The Rock of Cashel might be the most iconic landmark in Tipperary, but there’s a lot more to discover in the lovely Golden Vale than history, heritage, or hurling. Local cheeses are the highlight of markets in Cahir and Tipperary Town, and you’ll find fruit farms next to camping parks, gourmet getaways in restored old convents, and artisan produce spilling out of delis in the town of Nenagh, where I visited a few months ago and was duly impressed.
Peter and Mary Ward’s Country Choice is one of Ireland’s landmark food shops. The Ward’s opened the delicatessen/gourmet food market/coffee bar/café in 1982, just as the Irish food revolution was taking hold. Offering everything from imported olive oils and spices to local cheeses and charcuterie, Country Choice is a “must” stop while traveling through this part of Tipperary. Order anything with ham, slow-roasted daily for sandwiches, quiche, and salads, and eat in or get it “to go” for a picnic in the local area. Ward will not only pack a picnic for you, but he’ll also provide suggestions for where to eat it and directions for how to get there! You can also find Country Choice at The Milk Market in Limerick on weekends. (25 Kenyon Street, Nenagh; www.countrychoice.ie)
COUNTRY CHOICE PINT GLASS BREAD
Makes 1 loaf
The Country Choice motto — Bia Breá Blasta/Fine Tasting Food — is not to be ignored. This legendary bread recipe, designed for those who might lack proper measuring utensils, can be all sorted out with a pint glass alone — an Irish essential!
1 pint glass coarse flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 pint glass white flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
Enough salt to coat the bottom of a pint glass (3/4 tsp.)
Enough baking soda to coat the bottom of a pint glass (3/4 tsp.)
1 tbsp. butter
3/4 pint glass buttermilk (1 3/4 cups)
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking soda. Rub in the butter and the stir in the buttermilk. Gently mix with your fingertips.
2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. With floured hands, shape the mixture into a circle about 2-in. high. Cut a deep X on the top of the bread. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
CASHEL BLUE POACHED FIGS IN PORT, VANILLA, AND SAFFRON SYRUP
Ward is a champion of local ingredients, so it’s no surprise that he favors Cashel Blue, made in nearby Fethard, for this recipe. He says, “This dish is a great desert for when you’ve guests over — decadent enough but not too sinful. The figs in syrup (without the cheese) are also lovely for breakfast with a dollop of yogurt.”
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp. Port
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
1 pinch saffron
6 ripe figs, halved
4 oz. Cashel Blue Cheese
1. To make the syrup, combine the sugar, water, Port, vanilla bean and seeds, and saffron in a medium saucepan over medium beat. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth. Drop in the figs and continue to poach gently for about 5 minutes longer, or until the mixture is syrupy.
2. To serve, with a slotted spoon, transfer the figs to shallow bowls and crumble the Cashel Blue on top. Spoon the syrup over.