Irish Dulse Butter

28 Feb 2012

At around this time last year, food courtesans from all over Ireland were flocking together in Donegal to celebrate Inishfood, Ireland’s “Glastonbury of Food” as Suzanne Campbell aptly implied. Inishfood was a renegade event organised by the remarkable (and indefatigable!) Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant with Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy of the IFBA and supported/promoted/assisted/accompanied by a myriad of proud Irish artisan food enthusiasts/producers/journalists/bloggers and broadcasters. Even Parisienne Trish Deseine, a Norn-Irelander, who is one of France’s most celebrated food writers, joined us virtually with encouraging + inspiring words that were read over coffee during the welcoming gathering on Saturday morning.

The farmer and I drove from the southwest of Ireland to the stunning northernmost Inishowen Peninsula on a rainy and cold Friday afternoon. In total, the drive took about 5 hours, and even though we did not know exactly what to expect once we were there, there was a feeling that we would be participating in something really special and unforgettable. For the record, ‘special and unforgettable’ was a mass understatement.

We arrived at our beautiful riverside B&B at dusk and were greeted by Margaret and William Grant, the charming couple who own Westbrook House. We sat in their cozy kitchen breezily chatting away about farming, inn-keeping, and relations between the north and the south. In that time, I also spied a vintage butter churn on the countertop and explained that I would be doing a butter making demonstration at the festival the following day. Margaret insisted that I take along their churn. It was kismet because I had been looking for that exact style of churn to use in my presentation as a reference and wasn’t having luck sourcing it. Talk about Irish hospitality!

They showed us to our comfortable bedroom; all the rooms were named after a child in their family and we had one of the daughter’s rooms whose name was written on the door, but I cannot recall it at the moment. What I do remember is that this was my first time staying in an Irish B&B and it couldn’t have been a better experience.

After we freshened up a bit, we were collected and taken to Linsfort Castle for some “to be revealed” evening festivities. We were dropped at the entrance of the large country house with a group of others and then were escorted down a torch lit sandy lane to Darren Bradley’s cottage on the sea. As it was still winter, there was a damp chill in the air, but once we joined the group huddled around Darren’s handcrafted outdoor brick oven with pizzas popping out every 5 minutes, we were fine and toasty. When we were handed a bottle of Irish craft beer and a slice of hot pizza creatively topped with black pudding, potato and rosemary, we were officially all warmed up…have a look: (and listen to that lovely Northern Ireland dialect!)

After plenty of chat and cheer at the pizza and beer party, we gathered inside Linsfort Castle where traditional Irish folk stories and music were shared in front of a blazing hearth fire. We all gobbled down bowls of hot venison stew and sipped on more craft brews. I kept pinching myself to see if it was all for real because I felt so transported to a magical place that when I looked around the room it was hard not to imagine that we were all characters playing out scenes in a beautiful Irish arthouse film.

The next day, everyone gathered at Harry’s in Bridgend where a series of food demos and chat took place with the group happily sharing the same love and enthusiasm for Irish food and the idea of Ireland: The Food Island. Sally McKenna, of The Bridgestone Guides, Mag Kirwin of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, David Tiernan of Glebebretha Cheese, Ella McSweeney from Ear to the Ground, Craft butchers, Ed Hick, Pat Whelan, Jack McCarthy, TJ Crowe of Crowes farm, Seanean and Collin from L Mulligan Grocer in Dublin to name just a few. A plethora of blogger friends, new and not so new, mingled around a smorgasbord of food for everyone to sample, it was an Irish food paradise.

That evening, we enjoyed an unbelievable “no menu” meal at Harrys. Shared serving platters which were continuously delivered to our communal style tables were adorned with food all sourced within minutes from the restaurant. During the night, I had a conversation with Zack Gallagher of The Irish Food Guide. He encouraged me to use dulse (he recommended pepper dulse) to flavor my farm butter. I went home thinking about doing just that and like so many other brilliant suggestions, it took me a bit to get there. Last week, I finally got my hands on some dulse and decided to make butter with it. The flavour knocked our socks off. Spicy, salty…this seaweed adds a dimension of flavour to the butter that you can’t quite put your finger on, but brings enormous satisfaction and makes you want more (umami?).

