In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle finds plenty to eat and enjoy in Co. Fermanagh.
When I think about Irish food, the first places to spring to mind are the famous foodie hotspots, like West Cork and the Wild Atlantic Way. The truth is, however, that our flair for quality produce has seen a dramatic increase in the number of small producers nationwide, and we’re lucky to have fine food products springing up in every county. My trip to Fermanagh confirms this.
We’re staying in the handsome Lough Erne Resort, where chef Noel McMeel is determined to show off the very best of what the area has to offer. We kick off by taking a giddy spin in golf buggies to the Halfway House at the ninth tee, where Fiona Lydon of Seriously Juicy introduces us to her range of raw, cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. The Ginger Zinger is a particular favourite; true to its name, it clears the last of the morning cobwebs from my befuddled, night-owl brain.
We say a reluctant goodbye to our golf carts, hopping on a coach and heading for Kettyle Foods. Owner Maurice Kettyle greets us warmly and explains what makes his range so unique. This is Europe’s only purpose-built dry-aging facility, and Maurice has based his business on three core values: passion, knowledge and craftsmanship. His cows, pigs, lambs and chickens come from small local farms, some of which mature as few as 10 animals per year. When their time has come, they’re humanely slaughtered with the express purpose of avoiding stress, as this can adversely affect the quality of the meat.
Maurice is especially zealous about nose-to-tail eating. “It’s not all about fillets, striploins and ribeyes — we work with great chefs like Noel to utilise the whole animal.” And, indeed, while we’ve been engrossed in the details, Noel has been busily creating a feast of beef and lamb, perfectly seared, pink and juicy, with unexpected additional treats like beef bacon. (Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds.) The stand-out for me is the Marrow Melt: seasoned beef marrow, packaged into a convenient sausage shape. Eating a sliver with a piece of beef lends an unrivalled creamy umami flavour. My mind begins to race while my mouth begins to water; I want to melt some over steaks as a sumptuous substitute for garlic butter, or spread it on a piece of hot toast to melt into an unctuous treat. I want to caramelise onions in its meaty goodness. I want to eat it every day, forever.
While we’re in danger of letting our inner cavemen take over, Kate Burns from Islander Kelp shows us her beautiful, bright-green, spaghetti-like strands of kelp, combining it with Feta and pomegranate seeds to make a fresh salad that is the perfect foil to the table full of meat; her clean-tasting kelp pesto is another unforeseen delight.
Back on the coach we go, reconvening later for some local pre-dinner drinks. MacIvor Cider, Yardsman Lager, the brand new Boatyard Distillery and Ruby Blue Spirits are here to tempt us, with enough variety that I wonder how one would ever need to look outside the area. After enjoying a few drinks and some lovely canapés, it’s on to the main event. Noel has done himself proud with a stunning five-course menu, showing off the quality of the produce by letting it shine in uncomplicated dishes. The stars of the show are Ballycastle scallops with Rathlin island kelp; sweet, meaty Kilkeel crab; tender Kettyle lamb; Young Buck blue cheese interestingly paired with a dark chocolate ganache; and ice cream flecked with shattered yellowman, the ubiquitous local honeycomb.
As I climb into my soft, cloudlike Lough Erne bed, nursing a full and happy belly, I’m grateful that Fermanagh has been firmly marked on my mental food map. The weekend has been delicious proof that Irish food is a serious contender on the world stage… and that melted bone marrow might be what’s missing from my life.