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Midleton Farmers market greens

How excited was I to get an invitation to be a speaker at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest festival at the Ballymaloe Cookery School? It popped into my mailbox a few months ago and although I had been to Ballymaloe a few years back, I remembered the exceptional food of Cork, Ireland, and the lovely people – which meant there was no way in heck I was going to refuse.

Irish bread

Yesterday, which was the first full day of the event, I took 350+ pictures; as I said to someone here, “You can’t take a bad picture in Cork.” The intense green fields and trees, the low-lying landscape, and the pristine fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats, remind me in many ways of Northern California, with a chill passing through the air every once in a while alternating with moments of sunlight and brightness before the sun retreats again.

Ballymaloe lunch salads

But it’s mainly the food that I come back for – fresh goat cheeses, a strong commitment to sustainable meats and fish, liberal use of fresh vegetables, and a pride of ingredients that shines through every plate of every meal that’s set down before us.

Ballymaloe house bread and butter-4

Even breakfast at Ballymaloe House, their restaurant, is made with free-range eggs laid by chickens just around the corner, bacon from rare-breed pigs that tastes better than anything you can imagine, and sausage that you don’t feel guilty biting in to, because you know that everything in there isn’t a mysterious blend of dubious meat scraps from who-knows-where. But skillfully blended and seasoned, making it the perfect accompaniment, and a hearty start to the day, along with the eggs and freshly baked whole grain bread that I’ve become addicted to.

Irish breakfast

While every moment of the weekend is jam-packed with talks, tastings, and socializing with old friends and new, Friday night we’d decided to get up early and hit the nearby farmers’ market in Midleton on Saturday morning, which I’ve visited once before. With a jam-packed schedule, we didn’t have much time to spare before the festivities started and we figured arriving at 8am would give us enough time to get a good look at everything.

However our plans were thwarted when we were told that the market doesn’t really get going until 10am, presumably because people are having a “good time” the night before, and that it wasn’t really worth getting there until that time. After a lively night last evening, which combined Irish whiskey and an uncountable amount of wine, it was easy to see why waking up early isn’t exactly a priority around here.

Cork Ireland

Being a trooper, however, I was up at 5:45am on Saturday morning, rarin’ and ready to go. And so were the bakers at Ballymaloe House, who arrived a little bit later than that to get moving on the morning breads.

Midleton Farmers market Cork Ireland Ballymaloe_

I plodded downstairs to the kitchen, through the empty guesthouse and dining room, as quietly as possible, to make my way into the kitchen where Chef Anne Healey and her cheerful staff (even at that crazy-early hour) were preparing breakfast for not-too-soon to arrive guests. Most people don’t tumble downstairs until 8am or so. But being Ireland, 9am is more like it.

Ballymaloe house bread and butter-2

Anne had already made the dough/batter for brown bread, whose recipe I’ll share in the next few weeks after I tool around with it in my own kitchen, and was pulling craggy rounds of soda bread (above) out of the oven. I’ve had a lot of soda bread in my life, but there’s something about the ones that come out of the Ballymaloe ovens that taste extra-special. Equally special are the staff and everyone could not be nicer in their kitchens. Most cooks are slightly grumpy, especially at 6:30am (or maybe it’s just me?), but all were chipper and cheerful while they went on their way slicing streaky bacon and cooking up sausages in preparation for the breakfast service.

My very first morning, Anne Mack, the famously forthright waitress in the dining room (or, to put it another way, if I was in a rumble, I would definitely want her on my side), refused to let me get out of my seat until I had tried every single bread they’d made. And while the breads are spectacular, the house made jams are the stuff dreams are made of, as is the cookery school butter, as it’s called, which is made in such small quantities (the milk comes from one Jersey cow), that they only dole it out for certain meals. I’ve had lot of butter in my life, but would say it’s the best butter I’ve ever had. Even the picture that I took with my smartphone at the crack of dawn gives a reasonable glimpse of the dramatic color that it has. Now that’s butter!

