Ireland: The Food Lovers Island

Filed Under: Food and Drink, Ireland
Jonathan Hession
The island of Ireland is the home of ingredients produced with centuries of expertise and acres of fertile land behind it. It offers dishes prepared by experts in the most wonderful of surroundings. It has a food culture that delights visitors with the highest of standards.

Taking Your First Steps
The first meal of the day has a wealth of options: Norah Brown of Grange Lodge in County Tyrone has won awards for breakfast, so why not try her Bushmill’s whiskey flavored oatmeal? The full Irish breakfast is a hearty fry-up, widely available, but for something a little more unique, consider the organic scrambled egg and smoked salmon at Number 31 in Dublin. Venturing out for food on the go, make a farmer’s market the first port of call: they’re very popular, as Irish people demand fresher, locally-sourced ingredients.

At the Markets
At St. George’s Market in Belfast sample delicious pork from Cookstown, beef from Armagh and fish from Portavogie in County Down, as well as everything from wild boar to international teas – the banter is free! Or try the English Market in Cork City, it’s one of the most famous in the country. In a bustling and historic atmosphere, butchers like Ashley O’Neil, the fishmonger Kay O’Connell and artisan sausage makers O’Flynn’s serve distinctive and very fine ingredients that are among the best obtainable anywhere in the world. Dublin is far from immune to the farmer’s market charms: try the Temple Bar Food Market in Meeting House Square, where John McInerney’s oyster stall, St Martin Shellfish, offers the finest County Clare seafood in an urban environment. Farmer’s markets can be found all across the island and with an abundant variety of produce, from quality artisan cheeses to the freshest fruit and locally produced Irish Soda bread.

In the Kitchen
Ireland is also a great place to learn how to cook so if you have an urge to pore over the oven you’ll be well catered for. Celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio would know: at Ballyknocken Cookery School in County Wicklow, a short trip from Dublin, tasty breads and a variety of cuisine are on the curriculum. Then there’s Belle Isle Cookery School in County Fermanagh, where Liz Moore gives a wide range of courses of all lengths and skill levels or The Sarah Baker Cookery School set in the 400-year-old Cloughjordan House in Tipperary. In Belfast specialise in seafood at the Belfast Cookery School in association with the Mourne Seafood Bar.

From the Farms
It’s not just the kitchens of the finest chefs that are open to visitors: travel around Ireland and you’ll find that some of the finest farms, shops and producers beckon travelers to enter and see exactly how things are made. That’s the case at The Burren Smokehouse in County Clare, where you can see how Ireland’s world-famous smoked salmon is produced – and even enjoy some local fruit wine. Or visit the Causeway Cheese Company in County Antrim, where the mild Drumkeel cheese is a must, or the Ardsallagh Goat Farm in County Cork for goat’s cheese and yoghurt. Try Ditty’s Home Bakery in Castledawson, County Londonderry where traditional oatcakes are a way of life, or O’Doherty’s in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, for their sublime Fermanagh Black Bacon.

On the Trail
One of the best ways to follow Ireland’s food around the island is by taking a food trail. The Fabulous Food Trails are a good place to start, offering customized journeys around the culinary pleasures of Dublin and Connemara – the Dublin walking tour is an easy way to acquaint yourself with the best of the city’s restaurants and food stores, as well as meet the local traders who have made the city’s food culture so distinctive over the centuries. The Taste of Kilkenny is another good bet, drawing together a network of 38 locations. Or why not take a trip down south to Cork, the gentle driving force of Ireland’s own slow food movement, which has quietly revolutionized eating across Europe. The various Cork food trails are highly recommended, and you can choose to concentrate on the city, the east or the west of the county. If you are in Northern Ireland hit the Down Tourism & Food Trail which takes in such foodie delights as The Strangford Cheese Company. While in Strangford, make for the Cuan Restaurant, famous for its sea food and home-made breads.

By the Glass
Everyone knows of Ireland’s long relationship with grape and grain, but just like with food, it is a matter of connoisseurship. How else can you explain the growth in Ireland’s microbreweries, as locals sample the craft beers which are available in pubs up and down the island? Think Trouble Brewing in County Kildare, Hilden Brewery in Lisburn or Carlow Brewing Company’s superb O’Hara’s Stout for tasty examples – you can even visit some of them to see the ales and stouts for yourself. But mention Irish beer and you probably think of Guinness: the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is a huge and enlightening attraction. Ireland is famous for its whiskey too, and a visit to the Jameson Distilleries in Dublin and at Midleton in County Cork must be on the list. As should Cooley Distillery: nestled on the Cooley Peninsula North East of Dublin here ancient brands of Irish whiskey such as Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell are still being kept very much alive. Don’t miss a visit to Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim where whiskey has been made for over 400 years. There’s no shortage of pubs in Ireland, but make a point of visiting the Porterhouse or Messrs Maguire in Dublin: they brew their own beer, such as the Porterhouse’s Plain, and spectacular is too mild a word.

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