Nope, that's not me. It's my Mom and my Aunt Donna in Ireland.

Every year, my mother goes to Ireland. The group always changes — it can be my aunt, my grandfather, my dad, me, or whoever — but my mom is always part of the mix. My mother has been there 11 times in total and considers herself somewhat of an experienced traveler. She goes there for the live music (accordion and flute anyone?), the food and the people. Irish people have a great sense of humor, are very friendly and very welcoming. I remember going to Ireland my second summer living in NYC and a man randomly came up to me, bright and bubbly. I was sure he was either about to rob me of my wallet, try to ask me for my number, or, by the way he kept smiling and my experience with naked people on the subway, was mentally ill. It was none of those. He was just being a typical friendly Irishman.


But my mother also goes there for the food. Surprising, I know. But I’m telling you, I witnessed the food renaissance that’s going on there. I personally had the best steel-cut oats I have ever eaten, and the food at Cullinan’s Guest House in Doolin rivals many of the restaurants in NYC. No, New York, I’m not talking about The Perfect Pint, I’m talking along the lines of The Prune. Cullinan’s is owned by a husband and wife team who are chefs and musicians. (How that combination worked out, I have no idea…) My mother wanted me to let people know that Irish food is actually amazing. It is no longer just corned beef and cabbage. It’s so much more. Ireland sent their chefs to France for training, and you can get the most amazing food in a castle repurposed as a restaurant in the middle of the countryside. They use local ingredients from the farms there, and most will let you know on the menu where they came from. In DC we think it’s cool that Blue Duck Tavern lists the farms on the menu. The Irish have been doing it for years.

Here’s an idea of what they have to offer:

Shellfish Risotto

Shellfish Risotto: prawn and scallop risotto, roasted red pepper, spring onions, aged parmigiano-reggiano and green herb oil

Warm goat cheese bruschetta

Warm goat cheese bruschetta: char-grilled crusty bread, slow oven-roasted tomatoes, warm goat cheese and basil pesto

Thai-style mussels

Thai-style mussels: steamed Glenbeigh mussels with white wine, shallots, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, sweet chili, coconut and coriander

Pan-roasted monkfish

Pan roasted monkfish: pan roasted monkfish with stir fried oriental vegetables, pickled ginger and coriander.

Delicious, trust me. But what’s better than food? To me, it’s cheese.

While in Dingle, a small fishing town on Dingle Bay, my mother stumbled upon The Little Cheese Shop.

The Little Cheese Shop is owned and run by Maja Binder who trained as a cheese maker in Switzerland.  She founded Dingle Peninsula Cheese, where she produces semi hard and hard cheeses. A woman who makes her own cheese and runs her own shop? Kick ass. I thought it was cute that her husband runs On the Wild Side charcuterie, and his goods are sold in The Little Cheese Shop – paté, smoked fish, seafood, pickled sea vegetables, salamis, and more. Her cheeses have been written up by Neal’s Dairy Yard. When the famed Neal’s Dairy Yard takes notice of you, you’re doing something right.

My mom, being the great mother she is, brought me a chunk of cheese, which, to my husband’s horror, had mold on the outside. I wasn’t grossed out. I was excited. Mold is responsible for forming many, many cheeses. Most times when there’s mold on the outside of a cheese, the inside is perfectly fine. See exhibit A, below.

I paired this smoked cheese with a savory spicy mustard. Interested in how I did it? Click here.