Cork. Ireland’s second city… unless you ask someone from Cork. It’s a beautifully aged port city, but the gems amongst its old streets and surrounding countryside are what drew me in. County Cork, West Cork in particular is known as the foodie capital of Ireland and with good reason. The food culture is strong with this one as many artisan producers have mastered their craft. From cheeses where you know the grazing pastures of the animals to smoked fish and meats to famous black pudding and more. This fertile area has also brought world class chefs back home from around the world in realization of the quality produce and product that was under their nose the whole time. If you enjoy local food even half as much as I do, take a road trip and experience a Taste of West Cork.
I experienced the majority of my taste of West Cork on a TBEX post trip. Curtesy of Failte Ireland and some of the lovely ladies involved in the Taste of West Cork Food Festival, it was a wonderful food filled day.
Our first stop of the day was in the small town of Skibbereen with its dark history of potato famine. Starting on a brighter note though, local artisan producers were brought together for a morning ‘market’. Here they gave us a taste of their expertly crafted products and talked to us about what drew them to West Cork in particular. It was a buffet for me and after the closing party of TBEX, I needed this. Gubeen cheese, West Cork Pies, Rosscarbery black pudding, Pilgrim’s restaurant using foraged ingredients and more. I sadly couldn’t even get to them all.
Reluctantly pulled away, as the day must go on. We took a quick tour of the local grocery, Fields, which was unlike most. Nearly everything in this store was locally produced, caught or grown. Any town would be lucky to have a local shop such as this. Actually it should be a standard.
Our last stop in Skibbereen was at the Heritage Center receiving a tour and in depth history of the tragic events of the potato famine from 1845 to 1849. Skibbereen was the town most affected by this blight. In this area, there are mass graves of thousands who died during this time from starvation. It was a bit of history I knew little about, other than it occurred. While sad, it was interesting to learn about the time period and events that took place.
Back onto the bus through the Irish countryside, the next town was Clonakilty. After a delightful lunch at the Emmet Hotel, a quirky boutique hotel with a delicious menu, we went for a wander around the village. I saw the factory on the way in of Clonakilty Black Pudding, as it is now produced in large quantities. Its fame is nationwide. When I spotted the quaint butcher shop though, I had to take a peek inside. According to most Irish folk I was standing inside the shop that produced that best black pudding on the emerald island. As I was becoming a strong devotee to this blood laced sausage, this was like a pilgrimage stop. Too bad there was no sample tray, but I’ve had my fair share and just wanted to pay my respects to their craft.
From here we moved on to the quaint town of Timoleague. Tiny and easy to miss if you blinked, this is a town that brought a world class chef to rediscover his roots. Recently receiving a Michelin star, Dillon’s Restaurant kept true to the natural flavours of Ireland. Growing some of his own produce behind the restaurant, the flavours are simple and clean, showcasing what the countryside of West Cork tastes like. Treated to an amuse bouche, it was a mere taste of what masterful flavours would come out of that kitchen. I know when I inevitably return to this area, it will be a restaurant that I’ll be seeking reservations for.
The final stop of our day trip of West Cork was at Ummera Smokehouse, just outside of Timoleague. Known nationwide, they produce some of the country’s finest organically raised smoked salmon. For over fifty years they have mastered this and have become in time, one of the only artisan smokehouses to produce not only smoked fish, but smoked poultry and bacon in compliance with EU standards.
Unfortunately this is where the day trip ended. As I could have spent weeks in this area, I now look forward to further discover the food culture of this area on a road trip of my own one day. What was supposed to be a last stop was cancelled due to the time crunch, so I had to get here somehow. Luckily, a friend that hails from Cork brought me here on a day trip of our own.
Kinsale itself was voted Irelands top Foodie Destination of 2017. Full of restaurants and colourfully painted houses centered on the harbour, it is a picturesque town full of seafood. After a stroll around the streets and a pint at The Bulman, claiming title for the first pub serving a pint on the Wild Atlantic Way, we made our way to Fishy Fishy. The name alone draws interest, but its reputation is truly what brought me here. Recommended by just about every source I read, along with locals I talked to, it was undeniably a place I had to eat at.
