The Waterford Harvest Festival goes on for nine days at the beginning of each September and features many instructional sessions on subjects ranging from butter making and beekeeping to square-foot gardening and cooking demonstrations.
I went for the last three days just to eat and learn more about the Grow It Yourself movement on Ireland. During the time, I attended an Irish beer and cheese tasting, a ten-course feast, and a day-long street market.
While in Waterford, I did eat very well indeed. The main thing I learned, however, is that the Irish seem to underestimate how good their food really is.
I believe that the real secret to Irish food lies mainly in the exceptional quality of available ingredients. That, and the ever-growing skill of local food artisans in showcasing that bounty. Nonetheless, there seems to be a sort of national low food-esteem that events like these have been organized to combat.
At the beer tasting, for example, the presenters, Kevin Sheridan (right), a local cheesemonger, and Cormac O’Dwyer (left), founder of Dungarvan, a local brewery, were cast in the role of apparent revolutionaries addressing a surprisingly skeptical crowd.
The basic mindset they seemed to be working to change was that foreign food and foreign ways were by definition “more proper.” They suggested this radical notion against a backdrop of some of the best cheeses, locally-made whole grain crackers, and beer I have ever encountered.
My special favorites were the starter cheese–a delicate, almost fluffy-textured Triskell goat cheese–and the last beer we sampled–a very unusual and interesting new stout called, “Black Rock,” with far less chocolate and a bit more tobacco than most others I’ve tried. There was also a very versatile and pleasant, if somewhat typical, blond ale.
An audible grumble later echoed through the room, however, when brewer and cheese-guy suggested such fabulous beer could be paired with many foods even better than wine. Further, the presenters felt compelled to argue a person seen drinking beer with food should not be deemed lacking in refinement. From the reaction of the group, it appeared this was a radical proposition.
The next day, at the feast, I asked my compatriots what they thought of paring beer with food. (We were all drinking it; in my case a different blonde ale from a brewer called “Metal Man.”) Almost to a man, they would favor wine for the sake appearances and even seemed a bit uncomfortable eating the cheese course while drinking beer in such a group setting.
The feast was magnificent, though laced with foreign influence–particularly, that of the French. The starter, for example, was charcuterie. And it was fabulous with Irish pork chorizo, prosciutto, and other sausages along with a pate that reminded me of south Louisiana hog head cheese. And to finish was the aforementioned cheese course.
But by then, I was too full to continue as in between, there had been a mixed grill featuring trout, lamb, beef burgers, bacon pork chops, and sausage. Mmmmmm. And after that, fresh berries with lovely cream. I also vaguely recall gorgeous vegetables, but as I mentioned earlier, there was this ale….
After such a display of quality and abundance, I am firmly convinced the Irish can and will take their proper place among the great cuisines and food exporters of Europe–especially with events like as this. Rather like Louisiana’s efforts to market their food in the 1980s, first, you must convince the locals. Once that is accomplished, and the producers are ready, the right marketing will easily demonstrate to the world what I discovered last weekend–that Ireland is a great food destination!
(Oh, and a special shout-out to Boho Kitchens, which is a couple of young Floridians transplanted to Waterford who make the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten! Much love.)
The Sunday Market along the South Quay: