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Irish blue cheeses

When I leave Ireland, what I’m going to miss most is people calling me dearie. Sure the Irish have a reputation as brawlers and so forth (back in San Francisco, I once hired a group of Irish contractors who would routinely show up on Monday morning with at least a couple of black eyes), but wherever I go in Ireland, like a grocery store or the local pub, people are like—”What kind of beer are ya havin’, dearie?”

Irish baked goods Irish baked goods

That generosity of spirit extended to the Midleton Farmers Market in Cork.

It was funny when Irish chef Paul Flynn of The Tannery restaurant and cookery school, said to me, “The market movement in Ireland hasn’t quite caught up to where America, is. But we’re getting there.”

giant turnips

Which is a pretty curious thing, considering America isn’t thought of—at least outside of the United States, as a place where there’s good food. (Partially at fault are the stores and supermarket shelves that cater to expats, which are usually heavily stocked with marshmallow Fluff, macaroni & cheese mix, bottled salad dressings, and sugar-Frosted Flakes.)

homegrown grapes tomatoes radishes arugula

Well, I’m suppose I’m guilty, having cheated with a packet of onion soup mix one time. (But at least I used fancy fromage blanc with it.) And let’s face it; it’s just not Thanksgiving without Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix. But I had to tell them at a store in Paris selling strawberry-flavored marshmallow Fluff recently that that was one line I couldn’t cross.

market vendors

But I wasn’t prepared for how wonderful the small Midleton Farmers Market was. The market was founded in 1999 with no resources, just an idea. And now, ten years later, there’s a waiting list for stalls at this vibrant, friendly Saturday morning market.

organic cherry tomatoes

Located in a parking lot, surrounded by supermarkets and a sanisette, a French pay toilet (that was a lot spiffier than the ones in France), this market features fruits and vegetables sold directly from growers, and things like locally-caught fish and Irish farmhouse cheeses including Ardrahan cheese from Mary Burns.

locally caught fish

I saw a few mangos and kiwi fruit in the mix, but just a couple of boxes and I’m not sure how they got in there or what the philosophy of the market was. But mostly there were plenty of potatoes, root vegetables, the last of the season’s strawberries, blueberries, and peaches, cheeses, and baked goods. And judging by the ruddy hands and weathered foreheads, it would be likely that everyone here was growing all the goods that they were selling.

mandarins ardrahan farmhouse cheese

At the market, I was with a group of other food folks, and our mission was to put together a picnic to enjoy later that day by the water. I partnered up with the adorable Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan from The Kitchn, and we charmed our way through the market. Although when you’re as cute as Sara Kate, and your last name is “Gillingham”, it doesn’t take much to charm an Irishman.

sara buying pâté

Fortunately we both share the same strategy (which I’ve been try to train Romain to do for, like, seven years). It’s to scan everything at the market quickly, see everything, then go back and take the time to buy what looks the best. (He just starts buying as soon as he sees something and on more than one occasion I’ve had to stop him from buying something a €12 cantaloupe or a €18 jar of honey.)

chicken liver pâté chicken liver pâté

But we both broke our own rules (merci Romain!) when we became fixated on a genial fellow selling handmade chicken liver pâté. He spent about five minutes talking to us about his pâté, even going to far as to extending free samples.

chicken liver pâté and onion jam pâté vendor

Of course, once you had bite with the shallot jam, that he said took six hours to make (those must be some pretty tiny shallots), you just had to buy some. And not only did it work on us, but it worked on everyone else in our group; when we reassembled and had our show-and-tell, everyone else had bought the pâté as well. So take note folks at the markets in Paris; if you’d like to stimulate the sales, hand out tastes.

sara kate gillingham-ryan scones

After we spent ten minutes talking to him as if we were long-lost friends, we moved on to the rest of the market. I was drawn to the cheeses and even though I live in the land of le fromage, I spent €34 on a selection of Irish cheeses because I once I started ordering (and again, the samples…), I couldn’t stop.

