For a few weeks each year, I live in a little stone farmhouse in West Cork, Ireland. My view is of rock-fenced fields stretching down to the distant Atlantic Ocean.
As much as I love the scenery, what draws me here each September is the Taste of West Cork Food Festival. It’s a 10-day celebration of the local bounty in Ireland’s southwest corner — the Wild Atlantic Way, as it is known — a rich farming area where the people are fiercely proud of their seafood, meat and other products. (The dairy is “the best in the world,” one local says, adding, “This isn’t just hyperbole. This is fact!”)
The festival, which runs this year from Sept. 8 to 17, is increasingly known as a must-do for foodies, yet it’s also an opportunity for any visitor to dive into local culture in a unique (and tasty) way. Events are spread out through eight islands and 33 towns and villages. They include walking tours and street fairs in the charming towns; boat trips for seafood meals on nearby islands; and cooking lessons and food tastings combined with biking, music, history and hiking. You can get your hands dirty, too: In an event called the West Cork Cast, Catch and Cook Experience, you’ll fish for pollack, cod and mackerel, then learn to fillet and prepare your catch before — the best part — savoring it. I once did a kayak tour where we picked and ate different kinds of seaweed; another time, I went to a “wild fermentation” workshop and learned how to cultivate starters for sauerkrauts and sourdough breads.
You can, of course, just eat. You’ll have endless opportunities to indulge in area specialties, including mussels and langoustines; a fantastic range of white fish (cod, hake, haddock, halibut); pork; beef from grass-fed cattle; and lamb. Then there are the puffy scones piled with jam and big dollops of scrumptious clotted cream that are served at almost every stop. The only requirement for this fun festival? An appetite.