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Extraordinary Irish Farmhouse Cheeses
by Bridget Haggerty
Coolea, Carragaline, Cashel Blue, Ardrahan - some of the evocative names found on many of Ireland's best cheeseboards are just a few of the thirty or more produced by members of the Irish Farmhouse Cheese Makers Association. If you're lucky enough to live in Ireland, they're all readily available. If you live elsewhere, not to worry - we've found a great selection on iGourmet.com - which is why we're re-visiting this topic.
When we first published this article, we found one cheese here, one there, but we couldn't find all of our favorites in one place - and some of them we couldn't find at all. But, now we have. So, with great delight, we're re-introducing what has become a phenomenon in international cuisine. Of course, we didn't know that when we tried them ourselves for the first time several years ago. But we're not surprised that the international community is finally discovering Irish cheese. What is surprising is that it didn't happen sooner. In a nation which until recently was almost 100% rural and equated cattle with wealth, it was almost inevitable that Irish farmers would become just more than proficient at cheese-making. Perhaps, as with River Dance and Irish dancing, it was simply a matter of re-discovering what had been there for generations.
Unlike large producers, where milk for cheese-making is pooled from several sources, Irish Farmhouse cheese uses milk produced by the farmer's own herd. Made by the families who, in most cases, have lived and worked on the same farm for centuries, Irish cheese is as richly varied as the national landscape, with dairies ranging across the length and breadth of the country. Many of the cheeses have quite distinctive flavors, derived from the grass and wild herbs on which a particular herd grazes. Their names read like Yeats country poetry...
Ardrahan is produced on the Burns family farm in Duhallow - a region in Southern Ireland reputed for its clean environment and rich pastures. Hand-made, using traditional cheese-making methods, it has a creamy nutty flavor similar in some respects to a Swiss Appenzeller. Beneath the brine-washed rind, the deep yellow interior is firm and slightly chalky. It has won many awards, with the judges repeatedly finding it to be complex, flavorful and zesty.
Cahill Marbled Cheddar
Located in County Limerick and recognized as the originator of fine Irish cheese, Marion Cahill of Cahill's Farm has developed an interesting range of flavored cheddars. Using a base of tangy Irish cheddar, she has experimented with a variety of flavors and has come up with some very popular combinations: Elderberry, Porter and Irish Whiskey.
We had this for the first time at a restaurant in Kenmare which is famous for having more eateries than pubs! Made by Jane and Louis Grubbs, Cashel Blue has a wet, crusty rind. When young, it is firm, yet moist, with just a hint of fresh tarragon and white wine. With age, its character emerges, mellowing to a rounder, more spicy style. We've never forgotten our first taste of this heavenly cheese from Beechmount Farm in the rolling hills of Tipperary.
This delicious cheese was also included in our memorable Kenmare meal. It's made by the Willems family in the hills of County Cork. Dick and Helene Willems, a married couple of Dutch descent, began their adventure in cheesemaking when they quit the restaurant business and toured Europe in search of a more peaceful place to live. After brief stints in France and Spain, the family settled down on a farm near the inland town of Coolea. Not wanting to return to the restaurant business, the couple needed to find a new line of work. Given the excellent grazing conditions on their farm, they inevitably turned to cheesemaking. Drawing on their Dutch heritage, they decided to make an Irish version of Gouda. However, the presence of wild herbs in the grazing fields gives their Coolea a richer, fruitier flavor and their Mature Coolea, which is aged for over 6 months, is piquant with a delicious, fresh aftertaste.
It's named after its town of origin, which in turn is derived from the Gaelic words Carraig-Ui-Leighin meaning Rock of the Lynes. The Lynes were an old Irish family who built a stone castle on a hilltop of limestone rock in 1170AD. Besides cheese, Carrigaline is known for its pottery and its fabulous county market, heralded as one of the best in Ireland. Ann and Pat OFarrell make their semi-soft Carrigaline cheese with cows milk from their own Fresian herd. This cheese is ideal for melting or simply for enjoying with an after-dinner drink.
The Ryefield Farm is situated on the shores of Lough Ramour about 45 miles Northwest of Dublin. On the farm, the Brodie family produces top-quality milk for their tender, hand-rolled Boilie cheeses. They make two varieties of Boilie, one from cow's milk and the other from goat's milk. Each is naturally preserved in sunflower oil, delicately flavored with herbs and garlic, and packed in glass jars. Boilie is wonderfully delicate and is soft enough to spread.
Ah well, so much for the poetry, now for the prose. Not so sweet to say still delicious to taste - wonderful cheeses but they don't have romantic names.
Dubliner tastes of a mature Cheddar with the sweet aftertaste of Parmigiano Reggiano. Created by the Irish company Kerrygold and named after Irelands capital city, this cheese shares traits with several well-known cheeses but the combination creates a flavor that is completely unique.
Ireland is home to five times as many cattle as humans. Butter and milk have been valued since ancient times and a new generation of cheese makers are now rediscovering old recipes and valuing cheese again. To make Shamrock Cheddar, cows milk curd is scalded twice and is repeatedly cut and piled in order to remove the whey and break down the curd. This gives the cheese a unique texture and flavor. It's aged for over 12 months and has a creamy, taut texture and sweet grassy flavor.
Vintage Irish Cheddar
Kerrygold, the Irish cheese crafters that produce Blarney and Dubliner, make a spectacular, limited production two-year aged Vintage Cheddar. Encased in black wax to differentiate it from less-aged Cheddars, this special cheddar is the result of a careful grading process such that only the best are allowed to bear the "Vintage" label.
Irish BlarneyA semi-soft, part-skim cheese of exceptional quality and original character. Its wholesome purity is a reflection of the green and unspoiled countryside in which it is produced.
We hope you've enjoyed this brief exploration of Irish Farm House Cheeses; they truly are exceptional and we encourage you to try at least one or more of them. A couple we haven't found yet and worth a mention are Cooneen, a robust goat's milk cheese from the Woodford Dairy in County Tyrone, and Durrus - a semi-soft cheese which is very famous in West Cork and is produced in Jeffa Gill's Cow Dairy. We're hoping to persuade iGourmet to import these as well!
While there's no question that buying all of the cheeses mentioned here is an expensive proposition, might we make a suggestion: why not pool the resources and have a cheese-tasting party with each guest bringing a sample of one or more? Certainly, it would be the most economical way to sample them.
Content & Images: iGourmet We are delighted to have found this source. They have all of these wonderful Irish Cheeses - in one place.
If you are interested in buying any of the cheeses mentioned in the article, simply click on the name of the Cheese. If you want them all, any one cheese will take you there.
Any purchase made helps to support our site (& helps Russ have some of these cheeses too). Thank you.
Thu, Jul 27, 2017
"...the freshest of food and
the oldest of drink"
- Irish Proverb
The New Irish Table
by Margaret Johnson
Margaret Johnsons love of Ireland permeates page after glorious page of mouthwatering Irish dishes, from Smoked Salmon Chowder to Raspberry Buttermilk Tarts. Lavish color photographs of the food, the landscapes, and the people are woven through the text, making The New Irish Table the next best thing to sitting down to dinner in Ireland itself.
Click here for New Irish Table.