After all that tasting and deciding, then the only decision left was overhead bin or checked. Judging from the odor emanating from the sack of wax-wrapped cheeses, I was leaning toward checked, since I once brought back what seemed like a few fairly innocuous cheese via the overhead bin, which when opened upon our arrival hours later, smelled like someone had stuffed a teamload of dirty athletic supporters in there.

parsnips and carrots real spuds

Kathleen wrote on Twitter (where her icon photo is an Irish flag) saying that I should be sure to try the parsnips and carrots in Ireland, because they are “…the best in the world.” And she wanted pictures. Since I usually only hear when I’m doing something wrong (like stuffing overhead bins with aromatic athletic gear), I hope I got it right this time. But with root vegetables so earthy, crusted with boggy dirt having been freshly dug from the ground, it was easy to comply.

long Irish bread

Unfortunately we were having a picnic and although I’ve not tried one, I am fairly confident that raw parsnips aren’t so good. And we didn’t have a vegetable peeler for the dirty carrots, so we had no choice but to leave them behind. (Since they’ve introduced screw tops on wine, with the growth of farmers markets, are vegetables peelers destined to be the new corkscrew?)

throwing pizza pizza sauce

I’m not ready to give up on the poulet crapaudine that Catherine makes at my Sunday market, which is my default Sunday lunch, but I wouldn’t mind having a pizza maker tossing his own pizzas with a wood-fired oven in tow, once in a while. There were a few kinds of pizza he offered but the last two slices of pepperoni that he had all ready looked tempting enough. And we’d spent so much time with pâté-boy, that we didn’t want to be any more remiss in our mission before we regrouped.

pizza small squash

Like the cheese, even though I live in the land of levain, the breads were beautiful, although being in Ireland, it was the scones and brown bread that really attracted me the most.

Irish potatoes

There were lots of Bakewells, and although we tried a few, I wasn’t convinced they were ready to take on the cupcake quite yet. And the Millionaires’ Shortbread that we tried probably wasn’t the best example of the genre, which was too bad, since the idea of a caramel-filled shortbread bar covered with dark chocolate seems worth getting right.

arbutus bread Irish cheese

With stomachs rumbling and market bags bursting, we jumped in the car and headed for the coast, where we reconvened an unpacked to sample everything.

bakewells seaweed tapenade

One surprising loser was the Seaweed Tapenade, which made Sara Kate’s normally sparkling Irish eyes shine even brighter when she saw it. It was made with dulce, olive oil, cornichons, and capers by a local Frenchman. The idea was good, although we agreed the flavor balance was somewhat off and a few bites and we had enough.

Irish breads

(I did try a bit of salty carrageen (red algae) that a chef offered me a bite of, which he said is nibbled on with beer in pubs. When I loved it and said that I wanted to buy some more, and asked where I can get it, he replied “Buy some? Just head out to the ocean and grab a bunch for yourself.”)

smoked Irish eel smoked fish and eel

The salted fish and eel were a bit hard to cut, especially the stiff, steely length of eel. It was easy to see why the skin is used to make wallets and belts. The mackerel was oily and wonderful and I always think it’s too bad this fish gets a bad name in the states because it’s abundant, sustainable, and stays wonderfully moist when cooked or smoked.

salmon cakes Irish bread

I put bits of the smoked fish on a slice of soda bread smeared with Irish butter and while others were eying the cans of Guinness, I’m still a Frenchman, I guess, because the wine seemed to find its way into my glass instead of the stout.

picnic in Cork

Related Posts and Links

Midleton Farmers Market

Real Irish Coffee

How to Make Bakewell Tarts (Becks & Posh)

Plum and Rhubarb Crisp

Millionaires’ Shortbread (The English Kitchen)

Making Irish Butter


    • nandini.p

    what a lovely post…. interesting read and great pictures!.

    • An American in London

    I visited Cork and the surrounding area about five years ago and didn’t realize there was such an amazing farmer’s market in town. My loss, and clearly I ought to pay a return visit! (And totally agree that most market stall owners – at least in London – should be more generous with the free samples in order to stimulate sales).

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      American in London & Hannah: I do know some of the farmers at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza market were weary of tourists and others coming by, taking a taste, and not buying anything. Most of them are the real farmers and really just want to sell their stuff, not feed the public for free, especially after waking up at 3am to harvest everything. And I can’t say I blame them. However in most of the markets in Paris, they’re just merchants, not the farmers, so why not?

      Interestingly, if you go to a wine fair or sale in France, they practically insist you taste the wine before you buy any (um..okay!) but perhaps that’s because people tend to buy a case at those events, or they hope to sell you a case! : )

    • Hannah

    I really think I’ve run out of words. A part of me wants to have a big chat about how yes, absolutely, samples promote sales, but another part is mumbling “cheeeeeeese”, another is clawing at the chocolate caramel slice at the top of this post, and the rest of me is aching for seaweed tapenade.

    It’s a hard life.

