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Club Milk

Friday 15 Aug 2008

This summer has been fairly bereft of any summery weather. Especially when like team NCOTAASD you head off to Ireland before the brief heat wave of July only to return again some three weeks later safely accompanied across the Irish sea by downpours of torrential rain. So yes three weeks of camping around the emerald isle is now well and truly under our belts. To put this into perspective when we next bleat on about some charity event that we have become embroiled in and are looking for sponsorship, perhaps you might want to retrospectively sponsor the putting up and down of one large family tent in the rain four times. In between times we did manage to finally track down that pinnacle of Irish biscuit bar excellence the Club Milk, ancestor of the UK's Club biscuit and recently restored back to its proper configuration and glory.

For some biscuits Ireland is rapidly becoming what Madagascar is to lemurs, the last place on earth to see them in the wild. The sadly missed Lincoln biscuit now but a memory in the aisles of UK supermarkets still gambols amongst the other dunkers in Irish shops. The Mikado or Mallow as it was called in the UK still occupies its rightful place at aisle ends. And such is the position of importance of the fig roll in Irish culture that McVities have created a fig roll specifically for the Irish market and are boasting about its 30% fig content to the educated Irish fig roll consumer. Wifey feigned brief interest in such earth shattering discoveries up the biscuit aisle and then beat a hasty retreat to the car park. I, however continued with the last great Irish biscuit quest to find the legendary Club Milk, which Wifey had failed to turn up on her last girls outing to Dublin.

The history of the Club Milk goes back about 100 years to just before the first world war. Introduced into Ireland by Jacobs it quickly became a firmly established part of Irish tea time. Two plain oblong marie style biscuits sandwiching a cocoa flavoured cream filling and enrobed in thick milk chocolate, it led a simple and pure existence. Indeed the many variants produced for the UK market by Jacobs in Liverpool, orange, mint, fruit etc were unknown in the Irish market. Generations of of Club Milk wrappers were decorated drawing on imagery from the club suit in playing cards. This too was repeated in the UK market on the chocolate only club.

Now much of what follows in this paragraph is what I've pieced together of the recent history of the Club, building on what I've already expounded in the UK Orange Club review of some years back. Jacobs at the time spanned the Irish sea with manufacturing and distribution based in Dublin and Liverpool. It appears many finished products crossed the Irish sea, and it seems reasonable that at some point Liverpool took over production on the Club Milk for the Irish Market. The extravagant use of good quality chocolate on the Club meant that profits were tight in a competitive market and when Danone took over Jacobs in the 1990s it set about redesigning the product. Consumers abandoned the product in droves as two biscuits became one raft format biscuit, chocolate dwindled and wrappers gave way to flow pack. This remains the case in the UK market under United Biscuits who took over ownership of the UK half of Jacobs. In Ireland, however, faced with a clean slate new owners Fruitfield now Jacob Fruitfield have decided to go back to basics and start making proper Club biscuits, and let the increasing affluent Irish simply pay a little bit more to get a better biscuit.

As we moved ever westwards across Ireland there was still no sign of the Club Milk. Finally we reached the far west coast in Co Mayo deep in the Gealtecht (Gaelic speaking areas), we came to a high headland composed of sparkling pyrite rocks half a billion years old and looked out across the Atlantic breakers. With the distant mountains of Donegal and Connemarra smokey blue silhouettes over each shoulder we had by now been clean across Ireland. As we left this magical place behind and headed back into the town of Bellmullet I felt we couldn't really get more Irish than this. A trip to the supermarket to get bread and milk, and my customary reko of the biscuit aisle turned good. Club Milks in abundance, plus wafer ones and dark chocolate ones too. Wrapped in yellow and red I now had my eye in and grabbed some packs.

I have to admit to some trepidation in opening up and sampling the precious chocy bic. Would it be an anticlimax, nothing like pre-Danone Clubs or in some way deficient? I thought it best to put off such a moment till it fell in with natural order of our day. To dignify such a noble biscuit with a proper occasion for its eating rather than some tawdry ripping open of wrappers in some car park next to the skips. Unfortunately the moment coincided with Nanny Nicey's late evening master class on instant Horlicks camping style. Still despite such a possible set back the Club Milk showed its class and breeding and performed immaculately. The chocolate was excellent and could be bitten away in large and discrete chunks. The biscuits within didn't have the exact profile I recall but were crisp and lively. Overall the flavour was that of a fine milk chocolate and not some make do approximation. A few days later when a follow up pack suffered greatly at the hands of the rare Irish sunshine in a stifling hot tent we found that once they had cooled and hardened they tasted just as good.

Although we were buying six packs I soon spotted 18 packs to join the other wafer and dark clubs and broaden the range. So all in all it appears the Club biscuit is alive and very well indeed back in its native land, providing another excellent reason to visit Ireland apart from all that Guinness and scenery.

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