By Kristin Kenneally
CORK, Ireland – Starting in the 1890’s Ireland’s dairy supply began to be more organized with the emergence of dairy cooperatives. Farmers brought their milk to a large industrial processor, or corporate retailer, that would later turn it into butter or cheese, usually Irish cheddar in the beginning. This remained the style of production well into the 20th century.
It was not until the 1970’s that smaller, farmhouse style cheeses came about in Ireland. Many of the cheeses were created in response to the influence of blow-ins – people from other areas of Europe “blowing in” to Ireland in hopes of starting something new on the Emerald Isle. Many of the first farmhouse cheese producers were women in County Cork.
During an in-class tasting hosted by Colin Sage, senior lecturer in the University College Cork geography department, several different types of cheeses from Munster Province were placed on the table. Five cheeses, a testament to the changing cheese traditions of the area, and Sheridan’s Brown Bread Crackers were at the ready.
The first cheese was a soft, goat cheese from Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith of St. Tola. The Ash Log is a pasteurized cheese that is rolled in food ash to slow the maturation of the cheese. Tasting notes: hints of goat and honey followed by a chalky aftertaste.
Next we sampled Clonmore goat cheese from Charleville, County Cork. Tom and Lina Biggane, husband and wife, started making Clonmore in 2001. The cheese is made from pasteurized goat milk and has a dry, almost Parmesan texture. The sample we tasted was about six or seven months old; the time at which the Clonmore producers say the cheese is best. Tasting notes: a long finish, leaving a smoky aftertaste on the tongue.
The third cheese was Milleen’s rind-washed semi-soft cheese created by Veronica Steel, a leader in the farmhouse cheese movement of the 1970’s. Tasting notes: a strong earthy aroma with a bitter aftertaste. For me, the initial smell of the cheese was much better than the final impression.
We then moved onto the only blue cheese in the rotation. Cashel Blue got started in 1984 by the husband and wife duo of Jane and Louis Grubb. This cheese comes from pasteurized cow’s milk from County Tipperary. Tasting notes: a strong, yet smooth taste. Very quickly after sampling, I could picture this cheese pairing well with several different types of foods.
The final cheese was a classic Cork cheddar. Hegarty’s Farmhouse Cheddar began in 2002 by brothers John and Dan Hegarty, based out of Cork city. Tasting notes: a very sharp flavor with a long finish, evoking barnyards and hay for me. The cheddar tasted best when eaten with Sheridans Irish Brown Bread Crackers.