Ballymaloe house bread and butter

I’ll share more later, when I sort through what is certain to be 500+ photos when the event is over, but Rebecca of Dirty Girl Kitchen and I decided to make a last-minute run to the Midleton Farmers’ market with the help of a local, who drove us over there for a quick look-see.

The market was conceived by Darina Allen, who runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School, who believed that every town in Ireland should have a farmers’ market where people could shop and buy their food from neighboring farmers. I’d met her a few years back and she’d told me that she was inspired to start the school and cooking programs after going to an Italian cooking demonstration in Italy, where they were talking about the wonderful ingredients they had – and she thought to herself, “We have the same ingredients in Ireland. Only better!”

A good argument in her favor, showing the excellent quality of foodstuffs available in Ireland, is the Midletown Farmers’ Market, a true market with actual producers, fishermen, bakers, and cheese makers, with everything from local breads and vegetables just yanked from the garden, to craft beers, meats and smoked fish that Rebecca and I were so happy to check out.

Midleton Farmers market carrots

Jane Murphy makes Ardsallagh goat cheeses, some of which are sold in their soft, fresh state, covered with honey-mustard, herbs, or red pepper flakes. We talked for a minute or so, and when I told her that I lived in France, she told me she works with cheese producers across Europe and is saddened by how many want to heat up the milk to temperatures that are too high. When I learned how she used goat milk to cure some of her family’s skin ailments, I understood why she was so passionate about preserving the special qualities of the goat milk, which could be killed if heated too high.

Midleton Farmers market goat cheese

I wasn’t really planning to bring cheese back la France, but when she gave me a taste of the slightly dried smoked goat cheese that came in little orange-rinded rounds, I decided to risk bringing one back home, in spite of being concerned that the smokey aroma might raise some issues at the airport.

Midleton Farmers market Irish goat cheese

But she told not to worry; at the local airport, they were well-familiar with their cheese.

Midleton Farmers market Cork Ireland Ballymaloe_-10

Rebecca was recovering from a scratchy throat from being around a few smokers last night (being from Paris, I’m used to it), so she sipped a healthy carrot and ginger juice, with a bunch of greens added to it, while I was jealous of the people sipping just-made coffee and espresso from the stand which had the longest line at the market, which I had to pass on.

Pulled pork sandwiches

To make up for it, since it was before lunch and no line had formed, we had a pulled pork sandwich made from rare-breed pigs raised at Woodside Farm, with Ballymaloe relish, that made me forget the coffee. (Well, at least temporarily.) They also sold rashers of the famed Irish streaky bacon, and while I wanted to bring home the bacon – so to speak – I wasn’t sure if customs would feel the same way that I do.

smoked fish

Frank Hederman was there with his famous smoked salmon, and other smoked and preserved fish. It’s true Irish salmon, which is farmed sustainably in waters they say are “wild and untamed,” and practice “organic husbandry.” So it’s not the ubiquitous smoked salmon that you see from massive salmon farms, whose color gives you pause, but raised in the rugged waters of Ireland.

So of course, I wanted to bring some of that home too, but was concerned about fish in my suitcase. So sadly had to leave it behind. I’m not complaining, though, because that extra room in my luggage didn’t go to waste: I filled some of it with local Irish pottery.

seaweed bread

We continued to stroll around, coffee-less, admiring the beautiful breads, such as the seaweed boules from Arbutus bakery. And the first local strawberries…

Midleton Farmers market strawberries

Smoked garlic.

Smoked garlic

And Lobsters from a gent named Michael, who was happy to heft one for the adorable Rebecca. But when I (the not-so-adorable one) asked Michael if I could get a picture of the lobster, too he said it would cost me €20. I said that I usually charge €25 to take a picture of someone’s lobster, but I’d give him a €5 discount, and we’d call it even.

