It has been said that in the early 1980s Irish cuisine started to change for the better. Always blessed with naturally wonderful ingredients, chefs started a revolution incorporating nouvelle cuisine, flavors and techniques of the world, and then all roads leading to a new level of ever evolving spectacular Irish fare.
Fine dining, Irish style.
As this was my first trip to Ireland, a primary gauge was the five pounds this extremely picky eater gained in less than two weeks without ever drinking a Guinness! Outstanding game, grass fed beef, fresh vegetables and fruits, outstanding cheese and dairy (hmmm double cream, Irish butter), and as one is always close to the sea, rivers, and lakes providing pristine fish and seafood.
Féile Bia is an Irish food organization with a commitment to quality. Their program emphasizes the importance of where food comes from before it reaches the hotels, restaurants, pubs and workplaces throughout Ireland.
Féile Bia organized with the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation and the support of the farming community in response to growing consumer concerns about the quality and origin of food offered when dining out. An issue we should all be concerned about wherever we live.
Members provide details confirming the quality and origin of the food used in their kitchens. Féile Bia participants are committed to sourcing meat, chicken and eggs from recognized Quality Assurance Schemes and gladly supply any customer requests for country of origin information.
Irish soufflès make the
heart grow fonder!
Chefs and consumers throughout Ireland take care and pride in using products grown, raised and produced locally. One of those we visited was the Burren Smokehouse.
The Burren Smokehouse is located in the legendaryCounty Clare town of Lisdoonvarna, on Ireland’s west coast, a family run organization started in 1989 by Peter Curtin, a local man and his Swedish wife, Birgitta. Lisdoonvarna is also home to the world’s best-known matchmaking festival that you can check out at www.matchmakerireland.com/festival. It is a picturesque and historic stop popular with tourists any time of year. The town and Burren are totally free of industrial pollution so prevalent and makes this the cleanest environment in all of Western Europe.
Brigitta and Peter
from Burren Smokehouse.
After researching the smoking traditions of Ireland they patented their own process. Nearby the Curtin family has owned the Roadside Tavern for about the last 100 years also the first place to serve their smoked salmon. Their belief in the finest quality food products, customer care and a great group workers ensures a continuous high standard.
We made our stop first at their Visitor Centre to watch the video showing how salmon is smoked, starting from filleting to finished product. The program is available in English, German, French, and Italian; the centre has space for about 50 people. We were able to test a little wine and several varieties of smoked products with additional explanations by Birgitta. Actually we loved it all except for those of us too “chicken” to try the eel. The smoked cheese was also wonderful.
According to Irish mythology (of which there is no end) only one creature was wiser than man. This was the fabled “Salmon of Knowledge” which had fed upon the acorns of the Tree of Knowledge. It was said that whoever tasted of the salmon would inherit its wisdom and foresight.
Fresh Seafood Salad – pride of the Irish Sea.
An old man had devoted his life to capturing the prized fish. Having finally achieved his goal, he entrusted the preparation and cooking to his young apprentice, with a warning that he must not taste its flesh. But, while cooking the salmon it got very hot and blistery. The boy touched those blisters and burnt his finger. To relieve the pain, he placed his finger in his mouth thus becoming the first to taste the fish and to benefit from its magical powers.
The boy was Fionn MacCool, who later became the great warrior prince of ancient Ireland. Fionn devoted his life to the spreading of wisdom.
The Curtin’s carefully source local raw materials for the Burren smoked salmon, trout, mackerel, eel, and cheese with control quality standards and regular testing from independent laboratories and inspections by certification organizations.
Salmon gift baskets are shipped worldwide.
In the store and online, they sell high quality locally produced crafts including leatherwork, knitwear, pottery, woodwork, jewelry, CDs, and books of local interest. There is also a full gourmet selection of locally produced fine foods, including Burren’s own specialties. Select from cheeses, jams, chocolates, and a fine selection of wines to remind you of your visit to Clare. I carried home a huge slab of the smoked salmon and shared it with my neighbors and friends much to everyone’s delight.
After checking out the samples we walked perhaps 200 feet to the Curtin’s Roadside Tavern for a little “shake off the chill” libation and to mix with the locals.
