We were still in Ireland when the Time magazine article entitled “Ending the War on Fat” (only a partial article – ya gotta subscribe for the rest) was published.
Butter was the sexy cover star, though it looked a bit like a piece of pasta to me:
The story coincided with my desire, on this trip, to demonstrate to my daughter and nieces that everyday dairy products in Ireland – the stuff you could buy at a supermarket or even the Irish equivalent of a convenience store – were way tastier than the products we could get at home in the same types of places. Backing up a bit:
Back in April, as I lay on the grass on some soccer fields in Rochester, IL watching my husband and the younger nieces fly kites, I asked the two older girls (they’re both 15) what they wanted to do while we were in Ireland. We talked about the ghost estates and some shopping, but then my niece Annie piped up: “Remember how you told us the chocolate tastes different over there? I want to find some chocolate.”
Right, I had mentioned that. On my first trip there in 1997, the dairy products had been a total revelation to my very inexperienced, Midwestern, nothing-weird-please palate. Everything, including the mass-produced chocolate, tasted richer, deeper, and farmier than anything I’d had at home. I noticed milk trucks everywhere – they were driving from farm to farm, picking up milk. Aw! So quaint! But it also seemed to explain, in some way, what I was tasting. My biggest regret at the end of that trip was not bringing enough chocolate home with me. Something a former Irish boyfriend had said to me years before, when he’d turned up his nose at Hershey bars, rang in my ears: “This isn’t chocolate. This is… CANDY.”
We ended up buying some chocolate when we stopped for gas on our first day in the country – several Cadbury bars (my favorite and best: Fruit and Nut). I didn’t want to make a big deal about it to the girls. I didn’t want to hover expectantly over them as they tried it, saying, “WELL? WHAT DO YOU THINK? IT’S AWESOME, AMIRITE?” I just sat in my seat in the van and watched them on the sly and enjoyed my Fruit and Nut. I could tell they were pleased.
Within a day of our arrival in Killarney, we discovered the Lir Café and their chocolates. Then Cody mentioned a friend of his told him some of the best ice cream she’d ever had was at Murphy’s in Killarney. The milk they use for their ice cream is specific to the Dingle Peninsula. Their tag line: Ice cream that knows where it’s coming from. Say no more! Off we went.
It went over well, though, man, do I wish I could have done a blind taste test with some family members who deemed it “good, but not as good as (insert name of ice cream shop at home)”. Really? Hm. I thought it was damned delicious, especially the Dingle Sea Salt vanilla. 10/10, would eat again.
But… butter. Ice cream and chocolate were great, obviously, but butter was the delicate, delicious glue holding mealtimes together. The entire time we were in Ireland we bought huge hunks of Irish butter for cooking and for slathering on bread. It is insanely good, and you can buy it anywhere. Even the butter pats at the visitor center cafés, like at Newgrange and the Cliffs of Moher, are excellent. That’s just how it is. Good butter forever and ever, amen. It makes sense – wherever you look or listen, there are cows. Cows everywhere. And they’re on this gorgeously lush and green Irish grass, eating the food they’re meant to eat, over 90% of the time. For example, here I am with a cow, who really wasn’t having it because she was too busy eating grass to make milk for our butter.
I thanked her, of course.
I’m not saying that American dairy products suck across the board. They don’t! What I am saying is that good dairy products are a lot harder to find in the US, and they’re quite expensive when you do find them, depending on where you live. Most dairy cattle in the US don’t live on grass; Irish cattle graze outdoors almost year-round. The milk we find at the grocery store is often ultrapasteurized; milk there isn’t. There are no growth hormones in Ireland’s milk. It’s just… milk. And since dairy cows are omnipresent in Ireland and the Irish dairy industry is committed to raising them this way, the end product isn’t as expensive as it is here.
I have a lot of thoughts about the cost of good, clean food in the US, who can afford it and who can’t and why, the psychology around food in the US and what we think we deserve (this includes labeling), US foods and habits making their way into and through other countries , etc. This trip wasn’t about food tourism, so I was mostly observing and thinking and comparing and contrasting and eating whatever I ran across. I wish I’d asked more questions of our driver, Austin, who told me on the last day of his trip that his wife grew vegetables and kept chickens, something I didn’t notice a lot of on our drives through the country. Maybe next time.
At the end of the trip Annie spent her last Euros on several bars of chocolate and I bought some cookies. I smuggled my airline-issued Irish butter pat off the plane. But when we got home, Jim reminded me that he’d packed this:
Time for toast.