Ireland’s world-class produce: the ingredients sought out by top chefs

by Great British Chefs 7 December 2021

For centuries Ireland has had a reputation for producing some of the finest ingredients around, including – but by no means limited to – its renowned grass-fed beef. We take a closer look at what makes Irish produce so special and why it’s become increasingly popular with chefs in the UK.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

With its rolling fields of lush greenery, seemingly never-ending coastline and booming agricultural industry, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ireland is renowned for its exceptional produce. But what’s remarkable is how many different ingredients it truly excels in the production of. From its much sought-after grass-fed beef, award-winning oysters, to the best-selling stout in the world, more and more British chefs are looking across the Irish Sea to source produce from Ireland. Its produce is championed by British chefs who love what the island has to offer and Irish ingredients now get namechecked on many top restaurant menus. But what is it that makes Irish produce stand out from the crowd?

Ireland’s much-celebrated beef is a great place to start. Reared in conditions which are made for beef farming, a huge amount of care and attention goes into ensuring that Irish cattle are well-looked after, which ultimately leads to a great tasting product. This is one of the reasons that Anna Haugh, chef patron at London’s Myrtle restaurant, uses Irish beef in her restaurant. ‘The farmers care for their animals using practices that have been handed down in their families from generation to generation’, she explains. ‘That’s really important to me and what I have in mind when choosing what goes on my menu.’

The country’s mild climate and heavy rainfall is also perfectly suited to grass-fed beef production. This is an important factor in creating a flavoursome, nutrient-rich product; something which chef Paul Welburn places a lot of importance on. ‘The flavour of grass-fed Irish beef is incredible,’ he says. ‘That’s down to the outdoor grazing on the lush green Irish pastures; the diet of these happy and free cattle brings the unique deep grassy flavour which I look to enhance rather than mask in my cooking.’ To avoid confusion as to what grass-fed actually means, in 2020 Bord Bia introduced a grass-fed standard for Irish beef, which lays out specific rules that must be abided by in order to use the term, meaning that chefs can be ensured of a premium, great-tasting product.

Whilst the taste of Irish beef is obviously key to its popularity (winning more gold medals at the 2021 World Steak Challenge than any other origin), its sustainable and ethical credentials are just as important. That begins with knowing where it has come from, as chef Tom Cenci explains: ‘Traceability is essential for chefs and is also reassuring for the customers on where their food is from and that it has been sustainably produced,’ he explains. ‘The fact that Ireland is also local to the UK is a big plus as it means the carbon footprint is lower and it’s more sustainable.’ Chefs and customers can be further assured by Ireland's Sustainable Beef Assurance Scheme, which was developed in 2017 and has over 52,000 Irish beef farmer members, to help ensure that Irish beef is sustainably produced. It’s schemes like these combined with the product’s undeniable quality which have helped Irish beef gain the reputation it has today.

Irish beef may be one of the island’s most famous exports but there are many ingredients which chefs look to source from Ireland more and more. In the same vein as grass-fed beef, Irish dairy cows come from farms that are members of the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme helping to guarantee the highest quality of product. Irish butter is perhaps the most famous dairy product to come out of the country and is known for its rich, creamy flavour and its yellowy colour – all down to the fact that the cows which produce the milk used to make it are grass-fed.

It’s not just on land where Ireland excels in terms of produce. The Irish seafood industry continues to thrive with shellfish, salmon and increasing amounts of white fish being landed, processed in Ireland. For British chefs, Irish seafood is once again a much more sustainable option than importing fish which has been caught thousands of miles away, meaning that over the past ten years or so, there’s been a new-found appreciation for the country’s sea life. Oysters from Carlingford and Galway regularly appear on the menus of chefs like Richard Corrigan at Bentley’s, and Carters of Mosely, while at restaurant Myrtle Anna Haugh uses everything from Irish mackerel to hake.

Of course, it would be impossible to discuss Ireland’s wonderful produce without at least mentioning alcohol. It’s difficult to think of many drinks more synonymous with a certain place than Guinness is with Ireland, and since 2005 the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin (where Guinness was first created in 1759) has produced every last batch of the stout sold in the UK. This makes for an ultra-consistent, high-quality product that can be found in pretty much every pub in the British Isles. Irish whiskey production meanwhile, continues its revival year on year after facing total collapse in the mid-twentieth century with as few as two distilleries in existence at one point. Now boasting over thirty, from the well-known Jameson and Bushmills to the artisanal small-scale producers, Irish whiskey is well and truly back on the map and renowned amongst connoisseurs. We would be amiss to not also mention the ever growing Irish craft beer scene that has been achieving outstanding growth for the last number of years now having over 70 brewers and the range of award winning beers being produced is growing constantly.

Ireland’s stunning produce has also acted as an inspiration to many young chefs on the island itself, helping to reinvigorate Ireland’s own dining scene. Today, some of Ireland’s finest chefs are cooking here in the UK, running acclaimed restaurants of their own. Richard Corrigan has been at the forefront of the UK’s dining scene for close to three decades now and his most recent London opening Daffodil Mulligan is all about classic Irish cooking and produce. Dublin-born Robin Gill also has an ever-growing portfolio of restaurants in the capital serving produce-led dishes, while Patrick Powell (whose first job came in the kitchen at Dublin’s legendary L’Ecrivain) is currently turning heads with his inventive contemporary dishes at east London’s Allegra.

It’s chefs like these who have helped make people more aware of the amazing produce coming out of Ireland, but ingredients like Irish grass-fed beef and dairy are out there for everyone to try. They’re immensely popular for simple reasons – they’re great tasting, high-quality, sustainable products. As people continue to move towards buying produce from closer to home where possible, Irish ingredients are now more in demand than ever and only set to become even more popular in the coming years.