Midleton Farmers market lobster

He agreed and said he was even include hefting it out from under the seaweed and laying it on top. One stubborn Irishman had certainly met his match! (All these years living in France taught me something…)

Midleton Farmers market Cork Ireland Ballymaloe_-5

Alas, we had to race back to Ballymaloe to the Litfest, on this very ugly road…

Cork Road in Ireland

…where I was excited to eat the foods of Sarat Packer and Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co. in London. I’d met them in the kitchen earlier that morning which they were doing their prep, and I knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity to eat their food at a lunch they were preparing for some festival participants.

I’d been in London last year on book tour and only had 22.75 hours in the city (as much as I like my publisher, they don’t foot the bill for me to go around eating, which is understandable considering how much I seem to be capable of ), so I sadly missed an opportunity to eat there. Plus if I ate everywhere that people told me that I should eat, or that I wanted to eat at, I’d be eating 8-12 meals a day, and a year would have to have 497 days, to get all them in. And I’d need to travel with a well-built personal trainer, and we’d have to share the same room to keep the budget in line. (Hmm, come to think of it..)

Honey and Co

Fortunately, I had time to squeeze in a lunch of their food, which was worth rushing back for and certainly fell into the “healthy” category. (Drats, no private trainer for me that day. Or night.) I had to leave in the middle of the meal to go do a talk for 30 minutes…then head back later to hopefully finish. So in true Middle Eastern style, I didn’t wait for others at my table to dig it. I just started grabbing plates and loading up mine, while everybody else at the table was still working on pre-meal niceties and smalltalk. Both of which I think may be overrated, especially when seated around such lovely food as this.

eggplant dip from Honey and Co.

I dug into the generous selection of meze like a wild man, in spite of the lack of coffee, which included labneh, Moroccan spiced carrots, eggplant puree, grain salad with a lively scattering of pomegranate seeds, and homemade egg bread and pita. Soon after everyone else started, a plate of extra-crunchy falafel with tahini sauce came by, which I grabbed out of someone’s hand who was still on the small talk part of the meal, so I was sure to get one before I had to dash away.

honey and co food

By the time I spoke to a very nice group of folks in a separate area, answering questions about everything ranging from why tablespoons and teaspoons rock, to questions about French cuisine, then came back to my place at the table, the chefs were kind enough to plate up some of their meltingly soft lamb shoulder on grilled pita with yogurt sauce for me, and pour a much-needed glass of wine to go along with it. Dessert was kataifi, a sweet honey-soaked nest of shredded filo dough, topped with whipped fresh cheese. It was worth running back for, although I was now focusing on that much-needed cup of coffee, to get me through the rest of the first day of the food festival.








    • Cuisinedeprovence

    Wonderful photos, I would love to go there!

    • Sylvia

    None of this is exaggerated, but does great justice to the atmosphere of the Midleton market, even down to the queues and “forthright” characters. My cousin volunteered at the festival this year, acting as an author liaison (she was looking after Fushia Dunlop), with full access to all other workshops and events. A fantastic opportunity! Tempted to drop everything and do the same next year.

    • corrine

    Amazing experience you had, David!

    • Carol

    One of my most favourite post ever!

    • Andrea

    You’re making me nostalgic! I was in Ireland this time last year, and now I’m missing the bread, bacon, butter, greenery, people….I look forward to trying your brown bread recipe!

    • Kerry @ Kerry Cooks

    How wonderful! That bread! The butter! – it’s my dream to go there one day

    • Richard Ewen

    Excellent introduction to my Monday morning at work in my studio. I would love to go to Ireland as I have visited the other British Isles, and you have whetted my appetite with your descriptions and pictures. I can’t wait to get a hold of your new bread recipe.

    • Kate

    Wow, this looks and sounds delicious! I love how your posts transport me to wherever you are! Such great photography!