    • Judy

    How I enjoy living vicariously through you! Thank you for all your foodie adventures. I can almost taste that cheese and that pate!

    • Navin

    Great pics…wish i could travel like you one day …..

    • The Celiac Husband

    Cheese on a train. Overnight to Austria. They did not like me.

    • the French

    You lucky, lucky man. Have to say I am also a bit bummed to hear the seaweed tapenade was a bust. My first reaction was, ‘oooohhhh.’

    • Victoria

    My maternal grandfather was Irish.

    Lucky me. I just applied for Irish Citizenship. Can’t wait to visit my ancestor’s home.

    • Cooking in Mexico

    (Sigh) David, you must have been very, very good in your last life, because you hit the jackpot with this one. Food, travel, friends. What more does it take to make a wonderful life.

    The loaf of bread with the sliced tomatoes across the top is beautiful.


    • The Rowdy Chowgirl

    The problem with reading this kind of post first thing in the morning, is that I’m already considering how best to leave work, get on a flight to Ireland, and have a picnic of my own!

    • Dime Store Foodie

    That cheese looks amazing! Is it a Stilton? Would be yummy with some fig jam. It’s too bad that it is perceived outside the US that we don’t have good food here, because I think there is food greatness going on here too. Maybe you should do some more food traveling here in the states? Thanks again for all the great images, Ireland looks amazing!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    DMF: It is too bad, although now a lot of Europeans are traveling to the US and seeing what is going on there. I think it’s because previously (and still today), they don’t have places like Las Vegas in Europe and because it’s so distinctly American, many go to the states and vacation there.

    Plus they’re traditionally had access to great cheeses and charcuterie and jams in Europe, and for a number of years, the quality dipped greatly in America that folks are stuck with that impression still. So many of the bean-to-bar chocolates, and stuff like that, aren’t exported or/and are unknown. But I’m working on changing that : )

    • Dime Store Foodie

    It’s great to have ex-pats like yourself living in Europe showing people that we DO have good food here in the US. I think there is a great food movement going on here that is really revitalizing the way we look at food, and what we consider to be “good food.” I know here in the Northwest we have do have an appreciation for what food is grown here, how it influences our palate, and how supporting our local farmers and food artisans can really change a culture, and for the better. Thanks again for all the great posts and all the great images!

    • Elise

    That lead photo of the cheeses is killing me. What a fabulous trip!

    • Vicki B

    Right about now I’m cursing my forefathers for ever leaving Ireland. You must have great willpower to leave this place.

    • Daily Spud

    It’s always good, once in a while (or possibly even more often than that) to see a piece of one’s own country through a foreigner’s eyes. Not that I need any convincing on the merits of Irish cheese, brown soda bread (or, for obvious reasons, Irish root vegetables), but still… Will make a point of visiting the Midleton market next time I’m in that part of the country.

    • 5am Foodie

    I went to an event in London sponsored by the Irish Food Board and sampled some of the cheeses, and must say I was blown away. The cashel blue was sharp and creamy and Coolea is now in danger of becoming my favourite cheese. Great post, and I’m sure the Irish Food Board will thank you…

    • MyCommunalTable

    Now, this gets my Irish and Welsh roots surging. Love the parsnips and carrot shot. I wonder about their rutabega? Always love a rutabega, though.

    • UrMomCooks

    This looks like a wonderful time!!! This summer when I visited my daughter in Dublin she had to drag me out of the farmers market twice a week telling me over and over “all this stuff will NOT fit in my refrigerator and you CANNOT possibly eat it all tonight!!!” Still it hardly ever worked, and I think some of those vendors were laughing to themselves when they saw me coming… No matter, those nights we feasted! (I also like being called “dearie”, and of course, “mum”!)

    • MyKidsEatSquid

    My mouth is watering. I’ll take a slice of wood-fire cooked pizza and parsnips to roast at home. What a great adventure. My mother’s family is from Ireland, yet we never had soda bread or scones at home. Pepperidge Farms stuffing, yes.

    • Paris Paul

    The bread with tomatoes baked into it looks great! Thanks for the post, dearie. ;-)

    • Lana @ Never Enough Thyme

    I am so enjoying your posts from Ireland! My husband and I spent 10 days there for our 20th wedding anniversary and I long to return every day. I’d go back right now and never leave if I could. And I know what you mean about being called “dearie.” The Irish are some of the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I especially enjoyed being addressed as “madame” everywhere we went!

