Author: Alexandra Branderhorst
Protection for a regional favourite
WHO? Dermot Walsh of Walsh’s Bakehouse in Waterford, Ireland.
WHAT? With three other bakers he arranged EU protection for the regional specialty named ‘Waterford Blaa’.
WHY? To promote this famous bread roll and save the local bakeries.
About five years ago the local bakeries in Waterford city were closing down one after another, Dermot Walsh of Walsh’s Bakehouse recalls. “Industrial bakeries were moving in and the popularity of par-baked products was growing. The only product that we had and that nobody could replicate was the Waterford Blaa”, says Walsh.
The Waterford Blaa is a round bread roll with a heavy dusting of flour and a lot of history. Huguenot refugees introduced the blaa, made from leftover pieces of dough, in 1702. A century later, the founder of a Christian movement Edmund Ignatius Rice made the rolls popular by baking them to feed poor children in his school. “Waterford Blaas have a very distinctive, look, texture and taste. They taste like the old fashioned French baguettes from thirty years ago”, explains Walsh. Locals eat their blaa with bacon in the middle, as a traditional mid-morning snack.
Our business expanded. The protection enabled us to make investments and employ more people.
“We were afraid that, if all the bakers in Waterford closed down, the art of making these lovely blaas would die out”, Walsh says. The basic ingredients are fixed, but each producer has his own take on the recipe. Dermot Walsh and his brother Michael are third generation bakers, who use their family recipe. During a discussion about Irish foods at a conference for small businesses, Walsh heard about the possibility of EU protection for regionally manufactured foods.
The greater good
With three other local bakeries Walsh decided to see if the Waterford Blaa could qualify for the so-called Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). “Before we were in competition but we started working together for the greater good, to protect our bakeries and our regional speciality”, Walsh declares. The bakers did lots of research, set up the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association and applied for the PGI.
After a process of two and a half years, the protection was granted by the EU in November 2013. A lot of extra paperwork is involved with the PGI. Auditors of the European Commission make inspections twice a year. “But it is worth it. Consumers now know that the quality, traceability and transparency are guaranteed”, states Walsh, who is doing presentations throughout Ireland to tell other food producers about the benefits of regional protection.
The extra paperwork is worth it. Consumers now know that the quality, traceability and transparency are guaranteed.
Today, about 12,000 Waterford Blaas are produced daily. While the rolls are in favour in Waterford and throughout Ireland, they are also exported to England, France and Dubai. “Our business expanded. The demand for other products rose as well. The protection enabled us to make investments and employ more people. The theory behind it is that the commercial, social and community benefits from the protection all come to the geographical area in which the product is manufactured.”
More about Walsh’s bakehouse: http://www.manddbakery.ie/
Information on EU schemes for regional protection: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/quality/schemes/index_en.htm