Irish Artisan Cheeses

13 Oct 2011

Clockwise from the top: Glebe Brethan Gruyere, Figs {graciously donated by Avoca}, Cooleeney, Cratloe Hill’s Sheeps Milk Cheese, Cashel Blue, Beal Organic Cheddar, St. Tola Goat’s Cheese.

Yes, it is true. I have become a bit obsessed with all things dairy as of late. Butter, raw milk, cheese, cheese and more glorious cheese. I confess, I have become a born-again cheesehead and this is for a perfectly good reason: one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets is that this beautiful “food island” is awash with absolutely amazing artisanal cheeses that you simply cannot ignore.

Of course, I felt it was my obligation to share just a few {which had nothing to do with my luxurious sampling of each and every one of them over wine, figs and crackers for an entire week…no, no, no…not at all} so that you can celebrate this cheesy goodness with me as well.

And while I don’t have any recipes to share with you for this blog post, I hope to do so in the future as my farmer and I are taking a cheese making course here this summer.

So, without further adieu, I invite you to indulge in a few of these special cheeses along with so many more that Ireland has on offer…

Cooleeney is a soft mould ripened cheese, with a beautiful creamy texture and a distinctive aftertaste. This cheese is produced on the Maher farm in the heart of Tipperary where the pastures are rich and are surrounded by damp boggy land an environment which allows the Mahers to produce Cooleeney which, when mature are creamy and oozing with the flavour of one of the finest cheeses.

Glebe Brethan is an artisan cheese made from unpasteurised Montbeliarde cows’ milk at the Tiernan Family Farm, Dunleer, Co. Louth, Ireland. The pedigree cows graze on lush pastures and are fed cereals grown on the farm. It is a gruyere-type cheese made in 45-kilo wheels, which are matured on spruce timbers for 6-18 months. It is carefully hand-turned and salted to form a natural rind, which enhances its unique flavour.

St. Tola Cheese has a unique and distinctive flavour that owes much to the clean fresh environment in which it is produced. The 65 acre organic farm provides herb rich grass and hay for the goats. The St Tola Herd comprises of Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine Goats approx 220 in total – a mixture of milkers, kids and pucks. Every year the herd increases by keeping the offspring from the best milkers while retiring goats and their kids are given away as family pets or sent onto Bothar.

Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese was the first Irish ewe’s milk made in modern times. The Fitzgerald family milks their herd of pedigree Friesland ewes from March, after the lambing has finished, until September when the ewes get a much-deserved winter break. The lightly waxed cheese is matured for between 2 – 6 months. The young cheese has a semi-firm texture and a light caramel taste and a slightly dry finish. As the cheese ages, the texture dries slightly and the flavour becomes more robust. Enjoyable with a light wine such as Beaujolais or Chateau Filliol.

Cashel Blue is a semi-soft blue cows’ milk cheese. It is unique, as it is Ireland’s first farmhouse blue cheese. It is all made on the dairy farm of Jane and Louis Grubb nr Cashel in Co. Tipperary Ireland. While some milk is purchased, the majority of the milk comes from the pedigree Friesian dairy herd on the farm. The cheese is made from pasteurised whole milk. It is sold in many speciality outlets in the U.K., United States and Ireland, as well as being listed by most of the British Multiples. Much of the cheese is sold young, while it is firm and crumbly, but for a fuller flavour it is best eaten at about three months of age, when it has a softer texture and more mature flavour.

You can find these cheeses and many more at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Fallon & Byrne, Superquinn, Avoca and other shops and restaurants that support local cheese producers in Ireland.

Collins Press has sent me a copy of this lovely new book: Irish Farmhouse Cheeses, A Celebration to share with one lucky reader! Please leave a comment below to be included in the drawing…just tell me why you love Irish cheese, what your favourite Irish cheese is or why you’d love to learn more about these magnificent cheeses. I will happily ship this gem throughout Ireland and abroad.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photography by Imen McDonnell

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