    • Sheila

    Just want to let you know that I love reading your posts. Don’t stop! Can’t imagine a better way of spending one’s vacation – discovering new tastes and meeting interesting people who get excited over homemade and homegrown food. The simple joys in life!

    • Kristina @ Yolk and Cobblestones

    I love farmer’s markets, no matter what country I am in. It is truly the best way to get to know a local culture and meet some very wonderful people. The food is always fresh and usually delicious (or at least interesting, as is the case with your seaweed tapenade!) I especially love the markets in more rural communities — it seems like market day is the day everyone comes out to catch up on the latest gossip and spend a few hours with neighbors and friends. My favorite was in New Zealand — I was exposed to some very unique snacks that I wish I could recreate here in California! But that’s why we travel, right? For unique experiences we can’t get at home. At least the farmer’s market is universal!

    • Sherri

    Your writing so vividly took me back. I believe you mentioned Ballymaloe in your previous posts and the amazing Darina Allen and family who changed the face of Irish food. We stayed at Ballymaloe three summers ago with our kids. There and throughout Ireland we had the same welcome as you. Sure we loved breakfast sausage feasts and noon pub crawls with the kids, but we’ll go back for the kindness. Until then we’ll go there through your experience. thx

    • andrea

    Not suprised by the seaweed tapenade. We had dulce in Nova Scotia… ugh. There isn’t enough olive oil and seasonings to make it taste any better.

    • Penelope

    I’m intrigued by the last photo, why has that poor chap been banished from the table? He didn’t sneak off to eat a kiwifruit or a mango did he?

    • Susan

    When I read this, I can’t help but want to hug Alice Waters for all she’s done in the U.S. to educate and inspire us (and budding chefs/disciples) to make better choices about what we eat, how, when and where it’s grown and how simple it is to prepare it. She took a lot of flack and made CA a food mecca that became the butt of many jokes..But here we are, all over the U.S., choosing and appreciating better quality food..and locally, too. It’s helps that food bloggers like yourself have inspired your audience as well. Although, we see what’s available elsewhere, and want that too!

    • naomi

    I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, and these posts only add to the longing. I’m too many generations back to apply for citizenship too (despite my cousins saying as long as I keep my mouth shut, everyone would think I’m Irish). The markets here in the States are great, and many wonderful cheeses too. My beau and I found several quite wonderful cheese makers and quite a few markets on our 6000 mile rounding the country waiting to come back home to NOLA, living out of our car and camping part of the time. If you every want a great itinerary (though without the anxiety) for wonderful food, places, and people in the U.S., call us up.

    • Corey

    Damn. You live better than I dream.

    • Kathleen

    Boy, did you ever get it right!!! Thank you for bringing back special memories I have of the Galway City market, when I saw REAL carrots, parsnips, cabbage and pumpkins for the first time in my life…and I was 45 years old!
    I live in CT, have my dual citizenship, plan to return to my homeland when I retire and open a bakery…you’ll have to come visit!
    Thank you again. You’re a wonderful writer and exceptional photographer, and I so enjoy reading about your life in Paris. Reading about and seeing your escapades in the land I love – icing on the cake.

    • homegrown countrygirl

    You had me at that first photo! I am so enjoying your Ireland tales… and as always, your writing enchants me.

    • Linda H

    And, how far back in generations can you go and still be eligible for Irish citizenship?

    • Beth Fontenot

    I’ve always wanted to visit there, but your Irish adventures and pictures have really pushed it back to the top of my travel list. Besides, with a maiden name like Corkern, what choice do I have? I’ll save the difficult decisions for when I visit that cheesemonger in the market!!! Your Shallot & Beer Marmalade recipe is calling my name….

    • Sini

    So exciting!

    • Rose

    Ugh, I was just commenting on all the Fluff in the ‘American’ section of the German grocery stores as well. What the heck! Who is buying all that Fluff and why does it need to take up 50% of the space! This may be one of those eternal expat quandaries.

    Love your market pictures.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Rose: It is curious that Fluff is widely sold in European countries in the “American” aisle of the supermarket. When I was explaining to some French people that we eat it spread with peanut butter in sandwiches, they looked a little quesy. I like marshmallows and I like Fluff (although I haven’t had it since I was nine years old…) so am wondering—who is buying all that Fluff?

    (Or maybe because it keeps so long, it’s easy to keep in stock..)

