There aren’t many people who love food who haven’t heard the name Isabel Sheridan. This French lady from the Loire Valley set up On the Pig’s Back in Cork’s gourmet English Market sixteen years ago. And her stall has grown to become on of the leading lights of food shopping in this culinary Mecca. Isabel’s success was driven by her background in France. She says when she first came to Ireland, she missed her home produced cheeses so much she started the business in order to bring them in and enjoy them herself. Cheeses and charcuterie were imported from her homeland, and she began to make her own pates and rillettes to compliment the range. Soon, her original stall in the market became too small, and she relocated to a larger space, which is now a flagship place to shop for market visitors.
Everyday the counter hops and buzzes with a lively queue, and there’s always one or other of the staff on hand to offer slivers and tastes if you’re not quite sure what you want. Most people aren’t – the choice is overwhelming and it’s almost a dead cert you’ll go away with more than you planned to buy! As the stall grew, Isabel expanded her cheese selection to include other parts of Europe. These days, the highlight of the beautifully displayed and well stocked counter at On The Pig’s Back is the vast array of home produced Irish farmhouse cheeses which take up almost three quarters of the fridge space nowadays. Isabel has always been a staunch supporter of Ireland’s artisans, and her Irish produced foods don’t stop at cheese. You can find home cured charcuterie, fabulous handmade fresh sausages from Rosscarbery and Wexford, Fillegan’s wonderful preserves and chutneys, G's Gourmet Jams, Fáinne Óir Fine Foods dressings and much, much more in the treasure trove of this food stall. Isabel sources all her stock directly from the farmer or producer and this way, builds up a solid working relationship with them in order to get their produce at it’s best and optimum condition.
This personal connection, Isabel believes, is essential to getting the quality she insists on. Her ethos is simple – there is no point in getting something not at it’s best – it gives a bad representation of the product and her customer’s won’t buy it anyway. Based on this philosophy, one thing you can be absolutely sure of here is that every item has been chosen with love and care, and produced with a passion to match. Another boon is the seasonal aspect – if you are going to find the first Irish asparagus, samphire, or wild garlic anywhere – it will most definitely be here, perched atop the glass counter, waiting to be snapped up. Get in quick though – these items never sit there for long. Sixteen years on, Isabel is still working as hard as she ever did to maintain standards and choice. This marvellous French cook still rises early to make her own pates and rillettes from west Cork pork, silky smooth terrines with fresh duck and goose from Cork farms, traditional French Jambon Persillee – a beautiful mould of chopped ham speckled with fresh parlsey in savoury meat jelly, and cooks a large joint of ham for the deli counter each day. Try her famous and rustic textured Pork and Plum pate with Cognac, or velvety Chicken Liver with Garlic – either of these make a super lunch or first course when you feel like entertaining on the cheat’s scale! She also has French brawn which works a treat with hot mashed potato for a quick supper, rich Salmon Terrine that begs for some brown bread and a glass of Chardonnay to sip with it, and Pâté Forrestiere which takes you right back to that holiday in the French countryside. Need we say more? The takeaway service here is popular with city workers and market goers. You can grab a sandwich on Master bread maker Declan Ryan’s crusty handmade baguette, or enjoy homemade freshly baked pizza with a selection of toppings on his sourdough pizza base. A choice of quiches are made with Isabel’s buttery Pâté Brisee pastry and served in slices. Whatever quick snack takes your fancy – you won’t be disappointed.It’s fair to say Isabel Sheridan is an icon of the Irish food scene - and On the Pig’s Back is one of Cork’s – and indeed Ireland’s superstar food haunts. The English Market wouldn’t be the same without it.Read more about On the Pigs Back, here is their Douglas Premises Restaurant and Food Shop Review