Walk around the twinkling streets of any city, town and village in December and you’ll notice the air is delicately scented with the waft of Baileys coffees, unctuous plum puddings, whiskey sauces and rich spiced beef. On the tables in our homes, you’ll find smoked salmon fresh from a local smokehouse; organic hams from free-range pigs; and cheese boards filled with artisan cheeses such as Cashel Blue, oak-smoked Gubbeen, Carrigaline, and Boilíe Irish Goats Cheese… And the reason we do it so well? According to food writer and general editor of The ICA Book of Home and Family, Aoife Carrigy: “We have some of the best primary ingredients in the world.”
Ireland’s lush pastures have helped create incredible beef, lamb and dairy produce from award-winning Kettyle beef, to Connemara lamb, to Abernethy butter from the hills of County Down – so prestigious that it’s served in Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant.
“Christmas is a time when simple flavours can really shine,” explains Aoife. “But for a truly traditional Christmas treat, nothing beats spiced beef, whether served as cold slices post-pub or Midnight Mass for a late-night Christmas Eve treat or slipped into sandwiches after a St Stephen's Day hike. Or try starting your main Christmas meal with a selection of smoked fish from one of our many excellent artisan smokehouses around the country.”
Go Irish this Christmas
Traditional soda bread with Abernethy butter
You can’t beat Irish soda bread and at Christmas time it really comes into its own. Simple to make (there’s no yeast so there’s no proving) and truly delicious, it goes with cheese, smoked salmon and smooth vegetable soups. We’ve a great recipe here, and if you fancy a richer version, then do what Irish chef Richard Corrigan does and add a couple of tablespoons of Black Treacle.
Irish whiskey or Baileys coffee
Keep it traditional with an Irish coffee or go a little more modern with a Baileys coffee. Either way, if you want to finish a dinner Irish-style, this is the way to go. Try whiskeys from Kilbeggan, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew and Jameson.
An Irish cheeseboard
Ireland boasts excellent cheeses from small artisan producers that really care about what they’re doing… Keep your eye out for fantastic cheeses from Milleens, Coolea and Durrus.
Queen Elizabeth enjoyed some of Tom Durcan’s spiced beef on her visit to Cork’s English Market in 2011, and it is traditionally served at Christmas and New Year in County Cork. It can be boiled in Guinness before being roasted with spices including allspice, cloves and peppercorn.
Smoked salmon from an artisan smokery
Irish smoked salmon is world renowned, and is a great choice to serve with Christmas drinks, with scrambled eggs for Christmas breakfast, or as a starter for Christmas dinner. Choose top salmon from smokehouses such as The Burren Smokehouse, the Connemara Smokehouse and Belvelley Smokehouse in County Cork.
Irish craft beers
Okay, so the Irish don’t make wine, but there’s one thing that we’re currently very good at: craft beers and porter. You can easily give your Christmas an Irish twist with an O’Hara’s or Galway Hooker pale ale, or a rich Knockmealdown Porter.
Nothing kickstarts Christmas Day like an hearty fried breakfast, and you can get some excellent Apple & Craft Irish sausages from Jane Russell and free-range Bacon from the likes of Fermanagh’s Black Bacon. The chefs at James Street South in Belfast recommend adding some artisanal Irish sausages to your stuffing for an extra kick of flavour.
All that's left is for us to wish you happy cooking, happy feasting and a very happy Christmas from Ireland.