Eating Irish, any old day (or, Five Stellar Irish Foods)

I had great plans to post a list of some of my favourite Irish foods in time for Paddy’s Day, but as luck would have it I spent most of Paddy’s weekend in bed dealing with the chest infection I had been ineffectively fighting all week.

(Actually, as a brief trip to the chemist at about 5pm on the Great Day of All Greenness suggested, bed was a rather perfect and cosy and safe place to spend said day, based on some of the drunken antics of Baggot Street revellers. AND I got to watch Flight of The Doves for the first time in quite some years, with no sense whatever of a life being wasted. AND to paint my toenails at my leisure. AND to make myself never ending supplies of my favourite hot orange, lemon and ginger fix-it-all. So it wasn’t all bad. But I digress.)

I’m feeling better now thanks, which is just as well, because I have quite the food-fuelled week lined up next week, for which I will need all of my energy. I tell you this now because it will become relevant to you, dear reader, in the coming days. (Stick with me here, this is going somewhere.)

So, the plan had been to begin my list of favourite Irish foods by announcing the winners of the annual Irish Food Awards from the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (yep, I’m a paid-up member), and then to see where that lead me in the way of lists. But instead, here’s the plan. What follows here and now is my take on the five delicious winners of said awards, which you can also watch on TV3′s coverage of the awards. (Go to about 16 minutes in. Worth a watch for Jack McCarthy alone, legend that he is.)

And to make up for my delay in delivering this list, I’m gonna make it a hat-trick of daily lists, for which I have some special surprises lined up. Three for the price of one, and all for free!

So herein follows Five Stellar Irish Foods For Any Old Day (& Not Just For Paddy’s Day):

  • Castlemine Farm Free Range Pork: Brendan and Derek Allen are a pair of brothers from a Co Roscommon farm, run by Allens for five generations. So I guess you could say farming is in the blood. These boys do things well. Like the Eat Only Irish week they kicked off last year, which started as a Twitter conversation, became a national campaign (see here for the involvement of my For Food’s Sake colleagues) and has since turned into an online foodstore. They also do pork well. They rear the pigs with free range on the farm where the Allens like them to “have a decent bit of life” (says Brendan) before bringing them 10 minutes down the road to the local abattoir and then being butchered on-farm by two qualified butchers employed by the brothers. The result is some very tasty pork, available at the farm shop, local markets and online too.
  • Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil: Carol and Patrick Rooney reckon that what sets their oil apart from other Irish rapeseed oils is that they control every element of its production at their Co Louth farm: from preparing the soil with eco-friendly methods such as eco-tillage to planting the seeds to harvesting the crop, drying the pods, cold-pressing the seeds and double-filtering the resulting extra virgin oil. That’s why they reckon they won this award – cos they do the whole process themselves. I know differently. Having tasted Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil against several other fine competitors on the Irish market, I know Derrycamma won this award because it tastes so good. The flavoured versions are good too – particularly the lemon – but the original itself is warm, nutty and beautifully balanced, and a versatile oil for cooking with and for punchy dressings. Try it.
  • Glebe Brethan Cheese: If you love Comte from France’s Jura (I do) you’ll love this gruyere-style cheese produced by Co Louth dairy farmer David Tiernan. I had the pleasure of David’s company over the awards lunch, and a nicer dairy farmer I have not met. He told me he was surprised by the passion he has discovered for cheese-making since he began it in the mid-noughties. He spoke in his quiet, understated way about the magic of walking his cows up a lane at 5am, knowing that they’re about to give him the milk to produce 45kg wheels of thermophilic cheese which will be taking shape in round moulds by noon. And his lovely wife Margaret told me of how she liked to grate Glebe Brethan onto fried potato rosti, or serve it cubed in fresh salads. All of which made me love Glebe Brethan cheese even more than I already did. The cheese itself is creamy and complex, fruity when young and getting nutty when older. How old you get it is a matter of luck, as David tends to sell it according to demand. But he does say that every year he gets a little bit better at making this cheese from the raw milk of his Montbeliarde cows (a special breed native to the Jura) and that each year it can mature that little bit longer. Better you say David? I like the sound of that.
  • McCarthy’s of Kanturk: Have you come across the inimitable Jack McCarthy yet? He was one of my interviewees at our For Food’s Sake event at last July’s Dingle Food Festival, where he brought tastings of the European-style charcuterie himself and his son Jack have been developing in recent years in their butcher shop in Kanturk, East Cork. He also brought examples of what the McCarthy’s are really famous for: making traditional fresh-blood black pudding. These are no average black puddings. (Chilli and chocolate flavoured pud anyone? Produced from nitrate-free pork from free-range pigs of course.) And Jack’s no ordinary butcher. Which is why he was recently made an honourary member of the French Brotherhood of the Knights of the Black Pudding, and why he was chosen by Chapter One’s Ross Lewis to help him create a bespoke pudding to serve at the state banquet celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ireland. Have a watch of Jack here (16 mins in), and if you like the cut of his jib, you might like to sign up to one of his upcoming ‘Practical Pig in a Day’ courses designed for chefs, single pig families and food lovers.
  • Con Traas of The Apple Farm: Con is a young man I’ll have you know. And yet he was chosen by the Guild for their annual Lifetime Achievement Award. Why? Well, this young fella has already done rather a lot in his relatively short life. And I don’t just mean producing one of Ireland’s finest non-alcoholic sparkling beverages in the form of The Apple Farm Sparkling Apple Juice. Nor one of our best vinegars in the form of Karmine Cider Vinegar. Con’s also been busy promoting indigenous Irish apples through the likes of the Irish Apple Growers’ Association of which he is Chair, and working hard towards a vision of making good Irish apples easily available on Irish shelves. You probably early presumed they are, but it ain’t necessarily so. Think of him and his ilk the next time you reach for a bag of apples. If an Irish alternative is available, consider trying them. And if they’re not, consider asking for them. Where consumers lead, vendors follow.

And so, here endeth my first of three lists of great Irish foods. If you want more information on the above winners, and some recipes from Derry Clarke’s awards luncheon in l’Ecrvain, check out the Guild’s website here.


Five Foods Worth Travelling The Country In Pursuit Of (or, Why I’m Going On Tour Next Week, And Where)…

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  • fiona

    Mum and Dad are touring Cork this week – just sent them the link to McCarthy’s for the crack. Obviously that’s a tip with a large hint dangling off it…

    • Aoife

      Oh they’d have to bring you something back eh?

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