This is not the typical bucket list that features soda breads and Tayto crisps.
The Irish food scene is no longer categorised as bacon and cabbage, all has changed. World-class produce, a bustling network of farmers market across the island, internationally renowned trails and festivals have combined to create a distinctly Irish food and a distinctly Irish way of serving it.
Here is a list of seven unique Irish food and drink experiences that you will remember!
1. IRISH CHEESES
Irish cheeses have come through their dark ages of relative blandness and are now enjoying a thriving renaissance. Irish cheese mongers are reclaiming the rich small-batch cheese-making heritage of the island’s distant past. The secret to Irish cheese is the climate: high rainfall and a temperate climate result in lush grasses that feed our premium cows, goats and sheep all year round! And we can thank these well-fed animals for the distinctly creamy and mild cheeses from Ireland.
Examples of Irish cheeses you cannot miss out on include: Cahill’s vintage cheddars made with Irish whiskey, Cashel Blue (that pairs great with walnuts and stout), fresh and tangy nettle cheese, the buttery and mild taste of semi-soft Gubeen cheese, and St. Tola Ash Log, a goats cheese which is covered in ash to give it a uniquely smokey flavour.
When possible, go for raw (non-pasteurised) to enable the compex cheese flavours from the curing and ageing processes to shine.
2. ATLANTIC OYSTERS
Irish oysters are celebrated annually around the island with festivals and shucking (removing the oyster from its shell) competitions . Both native and Pacific oysters are produced off the coasts of Ireland in the Atlantic sea, which give these oysters their unique flavour and texture that cannot be recreated outside of Ireland. Not all oysters in Ireland are identical; rather they are influenced by distinct features of their habitats, in which different mountains and waters affect the salinity and texture up and down the Wild Atlantic Way.
For many, champagne is a typical drink that is paired with oysters. But to experience Irish oysters properly, enjoy them with a pint of Guinness or other Irish stout.The signature creamy head and crisp barley taste of the stout compliment the saltiness of the oysters and bring out the oyster’s creamier notes.
3. OAK BARREL-AGED WHISKEY
The Irish for whiskey is uisce beatha, which translates to holy water. This shows you how beloved Irish whiskey is to its original drinkers. The charm of Irish whiskey comes from the fact that it is generally smoother than other whiskies, with toasted honey notes. This can be attributed to the fact that traditional Irish whiskey is triple distilled. In contrast, the typical Scottish whiskey is distilled twice and American variants are usually distilled one time.
We take the whiskey-making process very seriously on this island. This is evident in the fact that we have the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 on the books which stipulates required standards and processes that must be followed before we can call it Irish whiskey. One such stipulation is that Irish whiskey must only be aged in oak barrels for no fewer than three years on the island. A worthy addition to the bucket list.
Another honorable mention on the Irish bucket list is the Irish coffee: a deliciously boozy coffee with heavy whipped cream to add to the experience!
4. FULL IRISH BREAKFAST
You cannot go through life without experiencing the belly-bursting joy of a Full Irish Breakfast. It is an eternal marker of Irish hospitality and one of the best remedies if you overindulged on the drinks the night before. As the term “full” indicates, this is not a meal for skimping on any one of the many component pieces. Calling it breakfast does not mean, however, that you cannot enjoy this meal at lunch or dinner-time. Eat with a scalding hot cuppa (black tea, naturally) and soda bread to soak it all up. If you need ‘hair of the dog’, this may be the perfect time for an Irish coffee.
If you want to make it an extra special culinary experience to tick off your bucket list, choose whiskey-cured rashers, black butter sauce, portobello mushrooms cooked in Irish garlic butter until brown, and black pudding smoked over beechwood.
5. SMOKED SALMON
Wild Irish salmon is another gem from the Atlantic Ocean that takes on a whole new dimension after it goes through the traditional smoking process. This cold smoking technique does not cook the fish, but infuses it with smoked flavours and leaves it with a delicate, flakey texture. The best kind of smoked salmon is smoked over oak chips from Irish Whiskey casks until it achieves its trademark pinkish-orange color. This step is often where we can separate the artisanal salmon from the more industrial-scale variants: industrial production involves less exposure to smoke and as a result, produces smoked-salmon with blander flavours using cheaper woods.
If you want to try Irish fusion ideas, try honey smoked salmon or even chipotle and lime smoked salmon recipes.
6. BOTANICAL GINS
Another drink makes it to the Bucket List! Once you’ve had your fill of whiskey, stout and poitín, don’t forget to experience all the gins that the island has to offer. The reason Irish gin cannot be missed is because many of the producers take the best of wild Irish botanicals and indigenous fruits to give these gins their unique flavours. Examples of distinctly Irish flavours include rowan berries, rosehip, hawthorn, heather, elderberries and strawberries.
Just as with foods, be aware of the different seasonal gins available, which harness the best of Ireland’s distinct seasonal produce. Also note the different locations of the distillation: coastal varieties have a different profile to those from the Irish mountains due to the water source, and peat or rock elements involved.
7. WILD MUSHROOMS
There is a long tradition of superstition regarding circles of mushrooms in the wild, and disturbing them had been considered taboo for a long time. These “faery rings,” were believed to be where the fairies or ‘daoine sidhe’ (pronounced ‘shee’) danced after dusk, or where they could enter portals to the other realm. Maybe it can explain why we have been cursed with only one or two types of mushrooms at the supermarket for so long. Luckily, the fairies seem to have chilled out and allowed us mere mortals to enjoy all the varieties of mushroom – estimated at over 2,000 – that this island has to offer beyond the typical button or portobello mushrooms.
Of course, as novices, foraging for them ourselves is risky. In this domain, we can rely on experts. Wild Irish mushrooms carry names that belong in mythology stories are now getting their moment in the spotlight (although not too much, as they prefer dark places). Examples include “hen-of-the-woods”, lion’s mane, white coral, velvet piopinno, white beech, grey oyster, king stropharia, king oyster and cordyceps.