From the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the potato in the 16th century, the main feature of the rural economy was the herding of cattle. The meat produced was mostly the preserve of the gentry and nobility. The poor generally made do with milk, butter, cheese, and offal, supplemented with oats and barley. The dependence on potatoes as a staple food, however, also proved a curse for the Irish with the Potato Famine. Of those who survived over two million emigrated (many to the US and UK) and several million in Ireland were left destitute.
Most traditional Irish food has simple, basic and cheap ingredients. Irish food is known for the quality and freshness of its ingredients. Most cooking is done without herbs or spices, except for salt and pepper. Foods are usually served without sauce or gravy.
The pig is the oldest domesticated animal in Ireland and still plays a major role in food and cooking with sausages, bacon, gammon appearing in many recipes. Irish beef is world renowned
The staples of Irish food have traditionally been potatoes, grains (especially oats), and dairy products. Potatoes still appear at most Irish meals, with potato scones, similar to biscuits or muffins, a specialty in the north. The Irish have also been accomplished cheese makers for centuries. Ireland makes about fifty types of homemade "farmhouse" cheeses, which are considered delicacies.
Soups of all types including seafood, and meats play important roles in Irish food. Soups are thick, hearty, and filling, with potatoes, seafood, and various meats being common ingredients. Since their country is surrounded by water there are many types including salmon, scallops, lobster, mussels, and oysters. However, meat is eaten more often in Irish food. The most common meats are beef, lamb, and pork. A typical Irish dinner consists of potatoes (cooked whole), cabbage, and meat.
Bread in particular is an important part of Irish cuisine. Fresh soda bread, a crusty brown bread made from whole-wheat flour and buttermilk, is a national dish of Ireland. Irish bakers don't stop with soda bread, however. They bake a wide variety of other hearty breads and cakes.
The most common everyday beverage in Ireland is tea. Popular alcoholic beverages include whiskey, beer, and ale. Guinness has a worldwide reputation.