classic cheeses, locally cured meats, garlic, and a wide range of essential ingredients to satisfy the wildest foodie dreams.

The move to new premises gives Olives West Cork space to continue to grow. Gerald explains what prompted him to take that big step. “The premises that we’d been in for 15 years at Lisavaird Coop is due to be demolished to allow for exciting new developments at the Coop. We’d had a great run of it in our time there – Pat Moriarty, Keith, Loretta, Theresa, Eileen, Dennis, and all the crew there have been so good to us. I can’t thank them all enough for their years of support and good wishes.

“We are very lucky to be now renting from a true legend in the Clonakilty business community, Colette Twomey of Clonakilty Black Pudding. We have put a lot of work into getting the original pudding factory back into shape and ready for a new era. We’ve also received invaluable support from Deirdre O’Mahony and the crew at the Local Enterprise Office. It’s very exciting for us and we would like to thank Colette and Deirdre for giving us this opportunity, and for all their support and advice.”

Reflecting on successes and challenges Gerald has some sage comments, “Our biggest accomplishment isn’t one specific thing. Right now I would have to say that I’m proud to have been in business for nearly 20 years and that we’ve maintained a great relationship with our customers, many of whom are longstanding. It makes a huge difference to enjoy the customers that you work with, it’s just a constant positive feedback loop. The spirit of West Cork markets never ceases to inspire me. The attitude of the producers and traders mixed with the wonderful support of customers creates such a positive community spirit that really is hard to beat. I’m very attracted to positive energy and the positive force that our community inspires is a constant in my life. I’m very thankful for that.

“I’ve come to believe that the biggest challenges tend to be more psychological and for the most part your worst fears never really materialise in the way you imagine. The uncertainties of recent times are all challenges but how you respond to these really is what it’s all about. The rest is just good, hard honest work!”

Although he maintains that because he loves what he does, it never seems like too much hard work, for balance Gerald enjoys spending quality time with his wife Kathleen Holland, and their three boys Leon, Aran and Sam at their home in Woodfield, Clonakilty. He also makes time for listening to music and for the odd pint with a good bunch of friends. The recipe for a happy and fulfilling life!

You’ll find Olives West Cork market stalls all through the week: Macroom (Tuesdays); Kinsale (Wednesdays); Clonakilty (Fridays); Bantry (Fridays); Skibbereen (Saturdays); Douglas (Saturdays) and Schull (Sundays, from Easter until September).

WCP Staff

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