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THE ISLAND of Ireland produces most of what it eats – Irish beef, lamb, pork and fish are amongst the best in the world, while the market gardeners of Armagh lead the way in the cultivation of apples.
The Long Meadow Farm, Armagh, is one such place, where you can learn about hedgerow foraging – plucking food that won’t differ much from what our ancestors ate – or take cookery master- classes, and perhaps prepare for a Bramley Apple Banquet.
The quality of local food products has led to a renaissance of Irish cuisine.
Classic recipes from the great gastronomic traditions of Europe are invigorated with local produce, and given an Irish twist in preparation. The result is mouth-watering.
Every county has its restaurants and pubs specialising in excellent local produce cooked with care and sophistication.
So you might opt for organic scrambled egg and smoked salmon from Chapter One in Dublin city, Connemara lamb rump in Ean in Galway, or pesto-stuffed chicken breasts with roast vegetables at MacNean House in Blacklion, Co. Cavan.
You may even choose to sample some traditional Irish cuisine at a pub famed for being the ‘highest in Ireland’.
The award-winning kitchen at Johnnie Fox’s serves classic Irish dishes and seafood specials, with all ingredients sourced locally from high quality ‘farm to fork’ suppliers.
In Belfast, top tables include OX, jointly owned by Alain Kerloc’h and Stephen Toman. Their combined endeavours have transformed an old dockside building into a Michelin-starred restaurant. You might want to try the tender duck meat served at the bottom of the egg cup, topped with egg and subtle, cardamom-treated foam.
The Muddler’s Club, renowned chef Gareth McCaughey’s place, is a buzzy bistro serving the likes of white onion soup with smoked haddock and curry oil.
In Carlingford you can combine views of two mountain ranges – the Mournes and the Cooleys — and dine on world-class gastronomy in the Georgian splendour of Ghan House.
Naturally, the great food tradition of Game of Thrones, substantially filmed in Northern Ireland, also makes an appearance.
After all, the Baratheons, the Starks the Greyjoys and all those other warriors enjoyed a good feast before the mayhem and bloodbath began.
At Ballygally Castle in Co. Antrim – in the heart of Thrones country – you can sample Lannister egg rolls, Hodor’s pulled pork brioche and Dothraki trifle with a mini dragon’s egg. Be sure to have plenty – after all WINTER IS COMING, as John Snow memorably said.
You may want to try some cooking yourself. Good news: The island of Ireland has world class food markets where the ingredients for making, say, the very lightest feuille de brique pastry or the finest mozzarella arancini are readily available. At the English Market in Cork city you’ll find a variety of gastronomic star turns with produce from all over the island.
St George’s Market in Belfast features Northern Ireland’s gift to gastronomy, the three types of indigenous bread — soda farls, wheaten bread and potato farls. The fish comes in directly from Portavogie and Kilkeel (Co. Down fishing ports), the seafood from nearby Carlingford Lough or Strangford Lough.
Dublin’s Temple Bar Market supplies all the artisan cheeses, organic vegetables, sauces, relishes, preserves that will turn a mere snack into a princely feast.
To help manage this plethora of culinary riches, several cookery schools have opened up over the last few decades to assist you in that endeavour. These are amongst the best Europe has to offer. Catherine Fulvio’s Cookery School in Ballyknocken House, Wicklow, Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork or Forestside Cookery School, Belfast present a variety of courses, workshops and classes.
At Wee Buns Cookery School in Dungannon, County Tyrone, you’ll get a hands-on lesson in cake-making and decorating, traditional Irish baking, seasonal cooking or kids’ baking. Or you can knead, bake and wolf down delicious homemade bread with lashings of butter at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen in Co. Down.
Throughout the year food festivals celebrate locally grown produce and traditional Irish cuisine. The Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival (September 22-24) is a feast of fine food, stout and Guinness — and not forgetting the World Oyster Opening Championships, a masquerade ball, live cooking demos and much more.
Set in Dungarvan in Waterford along the coast is West Waterford Festival of Food. Launched 15 years ago in 2008, this has steadily become one of the leading festivals for foodies across the Emerald Isle (April 14-16).
Seafood is where the Wild Atlantic Way meets Ireland’s unique culture. It’s about lobster and crab, salmon and mackerel, oysters and mussels plucked fresh from the heaving ocean. But it’s also about the men and women who mix tradition and 21st century techniques to bring it from tide to table, to serve it just a few miles (or in some cases, just a few feet) from where it’s caught.
The Taste the Atlantic trail gives visitors a chance to learn about fish in a new and hands on way while of course getting to taste some of this natural fresh produce also.
A Seafood Journey is a dedicated seafood trail – an adventure dotted with suggestions ranging from restaurants and cafés to farms, fishing ports and smokehouses. It’s a route you can dip into or do in its entirety, an opportunity to explore Ireland’s pristine oceans; to sample its food story; to enjoy an unforgettable taste of place on a plate.
So, after getting an insight into all the culinary delights available across the island of Ireland, now is the perfect time to get booking a trip in 2023!