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AOIFE CARRIGY celebrates Irish charcuterie
Maybe it’s an islander thing, but we Irish have always had a curiosity for what lies beyond our shores. Marry that with our loyal love of the land – another islander quirk – and its world-class meat and dairy, and perhaps it was inevitable that an Irish take on continental-style charcuterie would eventually become the latest food trend to take our collective fancy.
Kevin Sheridan thinks so. As one half of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, the fine food emporium that played a pivotal role in reviving our buoyant Irish food culture, he says that “the question is why has it taken so long.”
The success of Irish farmhouse cheese, non-existent 40 years ago, has spurred entrepreneurial producers to seek new territory. “Our strong culture of animal husbandry and fondness for pork makes cured meats an obvious next step.”
Of course any foodie worth their curing salt can tell you that today’s trend has its roots in the 1990s, when pioneers Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Smokehouse (above right) and Frank Krawcyck of West Cork Salamis became heroes of an innovative Irish charcuterie trolley that heralded Dublin’s Chapter One as Ireland’s hottest fine-dining restaurant.
Fast forward 20 years, and Gubbeen’s range of 50-plus products feature on the best menus and deli counters throughout the land. And their success has made way for a new breed of modern Irish charcutiere who are only getting started on their experiments with all things cured.
“Ireland produces some of the best meat in the world” says fourth-generation north Dublin butcher, Rick Higgins, “yet we are still importing charcuterie”. Higgins recently teamed up with Italian charcutier Antonio Princigallo to launch Forage & Cure.
Their Irish prosciutto, breasaola and 90-day salamis are being snapped up by chefs before they’ve left the temperature-controlled curing room that makes these continental-style dry-cures possible in our damp climate. They are even producing a range of small salamis for SuperValu’s Food Academy promotion of artisan producers – a testament to our newfound appetite for these flavour-packed foods.
Specialists like Sheridan’s, who are longtime supporters of Gubbeen Smokehouse, are expanding their selection of Irish charcuterie to reflect this growth. What Kevin Sheridan describes as The Wooded Pig’s “interesting little salamis” are stocked in Sheridan’s stores, as well as markets like Dublin’s Green Door Market. Produced in Co Meath by Eoin Bird and his mother Miriam, from ethically reared free-range pigs that have the run of mature forests of ash, beech and oak, the range includes a subtle garlic salami and a feisty chorizo, and will soon include coppa (whole-cured eye of the shoulder) and pancetta. “I wanted to establish myself as a reputable producer of standard charcuterie and then try to develop an Irish style with flavours that are specific to Ireland,” Eoin says, flagging the possibility of whiskey or seaweed-flavoured salamis down the line.
Former antique dealer turned cattle breeder, Eavaun Carmody of Killenure Dexter Gourmet in Tipperary is collaborating with Dingle-based French charcutier Olivier Beaujouan. Their range of Dexter beef charcuterie amplifies the unusual flavours of this near-lost indigenous Irish breed. “Although Dexter Beef is completely unique in its original form with an earthy, yet slightly nutty taste, I wanted to offer a choice of experiences” Carmody says of their Dexter beef jerky, braesola and chorizo.
Some chefs are turning their own hand to this age-old skill. “Charcuterie represents my heritage,” says Frank Krawcyck’s son Rob. Twice-named Best Leinster Chef while running the kitchen at Tankardstown House in Co Meath, he will head up his own restaurant in Dublin this autumn in a hotly anticipated partnership with food writer Caroline Byrne. The open kitchen at Có (Irish for ‘combined’) will include a purpose-built smoker and temperature-controlled hanging room to display the hams, pancetta, coppa and salamis created in-house by this ambitious young chef with the help of his father.
Another rising star, chef Ciaran Sweeney sees charcuterie as an extension of our Irish food heritage – and a perfect fit for the laid-back surroundings of Dublin’s Forest & Marcy ‘wine room and kitchen’. His house-produced charcuterie board features continental-style cures like lamb neck coppa cured with rosemary and garlic, or pigeon ham brined in anise and orange and air-dried for three weeks. But these sit alongside house-made black pudding or corned and smoked ox tongue: traditional Irish offerings rooted in a time when most farming families kept a pig or two and all cuts of available meat were used frugally. “You want to maximise your whole animal.”
Along with our love for casual dining, appetite for minimising food waste and revival of food preservation skills like fermentation, that nose-to-tail philosophy is driving charcuterie's comeback. In Ireland, it is being met with a creativity (Carmody is even developing a side range of Dexter bone china and leather handbags) and confidence that suggests this hot trend is here to stay. “I think our charcuterie can gain a worldwide reputation just as the Italians and Spanish have done,” says Rick Higgins. And why not?
A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times’ Style Ireland, 12th March 2017.
Chairwoman of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, Aoife Carrigy is a freelance food and wine writer and editor. She is a regular contributor to FOOD&WINE Magazine, The Irish Independent, The Herald and Cara Magazine, amongst others, and was co-author of The Ard Bia Cookbook and general editor of The ICA Cookbook, The ICA Book of Home and Family, The ICA Book of Tea & Company and, most recently, The ICA Book of Christmas. In 2015, she teamed up with Great Irish Beverages to launch the inaugural Dublin Wine Fest and Irish Cider & Food Day.