Burren Smokehouse ships within Ireland and to countries all over the world with Japan as one of their biggest markets.
The Burren Smokehouse
Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 65 7074432
When you’re home try this simple but tasty recipe for using your Burren’s Smoked salmon:
Drimcong House Restaurant
Moycullen, Co. Galway
8 slices smoked salmon
Mixed lettuce leaves, shredded
For the dressing:
50g (2 oz) fresh spinach leaves
100ml (4 oz) sunflower oil
1½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
Warm Smoked Salmon Salad.
Directions – Make equal-sized mounds of lettuce on four salad plates. Drape two smoked salmon slices over each mound. Blend to liquefy the spinach, oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper.
Warm each plate of smoked salmon in the hot oven for a minute. Pour dressing over and around the salmon mounds and serve.
Another purveyor we didn’t have time to visit but follows the natural traditions so popular throughoutIreland is Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese.
Ardrahan is a semi-soft cheese with a pungent aroma, a buttery textured honey-colored centre with a complex delicate flavor. Its washed rind grows into a golden colour, while its size and weight tend to vary slightly due to the fact that it is a hand-made product.
Made from pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, and vegetarian rennet, the 1 kg wheels are wrapped in white paper and boxed individually. Baby Ardrahans are wrapped in white paper with six per box.
Ardrahan is eaten in cubes while sipping Irish whiskey or a glass of red wine or for toasted cheese sandwiches. A well blending cheese, it is excellent for cooking.
Ardrahan cows on the mooooove!
A new milk product that I thought was particularly interesting is Ardrahan Lullaby, and it may even help you get a good night’s sleep.
Lullaby is a, 100% natural whole milk drink that comes from cows that graze in the ancient, unspoiled pastures of North Cork. This is the first milk of the day, created in the dark, as the animal sleeps, and has naturally higher levels of melatonin.
Melatonin is a natural substance found in all our bodies. The night-time hours enhance the level of natural melatonin in the milk. It helps our bodies to regulate our sleep-wake cycles, allowing our body clock to switch off naturally. Frequent advise for jetlag cures is to take Melatonin.
Ardrahan Lullaby Milk is pasteurized but not homogenized. Therefore, it retains all its natural goodness, so shake well as the cream will settle on the top of the bottle. When I was growing up we had cream at the top and fought over who would get it for their cereal. One of the worst aspects of my grandmothers visits was her immediate shaking of the milk bottle thus dissipating the cream.\
Arahan Farmhouse Cheese
Kanturk, Co. Cork,Ireland
Tel. : +353 (29) 78099
Fax. : +353 (29) 78136
In all the bookstores and Ireland has gazillions, we saw the cooking and guide books of Georgina Campbell featured. A well-known food writer who specializes in Irish cookery, restaurants and hospitality, Georgina travels the country regularly, researching the best places to eat, drink, and stay throughout Ireland for both leisure and business.
She has always encouraged the development of contemporary cooking based on traditional Irish themes and using the best of local produce.
Educated at Queen’s University, Belfast, and Trinity College, Dublin, she now lives in Howth, a fishing port near Dublin, with her husband, who is also a writer, and their family. Most of her books are available in the States.
A few titles you may want to check out are:
Good Food From Ireland (Grafton paperback) is a traditional Irish food book. Although the UKedition is out of print, an American selection from it is published by Sterling under the title Classic Irish Recipes.
Meals For All Seasons looks at contemporary Irish cooking through the four, very different, seasons of the culinary year. (Merlin Publishing, hardback).
Irish Country House Cooking – The Best of Irish Breads & Baking, Traditional, Contemporary & Festive Baking has proved particularly popular and is available in the US as well as Ireland and the UK. (Epicure Press)
And she has a new book coming out in early Spring, 2005.
In addition to some recipes having metric measurements you may find occasionally ingredients that are unfamiliar. One that threw me for a bit was cream flour. I finally found an explanation at www.foodireland.com and apparently Cream flour is plain flour without added yeast or other products. We can use it the same as anyUS flour.
Below are the websites for Bord Bia and others promoting Irish food and drink under the banner, Ireland – The Food Island. They have wonderful links:
– Feature by Mary Gallagher, Washington, D.C. Correspondent.