I brought my dulse butter to the table of a photo shoot that I took part in last week at the stunning Village at Lyons in County Kildare. The shoot was for a feature on food and rural living that will be published in the exciting new Irish glossy Irish Country Magazine coming out on 29th March. Here’s a fun snap from the day (from bottom right to left, Ella McSweeney, Pat Whelan, Yvonne Kerr (deputy editor), me, Lorna Sixsmith)

You can learn how to make your own butter with my DIY editorial here; afterwards, just finely chop up a handful of softened dulse and massage into your butter. You won’t be disappointed.

Inishfood will return again this year over the May 18-20th weekend, and we already have the Westbrook House booked!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Dulse butter photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Irish Country Magazine photo taken on location by food stylist,  Sharon Hearne-Smith.

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18 Aug 2011

Yes, we went to the Irish Fair, and yes, we had a lovely….noteworthy time {incl. a very odd introduction to “Irish Nachos”}

But, then we packed up, headed east and, as is always the case when I reach my hometown, time seems to stand still and so do we. Will be travelling back to Ireland on the 28th where I will hit the ground running with a number of events in which to attend and/or participate, if you are in Ireland or planning a trip in early September please come along!

August 30th Food Summer School feat. Alice Waters & Darina Allen, Brooklodge Hotel

September 4th Electric Picnic, Theatre of Food, {Farmhouse Butter Making + Cooking Demo}

September 5th, Outstanding in the Field, Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork

September 10th, GIY Gathering, Waterford Royal Theatre {Farmhouse Butter Making Demo}

Normal foodie posts will resume once we are back on the farm….until then, we will be dallying on the dunes.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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One of my New Year “promises” is to become more involved in farm projects. This means less worrying about what has become of my M&M’s {Manolos and Milk Duds} and more concentrating on creating something fulfilling and worthwhile here at home in Ireland. If you follow along on Twitter you may have heard some mention of a certain sweet little thatched cottage restoration that I will be taking on in 2011. I have also been wanting to try my hand at making butter from our own fresh cream and honey. So, when I gleefully received the gift of a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some Adventures in Butterland!

Turns out, it’s pretty easy.

First, you’ll need to get some raw milk from your farm or local dairy. (7 litres {about 2 gallons} yields about 2 pints {4 cups} of cream) Leave it sit still long enough to form a layer of cream on top. 12-24 hours worked for me. If you want a more traditional flavour, you can leave it out instead of keeping it in the fridge the whole time. If you don’t have access to a farm or dairy, you can use cream or double cream from the supermarket instead. 500mls = 227g of butter.

Once you skim the cream off the top of your milk, pour it straight into an electric mixer and pop it on medium speed. After 2 minutes, it should look like this:

After a few more minutes, like this:

And after about 6-9 minutes,

the butterfat will separate from buttermilk and it should look like this:

Remove the butter from the bowl and place it into a cold sieve to strain out all of the buttermilk.

{save the buttermilk for pancakes or scones}

When you’re sure you’ve squeezed out as much buttermilk as possible,

use your hands or wooden spatulas or butter bats to form the butter,

and make sure you keep the utensils icy cold or the butter will begin to melt.

{Since I have kid-sized hands, these children’s spatulas worked perfectly!}

If you want, add some honey, like I did

or fennel, garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon…

and maybe stamp it with a special motif.

After you have it all shaped and pretty,

Serve it with a special meal

or slathered on a piece of morning toast.

Yum!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*when using non-pasteurised cream, keep refrigerated and it will last for a week. Pasteurised cream butter will last 2-3 weeks in the fridge.

Guidelines taken from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen. Photos by Imen McDonnell

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