You’ll want to eat right through the menu this autumn as gourmet Ireland serves up culinary experiences worth travelling for.
Every good foodie knows that great food needs great ingredients and great passion. In gourmet Ireland, all three are roundly understood and served up in style.
Irish food and drink uses only the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients, which, as it happens, enjoy the privileged reputation of belonging to one of the best larders on the planet.
Certainly good enough for the pantry of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, following her visit to Cork’s famous English Market, took home a hamper of delicious artisan Irish food that included smoked salmon, beef, duck, cheeses, honey and handmade chocolate.
Such ingredients are intimately rooted and intertwined with the lush, emerald green landscapes, the unpolluted Atlantic waters and the trusted, age-old Irish farming and fishing traditions of what’s now universally regarded as a major ‘food island’.
Come autumn in this culinary hotspot something extra special is cooking. The low sun is turning everything golden. The harvest is gathering. Flavors are turning earthier. It’s a particularly good period for Irish ingredients.
So no better time to take a foodie trip to Ireland; all you have to do is let nature’s bounty tantalize your taste buds, tuck in, and savor the flavor.
Ireland’s modern cuisine is pulling in the foodies and pushing out the culinary boundaries with dishes that champion a bold mix of local produce, international influences and Celtic imagination.
The results can be found in many top-end Michelin-starred eateries like Waterford’s Cliff House Hotel or Dublin’s Chapter One, the latter one of the most consistently praised restaurants in the country.
Featuring Irish hospitality at its best, there you can tuck in to elegantly and colourfully crafted dishes. Fancy a bit of rarebreed pork plate with parsley creamed barley and roast carrots, Jack McCarthy’s black pudding and smoked aioli, oh, and a little pickled thistle sauce? Yum.
But the Michelin maestros by no means monopolise great food in Ireland. Quality food experiences continue in a huge variety of fine-dining and pop-up restaurants, gastro-pubs, bistros, wine bars, cafés, small hotels and country houses – even in the B&Bs where they serve up breakfasts to die for.
En masse, Ireland’s eateries have become guardians and advocates of cooking that keeps the focus on taste, local produce, and a mix of tradition and creativity. Pick a region and it would be possible to stay for a month, dine like the Queen every day, and never have to visit the same place twice.
The Irish gourmet experience is in no small way related to the rise of its army of artisan food producers. Organic growers, charcutiers, cheese makers, fish smokers, chocolatiers, confectioners, bakers and more have sprung up all over the country, drawing on long-held country traditions to feed the new breed of Irish chefs with the raw ingredients for conjuring up fresh, exciting and novel dishes.
These artisans have the skill and passion for producing top quality handmade food that flies firmly in the face of the mass produced, the processed and the flavurless.
They’re also brim-full of Irish character and the great thing about a food-themed trip to the Emerald Isle is that you can easily go along and meet these artisan producers for a bit of craic as well as a taste experience. In Cork, for instance, Ireland’s foodiest county, Frank Hederman smokes eels, sprats, mackerel, trout, salmon and mussels in his Belvelly Smokehouse.
He uses beech rather than oak to give a mild, subtle flavour to his products and his smokehouse, the oldest traditional one in Ireland which is open to visitors. You can also meet Frank at the local farmers’ markets in Midleton and Cobh.
And that’s the key to another excellent Irish food, indeed an Irish cultural experience. Bustling farmers’ markets are held in towns and cities all round the country, bringing together farmers, local growers and artisan food producers to sell their produce directly to the consumer. A trip to one will give you an authentic slice of Irish life and get you close up to people passionate about food.
Howth Farmers’ Market is one of the most picturesque. It’s set on the west pier of a pretty fishing village a short distance from Dublin city center (itself the location for an array of different markets). Every Sunday it assails the senses with the aromas and colous of fresh, locally grown, quality food and special artisan produce – organic meat, fruit and vegetables and homemade everything else, including farmhouse cheeses, chutneys, fresh fish, jams, cakes, breads and delicious gourmet treats.
Seafood of all kinds features prominently on the menus of Howth’s harbor-side cafés and restaurants – perfect for Sunday lunch after visiting the market.
Food and drink trails and tours
Select a village, city, county or individual producer at any time of year, organize your transport and follow your taste senses – that’s all there is to it if you want to tour gourmet Ireland under your own steam.
Contributed post and photo by Ezine Ireland