The foodie side of an Irish Christmas

As a nation known for its pubs Ireland certainly served us well – I drank and enjoyed my first (half) pint of Guiness and ate lots of well cooked fresh food.  My dad seemed sated with the stews – deliciously whole hearted and packed full of good flavour.  Honestly cooked and what they should be.   We were staying just outside Westport, on the sea, so I mainly opted for more fishy options and was more than happy with bowls of steaming plump mussels in deliciously creamy sauces and chowders full of fishy goodness.  The best of these pubs that we found, should you find yourself in the area, were The Tavern at the foot of the infamous Craugh Patrick and Mannion’s in Clifden which is attached to a good butchers, vouching safe the provenance of meat.

Craugh Patrick

However, despite the quality, my two favourite food finds were not to be in the pubs.  One at the end of a snowy drive and the other at a small braving-the-cold market stall in Westport.

The view from Connemara Smokehouse

First off, Connemara Smokehouse.  A family run business sourcing, curing and smoking the finest fish they can find.  It’s in a beautiful location so well worth a visit for that alone, but obviously above all is their incredibly high standard of fish smokery.  They use beechwood which seems to give a more delicate smoke than the tradiditional oak – they were using ash for a while, but it is hard to come by as it’s used to make hurley sticks… They control everything manually, they hand fillet the fish, dry salt it rather than inject with brine and most importantly they remove the fish from the smokers when it’s ready not when a timer goes off.  It’s all done in the traditional way and you can tell.  The smoked mackerel was particularly good – softer than most and not dried out like a lot of the smoked mackerel that is readily available in shops.  We also got some smoked salmon which was brilliant and moreish and some smoked tuna which I was most excited about but was sadly the least impressive of them all.  All in all though it’s an incredibly high standard of smoked fish.

Second up is Carrowholly Cheese.  Another small producer, this one run by one man and what I assume must be a strong love of cheese.  He collects milk from local farmers and then makes the cheese himself by hand from raw cows milk – no rennet used and vegetarian friendly.  We got two types, one flavoured with nettle and and then some mature cheese which had been aged for 9 months.  Both were wonderfully full flavoured and creamy.  The mature one obviously stronger and a little drier, the younger one a bit more delicate.

All in all, on my week long stay it seems that Ireland does pretty well for food!

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