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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
Frederic William Burton
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 the new irish table


 country cooking of Ireland


 

Gourmet Ireland

farm gate restaurant

Farm gate Restaurant, Midleton, Co. Cork - Photo by author

by Suzanne Barrett

Gourmet Ireland may sound like an oxymoron, but the fact is Irelandís cuisine has risen to astonishing heights since the dreary day of the fifties and sixties where insipid, waterlogged veggies and fatty fried foods seemed to be the norm. By the early eighties, a gastronomic revolution was taking place all over Ireland with the newly gained popularity of food fairs, food festivals and gourmet markets. One of the pioneers of the new cooking movement was Myrtle Allen, founder of Ballymaloe, the famed country house in County Cork. Allen believed that food should be simple, fresh and locally abundant, the requisites for updated traditional Irish cuisine.

In 1983, Allenís daughter-in-law, Darina, founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School based upon Myrtle Allenís beliefs. Darina reigns today as Ireland's Queen of Cuisine. At a separate farmhouse with gardens and orchards, she has set up a five day intensive course that includes hands-on morning classes and afternoon demonstrations. Here, students will use vegetables plucked from those gardens in a trio of potato classics: colcannon, champ and boxty. Students will also prepare bacon and cabbage using pork from Allen's on-site pigs, and learn to poach wild salmon and serve it up with hollandaise sauce. Even dessert comes straight from the land and the Jersey cows grazing outside. The school offers half-day classes on Irish breakfast, butter, cheese and yogurt making, and even basic home butchery, beekeeping, and raising chickens. Darina Allen is the author of numerous cookbooks. My two favorites in my personal library: A Simply Delicious Irish Christmas and A Year at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I would also recommend Irish Traditional Cooking: Over 300 Recipes from Ireland's Heritage. Then there's the beautiful cookbook that inspired this article, Margaret Johnson's The New Irish Table. Click on this link for the delightful Ballymaloe Brown Bread.

As Irelandís economy expanded, so did the number of fine eating establishments. In Dublin, Patrick Guilbaud opened a new French restaurant bearing his name, a 2-star Michilin eatery. Others were to follow. But not all restauranteurs were interested in expanding the repertory of French foods. Some chose traditional Irish dishes, creating them in new and updated ways. And that is precisely what the new Irish food is about. It is the old Irish food, updated with healthful preparation and keying on what is fresh and plentiful. Ireland is a land that excels in some of the worldís best dairy, fish and meat products.

Many of these innovative efforts can be seen at the many food festivals. In Skibbereen, West Cork, thereís a annual food fair specializing on local products. Bantry has a Mussel festival each May, and Galway is home to an annual Oyster festival. A Taste of Wicklow and Taste of Ulster were later launched to highlight their regional cuisines.

In 1994, the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) was launched to promote Irish foods and beverages world wide. Check out their site for recipes or listings for country markets.

CAIS, the Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers now include thirty members who produce cheddars, brie, blue, Gouda, Camembert, sheep and goat cheeses. Their site give a brief history of the association, contact numbers, recipes and more.

While the Irish economy has also suffered the fate of many countries in the global recession, the desire for fine food has not, mainly because the benchmark of good Irish cuisine traditional dishes is using local ingredients. Some recipes show a regional influence, perhaps Asian or Mediterranean, but the basic dishes are Irish, and Irish at its best. When once visitors traveled to Ireland for the scenery, now they just might be going for the delicious food.

Until next time.

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farmhouse cheeses

Farmhouse Cheeses

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