    • Karen

    Thank you for being a wonderful Lit Fest weekend tour guide! I follow you on Instagram and like this post, enjoyed all the pics and commentary. I was at the Lit Fest last year and because my hubby and I just moved from Dublin to London I wasn’t able to attend. As a Ballymaloe Cookery School grad I can attest to the fact that all things Ballymaloe are enriched with goodness! Thanks for highlighting that!

    • Lynn Ziglar

    Totally smitten with Ireland and you..

    • Caitriona

    Great photos, great descriptions and a brilliant account of the first half of LitFest.
    For future reference, if you are ever wondering, many Irish would leave the airport with certain goods in their suitcases – in particular – tea, rashers, sausages, crisps, and cheese. It’s not strictly legal but as it’s rare you’re caught we tend to do it when we visit foreign countries so we bring the taste of home with us. The average butcher doesn’t bat an eyelid when asked to vacuum pack sausages and rashers (bacon) for a flight. Just sayin… ;)

    • Fiona

    Born in Cork, lives outside London and soon Paris. Runs a small business from home sharing my cookery knowledge. Have won competition for my soda bread and its to be published in the new Sarah Raven cookbook. Contact me for the recipe!

    • Bonny

    Wow A revalation! How does one smoke garlic? Just the name makes my mouth water!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Bonny: I did a Google search and came across this post, How to Smoke Garlic, which gives directions so you can do it at home.

    Caitriona: I think there are things you can travel around the EU with, but aren’t permitted when going abroad. I always tell people to check with the authorities before going anywhere, but within Europe I think things are easier. I did have to leave behind a jar of Ballymaloe Country Relish because I was going carry-on only although I’m sure the friend that I passed it off to will make good use of it! : )

    Sylvia: It’s a pretty great little market. Nice to see so many things actually produced, or grown, by the people selling it. They were all proud and friendly, offering tastes and plenty of chat. (They are smart to give tastes – once you try anything there, you’ll likely buy it.) Was happy to be able to race over there to revisit it.

    • Vicki Ford

    You can’t take a bad picture in Cork..or anywhere!! All of your pictures are beautiful!! Thank you..

    • Bev

    One of your best posts ever, David. Now I can’t wait to get back to Ireland. I too am hoping for a brown bread recipe.

    • Fran laughton

    I can’t believe all the hard work you’ve done in order to get to a point where the hard work continues, but with a healthy dose of enjoyment on the side.

    I admire the journeyman quality you bring to your craft and hope we an all continue to enjoy your posts and recipes for the decades to come.

    Thank you for providing such beautiful and inspiring photos and stories.

    • Nadia

    What a life you lead. It must be a dream eating all that glorious food and doing all the travelling. If you ever need an assistant to help you out, let me know.

    • Bill


    It was great to hear your talks at Ballymaloe this weekend and I’m so glad you had a wonderful time. East Cork is definitely a special place, but there’s more food to try. Come see us in Dublin some time!


    • Andrea

    Of all those excellent photos, the smoked mackerel image was the one that got me. Big sigh because I want them but also, it would make a great poster.

    • Heather

    I must learn to NOT read your postings after I’ve biked to work and eaten all my packed lunch for the day…suddenly I am STARVING and craving large amounts of everything.
    Dang it!

    • Dana

    Everything looks fabulous, and I can’t wait for the Honey & Co. cookbook. I think there was a typo here – maybe the first “goat milk” should be something else?

    When I learned how her goat milk used goat milk to cure some of their skin ailments,

    • Tl

    I am very curious to know what was in the grain salad w/pomegranate seeds!! What kinds of grains/(seeds??) and dressing. Beautiful!!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Dana: Thanks. I was trying to write a story, sort and edit photos while everything was going on. Fixed!

    Heather: Fortunately most of the food was very healthy – although I believe I ate more than my share of Irish bacon last week, which was all sustainably raised. But it was hard to stop…

    Bev: I gathered all the ingredients and it’s quite simple and straightforward, but anticipating a bunch of substitution questions (they use fresh yeast, for example) but it comes out just right as they make it, so not sure if people will want to tinker with it. But I have the pan, yeast and flour ready so hopefully I can get to it shortly. (I did bring a loaf home, so need to finish that first…)

    • jane werthmann

    I usually lurk and read your columns – but had to comment and say what great pics and comments on the food sure makes one want to take the trip!

