Ireland’s robust economy was once referred to as the Celtic Dragon, blazing a trail of prosperity envied by nations around the world. Chefs eschewed traditional Irish products like lamb and seaweed in favor of luxurious imports like foie gras and truffles, deeming them more worthy of consideration and esteem. It was a boom time in Ireland and the food reflected the extravagance of the era, a time the Irish thought would never end. And then it did. The economic crisis of 2008 extinguished the Celtic Dragon’s fire virtually overnight.
As the Irish watched their bank accounts dwindle and wallets thin, they could no longer afford previous luxuries and were forced to look inward. What they discovered were food producers adhering to ancient traditions and pioneers ready to transform the raw products of Ireland into things of edible beauty. It’s a boom time in Ireland once more. This time around it’s not about expensive cars and massive houses, it’s about the Irish appreciation for their own culinary heritage.
The air feels heady with possibility in western Ireland, a region of the country celebrated for its food traditions. Here are seven ideas for what to eat and where to visit to experience the best the food world of western Ireland has to offer.
Sheridan’s Cheese Shop
Located in Galway, Sheridan’s is an institution boasting several locations throughout the nation. Its owner, cheesemonger Seamus Sheridan, is a legendary figure of the Irish food scene, revered for his promotion of local cheese and support of Irish cheese makers. The shop in Ireland’s iconic harbor town is the ideal place to taste and learn about Irish cheese from around the country. There’s also a wine shop and bar above the shop that’s the perfect place to people watch while enjoying a plate of cheese and Irish charcuterie. Church Yard Street, Galway, 91 564 829, sheridanscheesemongers.com
The Burren Smokehouse
The family-owned business in the heart of the Burren is run by husband and wife Peter and Birgitta Curtin. Peter is Irish and Birgitta is Swedish and when they opened their smokehouse in 1989, they decided to offer both hot and cold smoked salmon to honor the traditions of both nations. Today, their award winning salmon is beloved throughout the nation and comes in a variety of flavors. The couple, notable pioneers in the local food movement, also sell dozens of other products in their store from food producers throughout the region including fair trade chocolate, dried seaweed, mead, and dozens of chutneys and jams. Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, 65 707 4432, burrensmokehouse.ie
The Roadside Tavern
Located in Lisdoonvarna, The Roadside Tavern is owned by Peter Curtin, who also co-owns The Burren Smokehouse just down the street from the pub. Peter employs at his brewery the same locally sourced principles and adherence to tradition that he does at his store, resulting in award winning beer like The Burren Black, Red, and Gold. The brews reflect the ancient art of Irish brewing that was nearly lost in the wake of imported beer and the ubiquitous presence of Guinness in every pub. There is a microbrewery movement happening in Ireland today and The Burren Smokehouse is the perfect place to experience it. Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, 65 707 4994, roadsidetavern.ie
The English Market and Farmgate Cafe
The English Market and Farmgate Cafe in Cork are musts for any food tour of Ireland. Farmers and producers gather at this covered market each day to sell products procured from every corner of western Ireland. It’s a food shopping and tasting paradise made that much sweeter by the addition of The Farmgate Cafe located on the top floor of the market. The space boasts a busy cafe where casual fare like sandwiches and stews are sold along with a bistro serving more refined fare like venison pot pie and lamb’s liver and champ. No visit to The English Market would be complete without a stop at Farmgate. Grand Parade, Co. Cork, 21 492 4258, englishmarket.ie
Skibbereen Farmers Market
Skibbereen embodies the qualities that have made the Irish farmers’ market scene so enticing to food lovers. The friendly producers who gather here each in the coastal village of Skibbereen love a good chat and are more than happy to tell you about the traditions they so proudly adhere to. Standouts are Irish spiced beef, local honey, and briny oysters. In September, the village hosts the A Taste of West Cork food festival where farmers, butchers, fishmongers, and chefs from throughout the region will gather for a week long celebration of Irish food. Skibbereen, Co. Cork, 28 37593, skibbereenmarket.com
The Fishy Fishy Café
Located in Kinsale along the southwestern coast of Ireland, The Fishy Fishy Café is the perfect place for a seafood lover to enjoy freshly caught Irish seafood like oysters, mussels, prawns and salmon in a contemporary restaurant on the edge of the town’s cheerful harbor. The restaurant is owned by husband and wife team Martin and Marie Shanahan and has earned countless accolades since they transformed it from a traditional fish and chips shop including a Michelin BIB gourmand award. Kinsale itself is a food lovers paradise with its weekly farmer’s market and food shops selling local products and is a must for any culinary tour of western Ireland. Crowleys Quay, Kinsale, Co. Cork, 21 470 0415, fishyfishy.ie
Connemara Hill Lamb
It is one of the only products in Ireland to boast coveted PGI (European Protected Geographical Indication) status. This designation gives the region’s lamb protected status and deems it a unique product worthy of protection. The sheep spend their time in the blustery mountains of Connemara in northwestern Ireland, a region renowned for its rugged, wild beauty. Their meat is leaner than other breeds and their black faces are a notable trademark. Today, the lamb is coveted by chefs both within Ireland and abroad (the lamb farmer we visited told us that even the chef Heston Blumenthal has paid a visit to their farm) for its earthy flavor embodying the terroir of Connemara. connemarahilllamb.ie
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