The Best Ingredients in Europe? They're Probably Irish
Our expert's culinary advice for those traveling to Dublin and beyond. Hint: Don't skip the bread, milk, and cheese.
Q. We will be visiting Ireland between the 15th and 30th of June. We would like to know what farm events or seasonal foods we should be looking for. We will be driving from Dublin to Cork and then to the ring of Kerry. Which pubs and local restaurants would you recommend in these areas? I'm not an Ireland travel expert, but I'm an on-the-record Ireland fan—and today, when even President Obama is saying he's looking for the dropped apostrophe in his name, it's an appropriate topic. More than that: I often tell people that for sheer quality of ingredients, it's hard to eat better in Europe than in Ireland. (Isn't it nice to be able to say Europe?) This still raises eyebrows among fancy foodies. It shouldn't anymore. The milk, cream, and butter in Ireland regularly set me dreaming, as does the brown bread—the white whale of American bakers, as I wrote in a piece about attending a day-long seminar on Irish baking at a Bread Bakers Guild conference in San Francisco, from which I write this. The soft Irish wheat regularly defeats U.S. bakers, who resort to Odlum's mixes, but Irish baking is wonderful, as you'll be able to taste for yourself.
The place to taste it, and one of the several Irish places I dream about, will be the perfect break on your drive from Dublin to Cork, as it's midway: Country Choice, Peter and Mary Ward's shop and restaurant in the village of Nenagh, where they make not only their own wholemeal breads but also serve, as the site says, "real hams, organic vegetables, farmhouse butter, and ripe cheese." More important, it's very charming and so is the village, as I wrote in this piece about swooning over champ, an Irish national dish of potatoes with milk, butter, and scallions. Just rereading a passage makes me want to get on a plane myself:
As we spoke, I was finishing a second helping of rhubarb crumble, made with rhubarb Ward had brought in that morning from his garden at the stone millhouse he shares with Mary, their three children, and five dogs. The crumble was a great example of its form (no oatmeal or nuts or trick ingredients in the crisp topping), but the real reason I had to have seconds was the cream on top—unwhipped and unclotted but still so thick you could faint from it. This was after a vegetable soup with a strong homemade chicken stock as its base and carrots, leeks, onions, and potatoes from local farms (I had a second helping of soup, too).
And of course you'll be visiting Ballymaloe when you're in Cork, won't you? As the site says, it's the "only cookery school in the world located in the middle of its own 100-acre organic farm," which is one of many reasons that Alice Waters, among many others, never misses a chance to go there, and is a leading promoter of Darina Allen, the marvelous writer and teacher who built the school, and Irish food. Though I didn't see any overtly Irish dishes on the menu at Chez Panisse when I was lucky enough to eat downstairs there two nights ago, I did cross paths there with Colman Andrews, this country's greatest champion of Irish food. He knows good food when he sees it, both in Berkeley and County Cork, and knew enough to devote a whole book to Irish food, The Country Cooking of Ireland, which deservedly won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year award.
So, for further advice: Buy Andrews's book. Go onto the site of Slow Food Ireland, one of the most active and best-established chapters in Europe—in the world, really. Buy Darina Allen's books, particularly the encyclopedic, wonderfully interesting Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Read the chapter on Gubbeen cheese in my Pleasures of Slow Food and make sure to buy and eat a lot when you're there. Then—report back, please!
To submit a food, drink, or restaurant advice question for Corby's next column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Madame Fromage1/flickr