Reading the menu, I was already sold. Beside each of the fish dishes was the name of the fisherman who caught the fish. It really can’t get much more locally sourced than that. Black sole, hake, plaice, it wasn’t easy to decide. I had to go with one I hadn’t tried yet here in Ireland and that was Black Sole.
First, let’s not forget about those Crispy Anchovies with Garlic Truffle Aioli. Crunchy, salty almost bitesize little fish, it was a perfect start to a meal at Fishy Fishy. Then came the main , which perfectly highlighted the star of the plate. The black sole obviously. I was full and didn’t need dessert, but am I ever glad I went for it anyways. One of the chef’s specialties, her lemon tart came highly recommended. Well, I couldn’t say no. Unbelievable. Tart and sweet with fresh raspberry sorbet and mascarpone cheese. Heavenly bliss in a few small bites.
Onto to Cork itself. It’s a great city to spend some time in, but in terms of food, it’s loaded with good eats. First and foremost, a visit to the English Market is a must. A traditional market that has been here for centuries, I could spend hours here window shopping. Meat, fish, produce, local cheese, breads and pastries, this place just activates the senses. Climb on up to the second floor to the Farmgate Café and watch the action from above while enjoying breakfast. The nicest aspect of this café is that everything used is procured from the market itself. Get here early though, as it fills up quick.
If you are looking for a local chippy, the Fish Wife is your spot. Cheap, delicious and open late, it speaks for itself. The best way to go about it is to place your order and go across the street to the Shelbourne Bar. Here, grab a pint (make sure it’s a Murphy’s or Beamish, not Guinness in Cork), and take a seat on the patio. When the greasy masterpiece is ready, they walk across and deliver it. What a perfect system.
For a bit of a finer meal there is a small cluster of three restaurants. Either option would be a good choice. Greenes Restaurant is the classiest where a reservation is required potentially days in advance. Secondly, Isaacs is a small step down, but a bit more leisurely with a good chance of grabbing a table walking in. And lastly is Cask. A casual lounge bar with good grub and plenty of drinks. I personally liked relaxing on the couches here with an Irish coffee in the daylight hours.
For a craft brew head over to the Franciscan Well Brewery. I mean you’re in Ireland, so obviously you’ll be looking for a pint or two. This establishment around for 20 years now was built on an old Franciscan monastery and is locally celebrated for a fine beer and quality wood fire oven pizzas.
To finish off a food based visit to Cork, it won’t put food in your belly, but a stop into the Butter Museum is a unique and surprisingly interesting way to spend a couple hours. A number one industry in Cork at the start of the 20th century, it covers the myths associated with butter production in archaic times to the butter heists of the medieval period to the modern fame of Irish butter, Kerry Gold.
West Cork is a foodie’s paradise. I was thrilled with the amount I was able to discover in a short time, but knowing I merely scratched the surface of such an incredible area full of goodies, I knew I’d be back to do it justice. Until then, I shall keep my stomach primed. Ready and waiting for the eats that await it here in the south of this magnificent country.
To learn more about ‘A Taste of West Cork Food Festival’ click … – http://www.atasteofwestcork.com/ Always held in September, it is a weeklong festival full of food markets, demonstrations, competitions, dinners and banquets by guest chefs, food tasting and the list goes on.
Guide to West Cork Artisan producers can be purchased … http://westcorkexperiences.com/product/west-cork-artisan-food-guide/ , to organize your itinerary to directly visit farms and get a behind the scenes look at these phenomenal products. (I do not receive a commission, just truly believe this as a great experience)
To work hands on with some of the amazing product and produce from this area, check out Ballymaloe Cooking School. World renowned, they have many different course lengths, but it is quite expensive. If you have the pocket change (which I didn’t), I’m sure this would be a great addition to any ones time in County Cork. To check it out further click … http://www.cookingisfun.ie/
Have you had your own Taste of West Cork? What else did you do or particularly enjoy? Let me know below!