I’m always interested in how food trends spread around the world and how we adopt and adapt other country’s traditions. For some reason Tapas have registered on my radar several times over the past few weeks. Perhaps it’s just the summer and people looking to warmer countries for inspiration.
So what is ‘tapas’ and where did it originate? Well first of all let’s dispel the myth that tapas are just a collection of starters. In Spain, tapas are a separate eating event altogether and not intended to be an appetiser before a main meal; tapas stand alone. Tapas are small plates of food to be consumed when drinking; “Eat when you drink, drink when you eat” is the Spanish philosophy. Traditionally Spanish men drink outside the home and generally with others. The ‘tapa’ (that’s not a typo) are not meant to be a meal. The idea is one tapa (plate) per person and a different one with each drink and then everyone in the group enjoys tasting and sharing. Tapas are usually made of good local ingredients and that’s why they vary from region to region. According to one source it started with a piece of bread with ham and cheese balanced over a glass to keep out the bugs; the word ‘tapa’ means cover.
We have taken this old Spanish tradition and trampled somewhat on this lovely, laid back ceremony. We have ‘Tapas’ evenings in our homes when the Spanish would only ever indulge in tapas in the proper setting of a bar or tavern. I’ve been places where a few olives crudely speared with cocktail sticks and cut rounds of French stick topped with razor thin slices of Parma ham are offered as this great Spanish cuisine. “Help yourself to some tapas”, said one particularly misguided host as she picked up and proffered a bowl of Bombay mix!
Instead of wrecking a tradition I am suggesting you try Tipperary Tapas. The idea came to me as I was lucky enough to attend the wonderful 2011 Long Table Dinner in Rockwell College last week. The Long Table Dinner is a showcase of Tipperary Food where an entire meal of several courses is made with locally produced food. It was a triumph on many levels but also gave me this idea for Tipperary Tapas (an ideal way to watch the upcoming All Ireland perhaps with a few drinks.) We have such an abundance of super cheese makers, meat specialists, fruit, vegetable and herb growers and bread makers that you wouldn’t have to leave the environs of the county to create a top Tipperary Tapas spread. I can guarantee that the hurlers will have travelled more miles from Tipp to Croke Park than any of the food at your party!
In Spain they successfully marry top quality meat and fish with the punchy flavours of olives, anchovies, capers and chorizo sausage along with fresh herbs, tender vegetables and citrus juices. At the 2011 Long Table Dinner there were several items on the menu that could be easily adapted. For example the canapés served consisted of Una O’Dwyer’s artisan black pudding was combined with Con Traas’ Bramley seedling apples and it was all wrapped in a crispy pastry and topped with red onion chutney from The Scullery. We also had Gortnamona goat’s cheese and Chargrilled Courgette Bruchetta with a Red Pepper Relish. This was simplycrispy croutes of bread from Hickeys Bakery topped with courgettes, Gortnamona Cheese from Cooleeney Farm and finished with red pepper relish from Crossogue’s Award Winning Preserves.
The range of breads available to use in the county is astonishing. On the table the basket had Crusty Brown Spelt with Honey and Mixed Seeds from Mags Home Baking, Handmade Olive Bread by The Tipperary Kitchen and a Traditional White with Poppy seeds from Hickey’s Bakery served with olive oil and a selection of dips by Browne’s of Tipperary.
The meat was all local; James Whelan beef, free range pork from Crowe’s Family Farm which was complemented by Nora Egan’s black pudding from Inch House and apple jelly from Crossogue Preserves. We also had Seymour’s Organic lamb cutlet along with Una O’ Dwyer’s gourmet smoked bacon and cheese sausage en croutè. All of these can be miniaturised or cut and served as bites on smaller plates.
Then there was the cheese board that would stand up to any international offering: Cashel Blue, Crozier Blue, Cooleeney, Baylough Smoked Cheddar, Daru and Garlic and Dill Dunbarra served with Crossogue Quince Jelly, oat crackers, figs and Walnut and Raisin Bread from The Tipperary Kitchen.
The above are just a few ideas as I haven’t even mentioned the sweet items from The Cookie Jar, Kate and Michael Cantwell’s superb sorbet, the wonderful Boulaban Vanilla ice cream or the local herbs and vegetables from Cloughjordan House.
Thinking of it just makes me want to go through it all again as it was truly sensational, but the good news is that you can try it for yourself as a lovely evening of Tipperary Tapas. We really have it all at our fingertips here at home and it’s also a great way to try things without too much commitment. Enjoy and best of luck to the hurlers!
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers