We may not always like the rain, but it makes for great grass -- the key to Ireland's well-earned reputation for wonderful dairy produce. For the past few decades, that rich, creamy milk has been the foundation for the ever-growing number of superb handmade cheeses that are now so familiar that we take them for granted.
And, now that the artisan cheese market is so competitive, a surprising number of entrepreneurs looking for a niche product have taken to making ice creams.
And very good a lot of it is too; no less than three were nominated for tasting in this year's Irish Food Writers' Guild Awards. For example, there's Ticketymoo (made on-farm with Jersey milk at Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh), Tipperary Organic (handmade by Paddy and Joyce O'Keeffe at Clogheen, Co Tipperary) and Murphys (made by Sean and Kieran Murphy in Dingle, Co Kerry). Some are made to old family recipes, at least one is a secret Italian recipe, and others, such as Murphys', are there for everyone to share (see below). What they all have in common is a commitment to quality products using the very best local ingredients, which has the world beating a path to their doors.
Anyone visiting Dingle lately will know the cheerful blue and white Murphys shop, where you can have a really good coffee and a slice of one of Sean's wife Wiebke's fabulous German gateaux, as well as the full range of their ice creams. It was so successful that they opened a Killarney shop. Now they've written a book about it all, The Book of Sweet Things (Mercier Press, €19.99). The brothers are American, but visited Ireland often when growing up because their father is from Cork. They felt so at home in Dingle that they decided to find a way to live there. With the help of the milk from the black Kerry cows, the idea of making ice cream for a living was born.
Now, almost the whole family has relocated to Kerry, including their Aunt Carol, their father's sister who taught them all about good home cooking. It's a great success story and the book, written in Kieran's languid, laid-back style, makes an enjoyable read. But there's loads of practical stuff in there too.
This is not a short cut cookbook and there are no gimmicky recipes, but an emphasis on the importance of using the best ingredients, suggestions for where to find them and information on equipment and safety. Every recipe that contains eggs includes instructions on pasteurisation and they wisely suggest that readers visit the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's website, www.fsai.ie.
Now try some for yourself. Seasonality is key to the Murphys' philosophy, so I've picked out some summer favourites.