Cheese, Wine and Good Cheer

Galway Market on a freezing, rainy day in January.

On Saturday I went into Galway to get on with amassing sketches for my new book, An Urban Sketcher’s Galway. I wasn’t too happy to leave the cosy home and drive into a busy, wet town, but time’s a-wasting, and my deadline looms, so I did.

Some Galwegians enjoying market offerings.

You know, one of the best things about the life of an urban sketcher is its unpredictability. You just never know what’s going to happen when you head out onto the streets and start drawing. Last Saturday was a perfect example. I had arranged with the wonderful Aoife of Sheridan’s the Cheesemongers to sketch in the shop the following Tuesday, when it would be quiet: the shop is very small, and you can barely move for cheese, charcuterie and tins of gorgeous things. But until then, I thought perhaps I could draw the Saturday market through a window in the wine bar above the shop, because it looks over it, and there was no way in the world I was going to sketch outdoors. I was given a warm welcome by Elena, the Italian woman who runs the wine bar. Soon, I was sketching what I could through the window.

There was only one stall that I could see clearly: two men, one very young, one a bit older, were selling oysters, eggs and honey. It teemed with rain and I marvelled at their stoicism. As I watched, I soon realised the older man (in the white woollen hat) was quite a character. He explained everything the customers could possibly need to know about the eating of an oyster, with hand gestures that depicted opening them, squeezing lemon on top, popping them in the mouth, chomping them – the whole lot.

There was a lot of laughter between the oyster merchants and the customers. Most of them looked like visitors to Galway. Then a few locals stopped by to chat and they too laughed uproariously together. After I finished the sketch I showed it to the young lad on the stall, who was now on his own. I wasn’t sure if it was the same young lad I’d been watching, so I asked him. He didn’t seem more than about 17.

“No,” he said, “that was my twin, and the other guy is my dad. He’s just gone off for lunch.”

I told him I’d been sketching his brother and his dad, and that his dad seemed like great craic.

“He is,” said the young fella, who is called Ben. “He’s known for it.” He was clearly very proud of him and it struck me that they seemed like a very happy family. He told me that his father was taking a Master’s degree in fine art, so I was very pleased to share the sketch with him (Ben took a photo).

Meanwhile, upstairs, a couple of customers had come in as I sketched, and had eaten platters of cheese and charcuterie, and sipped glasses of wine. The aroma was divine: smoky, rich, salty. I decided I would go and buy some cheeses when I went downstairs, and pick up some wine on the way home, and have it with my lovely husband and my lovely teens and my older daughter’s lovely boyfriend (it’s not always like that but I had a good feeling about the evening). It would all be marvellous, I just knew it.

When I went downstairs and told Aoife what I was looking for, she very generously treated me to cheese and sausage and crackers. So kind. Not alone that, but she asked me what I liked, then picked out cheeses that in her opinion would complement each other. Well, I tell you, she choreographed the cheeses.

“Try the Shropshire Blue,” she said, handing me a thin slice. I went into raptures as it hit my mouth. “Now this,” she said. “It’s a mature goat gouda.” The second cheese only enhanced and enlarged upon the fullness of the first in language that is only “Cheese” (there just aren’t English words to explain the effect). Aoife also gave me some Derg cheddar which was just as a cheddar ought to be: nutty, full-flavoured, with many different notes following one after another. I told Aoife I would sketch the cheeses, and that I would also need a sausage for the sketch so she gave me a Gubbeen venison salami which turned out to be…well, full and smoky and with all kinds of different notes vying for dominance in the mouth.

Here they all are.

Left to right: mature goat gouda, Shropshire Blue and Derg cheddar, with Sheridan’s own brown-bread crackers in the background.

The evening turned out to be every bit as perfect as I’d imagined. I’m not one for pretending things are rosy when they’re not, so I’ll just say that we’ve had our ups and downs as a family, but every now and then you are given a glimpse of how lovely things can be. The dinner was simple but delicious (roast chicken), the young people were charming and the wine and cheese were sublime. I even tottered off and fetched a bottle of port I’d brought back from a trip to Portugal, something I never do – I am nearly always one of the first to keel over (in fatigue, not inebriation, I hasten to add).

The next morning I gathered together the remaining cheese, poured some more port – no, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t drink it at ten o’clock on Sunday morning! – and sketched. I didn’t like the fact that I had cropped the cheese in the previous evening’s sketch, and I thought I had given too much prominence to the green bag (super though it was) so I arranged it all on the kitchen table, once again the delicious aromas drifting over to me.

“Must you?” said Marcel, my husband. “It’s putting me off my muesli.”

I went back to Sheridan’s to sketch the cheese and sausages this morning. The staff were very welcoming, but the session all went to plan with no surprises. And I didn’t have so much as a nibble of cheese, but the sketches are nice. I look forward to sharing them with you.

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