We don’t struggle in Ireland to find great cheeses. Probably because we have one of the best outdoor grass fed systems in the world for our dairy herds, which produces superlative quality milk. Irish cows graze outdoors on sweet lush grass through the spring and summer and well into autumn.
In Ireland, spring is declared to have arrived on 1st February, also known as St.Brigid’s Day. St. Brigid’s is the Patron Saint of dairy, so it’s not unusual to find a St.Brigid’s Cross hanging in milking parlours in rural Ireland. This simple cross, hand made from reeds from boggy fields, is said to protect the farm from bad luck and ensure a prolific milk supply throughout the season. The tradition probably dates back to pagan times, since Brigid was a pagan Goddess long before she was ever a Christian Saint. In pagan Ireland, spring (known as Imbolc in old Irish) was a time when superstitions were rife at the coming of the season, when the fairies played their tricks on humans and livestock and were thought to be able to curse the cows or poison the milk in some way.
WHAT MAKES GREAT CHEESE
A great cheese relies on milk which is rich in protein and fat. These nutrients come from the excellent quality pasture Ireland is known for in its forty shades of green fields. Dairy farming is no job for a wuzz, since the herd is milked twice a day, morning and evening, every day of the season. There’s something soothing if you live in the country about seeing a line of cows walking to or from the milking parlour.
It gives you the feeling that all is good in the world, as our agricultural heritage continues. Ireland’s farmhouse cow’s milk cheeses are a product of this longstanding heritage.
Some of Ireland’s cheesemakers make their cheeses from the milk of their own herds. Others began to do this in the early days, but found the demand for their cheese outgrew the time they had to milk cows. As a result, they began to source their milk locally in order to concentrate on making cheese full time.
Goats and sheep’s milk is also used for making cheese. In the old days, these animals were often kept on a farm or smallholding where the land was rough and not suitable to graze cows. Keeping a few goats or sheep for milk, cheese and meat was the only way to survive, particularly in the west of Ireland where land is marginal and grazing poor. Nowadays, goats and sheep are raised specially for their milk for making cheese. Irish goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses are well recognised, scooping as many awards at home and abroad as their bovine counterparts.
GOOD FOOD IRELAND CHEESES
Check out our award winning collection of cheeses and cheesemakers in the Good Food Ireland network. There’s a diverse range of styles from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s cheese, all absolutely pristine in quality and taste. Some cheeses are made for cooking, others shine out for the cheeseboard. Each and everyone of them has been made with love, dedication and commitment to the job.
TOP CHEESE TIPS
1. Always remove your cheese from the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving it on the cheeseboard to allow the flavours to come through.
2. Serve a selection of simple crackers or oatcakes with your cheese. These will enhance the cheese rather than overpower it.
3. Soft runny cheeses often prefer a bit of crusty bread as a base. Choose a rustic sourdough baguette where you can break pieces off as you go.
4. Fresh fruit accompaniments are good with cheese. Hard cheeses love fresh apple. Blue cheese works well with pears. Grapes go brilliantly with soft cheeses. Soft goat’s cheeses are good with fresh berries or a fresh fruit compote.
5. The usual rule of thumb for a good cheeseboard is one hard cheese, one blue cheese, a soft cheese and a speciality cheese. However, you can toss that out of the window in favour of serving a big hunk of one favourite cheese like a mature cheddar, wedge of piece of blue cheese or a whole wheel of soft cheese. Serve your cheeseboard with fresh fruit and/or suitable chutneys/relishes, plus crackers.
CHEESE AND WHISKEY – THE PERFECT MATCH
Here’s your chance to enjoy two of Ireland’s best known products, with an Irish Whiskey and Farmhouse Cheese Tasting Experience. In Killarney in Co. Kerry, The Irish Whiskey Experience joins cheese and whiskey in a superb tasting. The best way to get to know a bit about cheese and whiskey and try styles of both you may not have tried before. Find out more about what’s included in this exclusive experience here.
Want to learn more about the cheese makers in the Good Food Ireland network? Click below to view their individual profile pages.