A few weeks ago (May 30), Bill and I drove up to County Meath to the headquarters of Sheridans Cheesemongers for their first Irish Food festival. It was one of the sunny days we’re getting used to around here, and the drive to Carnaross was lovely.
Sheridans is a vendor at the Saturday market in St. Anne’s. We are fans. Lots of their suppliers were at the festival and we chatted with several friendly cheese makers.
I also sought out the Gubbeen Smokehouse stall. Our US trip featured as much smoked meat as possible, and at each meal Bill and I dreamed dreams of the aroma of long-smoked brisket and pork shoulder wafting over the green hills of Eire. Smoked meats exist in Ireland, but occupy slightly different territory. Ham and bacon rashers are typically not smoked, but we’d found some smoked streaky bacon from Gubbeen, which is a close match to US bacon. Gubbeen also produces a variety of cured meats. So I knew the Gubbeen folks understood this equation: smoke + meat = bliss.
I asked the blond lad behind the counter if he had ever thrown a brisket on the smoker. Happily he knew what a brisket is. He also told me that he had actually built a pit smoker–had to weld it together as no such thing can be purchased in Ireland–and had experimented with some brisket and pork shoulder. The primary smokehouse at Gubbeen is a wood lined room where the meats can be smoked for up to several days, using hard-wood charcoal (from wind-felled trees) created in a kiln. I enthusiastically encouraged their pit-smoker experiments, saying a knew at least a small market that would be willing to pay top dollar (I think I offered a million) for gen-yoo-ine bar-be-cue. If I had any experience with my own pit BBQ, I’d be down at Gubbeen on the weekends, teaching them the way.
The Gubbeen guy told me a place in Dublin has a pit BBQ imported from the US and hosts a large street BBQ every year. This restaurant is supposedly called Junior’s–a fine name for a BBQ establishment. If anyone hears anything about this, please do let me know!
I’ve long been a stickler that the term bar-be-cue refers to smoked meats, and not grilled food served at a cookout. I don’t know why grill so commonly has the adjective BBQ attached, but really that is no excuse to be imprecise with our meat cooking terminology. I’m but birdsong in a hurricane here in Ireland, where the back yard cookout (oops, I mean back garden) is invariably called a BBQ. Moreso, my grounds for protesting are weakened, even devastated, by the fact that no one even knows what bar-be-que is.
Here lies the expat dilemma.
An expat must be curious and entranced by the tastes, sights and sounds of her resident country. Otherwise the not-unpleasant hum of homesickness will increase and overwhelm with bitterness and dissatisfaction. But at the same time, I think the expat has wonders to share–the best joy is in the exchange.
So, I talk about meat. I talk about smoking meat for 18 hours. The tender texture. The intense flavor. The brutal understanding of why we kill cows. The thrill of happening across a BBQ cook off with smokers as big as locomotive engines. I try to wax as eloquently as this guy:
The brisket was a revelation. When I bit into the glistening meat, I literally staggered a step. Could brisket really taste this good? Succulent, firm, robustly flavored, the thick slices of beef were as tender as a ballad and as powerful as an R&B belter.
I show people pictures like this:
I post pictures of BBQ to Facebook while on holiday in the US. But, do the people of Ireland really care. Should they? During our US trip, I repeatedly had the experience of your man quoted above: Can this brisket really be this good? Or this rib? Or this pork sandwich? It’s these moments that make me dream of driving a BBQ wagon through emerald towns and cities and fields dotted white with sheep.
Face it. When you love something you want everyone else to love it too. This is a great part of what makes community, and also requires that we are patient with the evangelist in all of us. So, I’ll keep talking about smoked meat, and posting slide shows of BBQ to my blog, and hope I can find Junior’s pit BBQ and take every single person I know with me.
In the meantime I’ll enjoy Ireland’s amazing offerings, like cheese. We came home from the Sheridans fair with a crozier blue, some goat-milk cheese that resembles Monterey Jack, and a very funky cousin of Camembert–along with hot and cold smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse, pork terrine, duck confit, and bread & butter pickles. Nope, we aren’t going hungry here.