    Kathleen: It’s so interesting right now because people think that good food is only available in 1) Specialty stores, and 2) Expensive supermarkets. With CSA boxes and farmer’s markets, if people shop in their community, where things don’t get shipped long distances, things are affordable and delicious. This market was really lovely, but there are lovely markets in American, France, Scotland, etc…etc…It’s such an exciting time that people are participating in markets like this.

    Penelope: He was recovering from a rugby match he went to the previous night!

    Kristina: I was too bad the seaweed tapenade wasn’t as great as it sounded. But I think it could be made better, using perhaps another kind of seaweed. Or perhaps if it was spread on fish or something, rather than pieces of bread..that might be the way to serve it.

    • Nuts about food

    Love visiting markets when travelling…I feel like I was with you guys in Ireland. Thanks for the ride. Didn’t know mackerel has a bad name in the States. Why is that?

    • Podchef

    Of all the Farmers’ Markets in all the world…. It IS a great market, because it is passionate & open most of the year around…and because I used to work & shop in it. It has always been one of my favorites!

    • Marti

    “When I leave Ireland, what I’m going to miss most is people calling me dearie.”

    What a great INVITING opening line, David. Could anyone resist reading the entire post?

    • Teresa

    Those things in the top photo, with a layer of chocolate on top….what are they called in Ireland? They look very like something called Nanaimo bars in Canada.


    • Teresa

    The SECOND photo, I mean. (not the cheese)

    • katie

    Hi David, are you still in Cork ?? Please tell me that someone took you to the English Market in Cork City, and that you ate at Cafe Paradiso !!

    • bunkycooks

    My hubby is all about going to Ireland for our next overseas trip. This photos have convinced me to go! I haven’t been called “dearie” in a long time!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    katie: I’m back home but we did hit the English Market. It was interesting, but after going to this market, it was hard to shop anywhere else!

    Teresa: They’re called Millionaires’ Shortbread. These weren’t terrific, and I’m sure there are better examples out there. I linked to a recipe at the end of the post that looked promising, but haven’t made them for myself.

    Nuts About Food: The mackerel in America is quite oily and is much stronger smelling. I don’t know much about the different between what we get in Europe and other types of mackerel. But I know it’s inexpensive, sustainable, and really good for you because it’s high in those fish oils. Oh, and it tastes good, too : )

    • Steve in the channel

    Millionaire’s shortbread is fantastic and you just must make some!

    with your love of caramel and chocolate you can’t go wrong unless for some reason you have an aversion to shortbread (I doubt it).

    it’s so often my biggest temptation when buying a sandwich at lunch times and I see the sandwich shop has them piled up behind the counter.

    • melissa

    You don’t need a vegetable peeler for those carrots…just find some water and give them a good scrub to get the dirt off. :)

    • Didier

    8 euros a KILO for tomatoes or grapes? In mid September???
    Wow! I had no idea life was so expensive in these remote islands. In my great market in a tiny Paris suburb, I currently get tomatoes or grapes for half that price, and they look a lot more appetizing and less “industrial” varieties (homegrown does not tell much, a nasty tasteless modern cultivar is tasteless, homegrown or not!). I shoud not expat to Ireland!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    melissa: I don’t know—that’s a lot of dirt! : )

    Didier: I was at a market in New York recently and flavorful tomatoes were $4.50/lb, about the same price. It’s pretty difficult to find good tomatoes in Paris, so you’re fortunate to live somewhere where locally grown tomatoes are so available & affordable. I wouldn’t move either.

    • bethh

    I had NO idea that red tide is edible! I grew up in a coastal town in New England and spent years swimming around/avoiding it. huh.

    I hope you tackle Millionaire’s Shortbread soon, that’s a winning combination for sure. Also, that bread with the tomatoes looks like it’s been baked that way – maybe filled, with spinach, then topped with tomatoes and the holes cut out or something? I’m super curious and would like you to master that for our edification as well, please. :-)

    • peevish

    I want to go to there.

    • An American in London

    I couldn’t find a way to comment on your response to my comment, David (so apologies for this comment falling way out of order), but I think that whether the potential customers are tourists or not, and whether the sellers are the actual farmers or middle-men/merchants, it doesn’t really make a difference. You either believe that giving out free samples will gain you more in sales in the end, or you don’t. It’d be interesting to hear from a stall owner who’s tried both techniques (free samples vs none) for a material period of time.

    Speaking only for myself as a customer, I’m *much* more likely to buy something if I can try it out first. And if I were a vendor whose free samples aren’t stimulating much in sales, I’d ask myself whether it’s my product, rather than people’s freeloading cheapness, that is to blame.


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