    • Ellen Daly

    As an Irish person now living in beautiful Tennessee, I so enjoyed reading your article on ballymaloe and the Middleton food festival. Having visited both venues some years ago on a glorious sun filled weekend, you resurrected some wonderful memories for me! Keep up the good work David!

    • Pat

    Can’t wait for your recipe for brown bread. Having been to Ireland numerous times I found myself longing to return after reading your post. Thanks for the memories

    • Suzy @ The Mediterranean Dish

    David, I always look forward to your updates. You really bring me along on the journey! I know how crazy it is when you travel to try and take every photo possible and make sure you write a coherent post, all the while, keeping up with your eventful days. Ireland and the Middleton festival sound absolutely beautiful and charming. I would love to make it there some day. Have a great time!

    • Terry Taylor

    Thank you, David. Beautiful photos.

    • Agneta Quist_Palos

    The butter, the bacon, the bread, the beautiful Irish people, all of it! Nothing compares. Enjoy every morsel and every minute. Thank you for the reminder!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      The people in Cork are really uncommonly nice. From the young people who were setting up temporary food stands at the Litfest, the volunteer drivers who took us around (including getting us to the market and back to the festival, pronto!), the people at the market who were happy to chat and give us samples to taste, to the chefs, cooks, and staff at Ballymaloe, people could not have been kinder or friendlier. It’s truly a special part of the world and I was really happy to be able to go back for this visit.

    • Kari

    I am so inspired to go to Ireland now!!!

    • Ellen Mahar

    Great story, beautiful pictures. Brought back memories of staying in a small village outside of Fermoy and enjoying a fabulous dinner at Ballymaloe. This was at least 40 plus years ago.

    • Kerry Heffernan

    Thanks for this posting David! I’ve been many times to Ballymaloe House and to the Cookery school and you really capture it here in your article beautifully! I’m planning to come next year for LitFest so perhaps I’ll see you there rather than at home in the Bay Area. Life is strange. Looking forward to more of your beautiful pictures and wonderful writing.
    All Love, Kerry

    • Lury

    Just stumbled on your site a short while ago and am loving it! We went to Ireland in 09 and have wanted to visit again you’ve made me so want to retunn with this lovely post. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • anna@icyvioletskitchen

    oo those cheeses! with the mustard seeds!

    • debbibaron

    Hi David,

    I was at the Ballymaloe House just the week before and I have to say it is a destination worth seeking out. Beautiful place, beautiful food and beautiful people! The breads and that bright yellow, Jersey butter are the best thing i have had in a long time…I’d go back just for them. And what a country, there isn’t one unfriendly person in it!

    • Kanak Hagjer

    Absolutely stunning food pictures and details of your trip. I’m glad you included the link to smoked garlic…looking it up..

    • Mary

    Its tough to laugh and salivate at the same time….but I managed to do both….delightful post!

    • Cathy

    I’m so glad you met Rebecca! Isn’t she just fabulous? We had a few days of running around DC last summer when she was here doing a Smithsonian gig. The whole trip looked dreamy, David. I have to put this on my schedule for next year.

    • pamela nelson-munson

    oh thank you david for these photos and description. i was a student at the 12-week cookery course in spring of 2013.. and all of this is so familiar and makes me want to be right back there. it is a slice of heaven for all of the senses. darina is a genius, as is her mother in law myrtle. my heart is still there.

