If you are ever in a restaurant in southeast Ireland and hear someone say blah, it’s not a comment on the quality of the food. What they're really talking about is a doughy, white bread roll that’s a specialty of the city: the Waterford blaa.
When Dan and I visited Waterford a couple of weeks ago, the blaa was on the menu. Of course we had to try it.
What's a Waterford blaa?
Blaas are made from only five, very inexpensive ingredients:
- Preservative-free, strong baker’s flour
- Table salt
- Compressed yeast
- Dough conditioner
Blaas can be either crusty or soft. Choose your favorite:
- Crusty – Crunchy at first bite, then chewy with a subtle malt taste and a pleasing bitter aftertaste from the well cooked, dark crust.
- Soft – Slightly sweet, malty flavor, light but firm in texture and melts in the mouth. (Dan said they remind him of potato rolls.)
History of the Waterford blaa
I'll bet you're wondering how the Waterford blaa got such an odd name. At least, I was. Here's what I learned:
When the French Huguenots settled in Waterford City in the 1690s, they brought the blaa with them. According to legend, they baked a bread product made from leftover pieces of dough, and then liberally dusted it with white flour before baking.
Some say the bakers used the term “blaad” to signify leftover dough. Others say its name comes from blanc, the French word for “white,” due to all the flour it’s covered in. Bottom line: Nobody knows for sure. Pick your favorite story and run with it. 🙂
The blaa caught on in the early 1800s, because it was affordable by the poor local population. It was cheap to produce, so it could be sold for very little money. Soon, the blaa became a part of everyday life, and they still are today. Around 12,000 blaas are baked in Waterford daily, with most sold by the end of lunch!
Because they are usually baked overnight and quickly lose freshness, people usually eat blaas at breakfast time. They are most commonly eaten with just a little butter, but the breakfast blaa (egg, bacon rasher and sausage) is also popular. Chefs also like to use them as a creative outlet, like ours did with Dan's vegetarian eggs Benedict.
When lunchtime rolls around, locals make blaa sandwiches. Corned beef, Red Lead (a red-colored luncheon meat), and ham and cheese are especially popular among the Irish, though vegetarian fillings are also available.
Waterford blaas are also popular things to eat before a big hurling or soccer match.
What makes blaa unique
Over the years, the Waterford Blaa has been entered into a number of culinary competitions, and has won awards like the prestigious Eurotoque for uniqueness and quality. In 2013 it earned the coveted PGI (protected geographical indication) status. This is a big deal in the E.U. because – just as only sparkling wines from France’s Champagne region is a true “champagne” – only a blaa made in Waterford can legally go by that name,
So if you find a recipe online, your creation can have the identical taste, but it can never be a bona fide Waterford blaa. No one can make a blaa unless you're in Waterford County, and only if it is made by one of the handful of bakeries certified to do so.
Fortunately, you can now enjoy a Waterford blaa all over Ireland. They are now shipped throughout the country.