Beyond the sea

DINGLE’S food family is a mix of suave restaurateurs, woolly-jumpered young mothers selling pies and chutneys at the market, weathered fishermen hauling from the sea and traditional butchers who swear by west Kerry lamb.

Along the peninsula, there is a baker from Brandon, a black pudding producer from Annascaul and a burly vegetable grower from Castlegregory who was selling earthy carrots on the street long before it became fashionable.

It’s fair to say they are proud of their produce on the Dingle Peninsula.

If the town has a food tradition, it is most certainly borne in from the sea. Initially, and inevitably, the harbour town was known for fresh seafood and it owes some of its reputation to the making of the Hollywood movie Ryan’s Daughter. Food production only thrives when it has a discerning ‘eatership’ to feed and for the duration of the film production, it certainly had that. When the filmmakers left, other visitors came west to feast on the crab, scallops, lobster and catch of the day, which were gaining reputation. Restaurants such as Doyles, the Half Door, Fenton’s, and Lord Baker’s rose up to feed them and are still doing so.

Before that again, the locals were making mutton pies for their own consumption. “When there were no restaurants or cafés here, pies were served on fair days in private houses- or Tig na bPíoga,” says butcher Paudie ‘Phaid’ Moriarty. “They used fairly rough meat from old breeding ewes, wrapped it in a dumpling-type pastry, baked it and served it in a bowl of mutton broth.”

Paudie’s grandmother used to make the pies and his sister Mary ‘Phaid’ still does — although she is now using good lamb and a finer pastry. Next weekend at the Dingle Food and Wine Festival, Paudie’s butcher shop will be one of the 60 tasting stations on the food trail and Mary is making mutton broth to serve the pies in the traditional way for the occasion.

The food trail takes place on Saturday and Sunday. A €20 book of tickets will entitle you to 10 tastings in pubs, restaurants, food shops, art galleries, hat shops and shoe shops — just about anywhere that wants to be associated with a tasting station. The presentation of Blas Awards on Friday night for the best in Irish food will draw food producers from all over the country; the farmers market will set up on Friday and Saturday; a seafood barbecue on the pier on Sunday will keep the action close to the ocean.

Now in its fifth year, the festival is driven by a newer wave of restaurateurs, who arrived in Dingle with the rising tiger and were delighted, not just with the seafood but the herbs, vegetables, homemade black puddings and west Kerry lamb. The turn of the century brought Jim McCarthy’s Chart House, Tim Mason’s Out of the Blue (fish only) and Martin Bealin’s Global Village. New chefs were looking afresh at the raw ingredients. “Take the lamb that’s available around here,” cites Martin Bealin, as an example. “Blasket island lamb, or any coastal lamb from the peninsula, is fed on salty grass in salt air. You get great flavour in west Kerry lamb.”

Blasket island lambs are limited in supply and Gerry Kennedy is the man responsible for butchering them. “Usually you only have 30-50 lambs coming off the islands,” he says. “Then I have another six farmers who supply me with coastal lamb. These are men who know how to rear sheep and they take pride in what they do. I’m a third-generation butcher myself and we’ve won the Bridgestone award for lamb for the past two years because of the farmers who supply us.”

Kennedy is involved with two other food producers in creating a hot dog called ‘the Dingle Dog’ and Bealin is so enthused by the lamb that he has taken it on the road with his mobile West Kerry lamb burger and sausage stand. Artie Clifford, the man flipping the burgers at the farmers market and other gatherings, is also the chairperson of the Blas Awards. “The awards have attracted 1,100 entries this year and I’d say they bring around 500 or 600 people to Dingle for the weekend. It’s a great opportunity for networking between producers, retailers and food writers.”

Like lamb, pig meat is also gaining reputation in these parts, primarily since Ashe’s black pudding came on the foodies’ radar. In truth, Michael Ashe began making it in 1916 and those in the know always knew it was there but since the chefs began naming it on their menus, its reputation has flourished. Michael’s grandnephew Thomas is continuing the tradition and adding dry cured green and smoked bacon to the range.

Black pudding goes well with homemade chutney, which you’ll find at the farmers market under the ‘Pickled in Dingle’ stall run by French Canadian woman Marie Charland. She’s fully aware that the double entendre in her brand name will remind many of a good weekend in Dingle but she is utterly wholesome in her intentions. She sources as many of her ingredients as possible from her own garden in Ballydavid where she is married to local man Fergal Murphy. On the subject of the food festival, she is positively gushing. “It is the best, best weekend in Dingle. Sometimes you find a product you didn’t even know was there. It is a celebration of food and even if it is raining everyone is happy.”

Across the way from her at the market, Bríd ní Mhathuna from Baile na nGall found herself in a similar situation when work ran out for her Scottish husband. Given the tradition of pie-making which is shared by Dingle and Scotland, she took to the kitchen and began producing ‘Píog Pies’ which she sells at markets and delis as far away as Listowel and Limerick. She has only one complaint with the food festival; it is her busiest time. “I just wish I was off to enjoy it,” she says.

One of the things she will miss is a short cheese-making course, which will be taught by Maja Binder at Tommy Brick’s cheese dairy in Ballydavid. Maja, who hails from Germany, has been making cheese on the Dingle peninsula for years, while her French husband Olivier Beaujouan prepares charcuterie. Both are familiar faces at markets in Kerry but Maja last December opened The Little Cheese Shop in Dingle. “The locals are very good customers so it started well,” says Maja. “But this summer it has gone off like a bomb. It is going very well.”

Buying directly from the producer is the thrill of market shopping but there are very few places where you can purchase your fish directly from the skipper of the boat that caught it. Labhrás Courtney is skipper of the Teresa-Mae, which fishes out of Dingle. He now goes to sea from Monday to Thursday and sells at Dingle market on Friday and Milltown market on Saturday. “It’s great meeting the people,” says Labhrás. “You don’t get that when you’re out at sea. They tell you what they thought of the fish and sometimes put in orders for the following week.”

Next Sunday, as the Dingle Food & Wine Festival winds down, the grand finale will be the seafood barbecue on the pier, bringing it all back to where Dingle’s food fame began.

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