    • james Cunningham

    Hi David,
    I really enjoyed this.. Super photo’s too! We make the noribake seaweed blend for Arbutus breads boules. I would love to send you some to try in a soda bread or sourdough. Can I share your amazing photo? Thanks again for sharing your experience.
    Go raibh maith agat,

    • Karen Huntress

    I left Cork Airport with 3 jars of delicious jam from Cork’s English Market in my carry-on bag. They left Cork fine, but at Heathrow my bag was searched quite thoroughly and I was given the choice of paying 50 pounds to check my bag or throwing the jam away. I decided that it was not really 50 pounds worth of jam — now I make sure to check a bag so that I can bring jam back to the US. So, David, it is certainly worth trying to get things through in Cork if you are flying right to Paris.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I did think about bringing it back in my carry-on, and figured if they took the relish, at least it’d still be put to good use – because I’m sure they’d eat it! But I gave it to a friend before I left, figuring she’d like it as well.

    • Vania |at| ‘Love Me’ says Food

    5:45am on Saturday?! David, I’d say you ARE a trooper. I definitely wasn’t up this early. Great collection of photos from Cork, thanks for sharing your time with us :)

    Great chatting with you!


    • Connie

    Your eating capability really is a marvel. Which is a good thing assuming you manage to burn it off (with or without a personal trainer). And especially so while travelling!

    • Amanda (@lambsearsandhoney)

    I’ve been following your adventures at Ballymaloe – along with those of my friend Rebecca from here in Adelaide. It’s a small world!

    • Maria del mar

    Comme d’hab, des jolies photos pour tes postes. Nice image story.

    • Allison

    Hi David, after reading this post, I was reminded of a recipe for Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread from Ballymaloe House in an old James Beard cookbook. (Beard on Bread, 1973). Is Darina a relative of Myrtle’s and are the loaves the same recipe I wonder? It’s a very simple whole wheat bread using just flour, yeast, salt and molasses.

    Thank you for a delightful post!

      • pamela

      Allison: Darina is Myrtle’s daughter-in-law. After Darina finished Hotel School in Dublin, she wanted to work in an interesting establishment. She heard about Myrtle’s guest house, and liked what she was doing with fresh ingredients. She came and learned from Myrtle, and met Myrtle’s son Tim, whom she married.

      The bread you describe is the yeasted batter bread, and is delicious and easy.
      It was the picture of those loaves of bread that caught my eye, and before I even read the text of David’s article, I knew where he was and whose bread that was!

    • Gina

    Hi David,
    I’ve been reading your posts since I discovered them while we were in Besançon last summer (I found your post on Jura cheese – you sure like to get up early!)

    I’ve been wondering when you might try Ireland, so was delighted to find this post!

    Ironically, I spent yesterday afternoon in the very famous Bretzel Bakery in Dublin – friends own it- where an American film crew was filming them making their brown soda bread! (They film a TV series called ‘Delicious Destinations’) Everyone’s brown soda is different, and while we get very proprietorial about ‘Mammy’s recipe’, we never tire of swapping recipes & tinkering with our own. But I wouldn’t mess too much with Darina’s! Unfortunately, it won’t ever taste the same without Irish butter…Sorry, but French butter isn’t what we’d consider ‘proper butter’ !

    Come back, & come to Dublin, & since you’re an early bird, you can join the Bretzel Bakers. They don’t just GET UP early – they bake ALL THROUGH the night!

    • Kathleen

    Ah, those carrots….just love those root vegetables. And again, you’ve captured their beauty.

    • Lynn

    My husband and I spent 5 fabulous weeks in Cork in 2008. We spent 3 weeks in Kinsale, 1 incredible week at Ballymaloe House where I attended one of the 2-1/2 day cookery school events, and the last week we toured around and stayed in B&Bs. It was our second trip to Ireland, but this time we were completely on our own and not on a tour. The experience at Ballymaloe house was unforgettable. The food incredible, but the people were the best. Had the distinct pleasure of meeting Myrtle Allen as well as Darina and Rachel. I loved this post from you, David. The coffee stand you speak of travels around to all the Cork markets and I have stood in that line for coffee and hot chocolate. Thanks so very much.


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