Every Irish cheesehead knows the origin story. In the 1970s, a dazzlingly clever philosophy student eloped with a Wittgenstein professor to the windswept Irish Western peninsula of Beara. They had no telephones and drove a temperamental Hillman Minx; what they had was a one-horned cow called Brisket whose milk they used for barter. Eventually, this student made, from Brisket’s milk, a soft washed, orange rind cheese. It tasted of cream, funk, mushrooms, and smoke, not what you would expect from the straightforward Catholic Ireland palate. The cheese was Milleens. The philosophy student was Veronica Steele, and from the wilds of the Irish West, the Irish farmhouse cheese revolution was born.
Irish dairy is unsurpassed, and so it goes without saying that a lot of its cheese is superb. Farmhouse cheese is still a new movement in this country, far younger than anything that has been going on in the Continent or in Great Britain, or even America. Having said that, Ireland’s cheesemakers are still first or second generation. Their legacy is still fresh, as is their capacity to be inventive.
What defines an Irish farmhouse cheese? Well, there are the cheesemakers that make their cheeses solely from the milk that is from their herds, and then there are those who source from their neighbours. In our opinion, this does not affect deliciousness, per se. Goat and sheep’s milk (from animals who have been feeding on lush, Irish grass) have also entered the market. So has an increased demand for raw milk. However one thing has not changed, which is that Irish farmhouse cheese was, and continues to be personal. Every Irish cheesemaker continues to be hands-on with their product; they have cooked the milk, shaped the cheese, and sniffed each wheel as it ages. When you eat Irish farmhouse cheese, you are also getting a bit of the person who made it.
The most renowned Irish farmhouse cheeses are Tipperary’s blue veined, crumbly Cashel and Crozier; Milleens, buttery Durrus and the semi-soft, nutty Gubbeen, whose cheese-whey goes to feed its equally wonderfully tasting pigs.
Here are another twelve Irish cheeses you might not know but should:
Buttery, chalky, rich, and nutty. This pasteurized cow’s milk cheese is made in Kanturk, County Cork, and is probably most similar to Gruyere.
Our favorite version of these goat’s milk cheeses is the semi-hard version when it is still too young to be grated. Manchego-like in flavor and texture, it has a white color, bloomy rind, and a salty tang.
Carrigbyrne (St. Killian and Humming Bark)
Carrigbyrne is the Camembert of Ireland. Both cheeses are semi-soft with a bloomy white, edible rind and a butter yellow interior. St. Killian is the most popular, milder with hints of lemon and caramel. Humming Bark is more potent, with flavors of butterscotch and mushroom.
Dutch style Gouda made in Cork. An aged Coolea is wonderful — buttery, salty, gold-hued, with hints of butterscotch, and a fudgy, slightly grainy texture on the tongue.
Silke Croppe is one of the raw milk cheese heroes in this country. Her award winning aged raw goat’s milk cheese has notes of honey and caramel, but also try her fresh sheep’s milk cheeses (tart and creamy) and her piquant cow’s milk Camembert-like cheese. Note: Silke is in the Temple Bar Market on Saturdays and also does cheesemaking workshops in her farm in Cavan.
This semi-soft, washed-rind raw milk cheese, from the seaside county Kerry, is yellow like sunshine, silky soft under its copper-colored edible rind, peppered with holes, and nutty in flavor. Reminiscent of a young, creamy, Gruyere.
Kilkenny based Knockdrinna is mainly known for its goat-milk cheeses – its bloomy, mild goat’s brie and also its butter-yellow, semi hard Knockdrinna gold. However, we are super excited by its Meadow’s Sheep, made with (you guessed it) sheep’s milk, with its lightly washed rind and a semi-hard creamy white interior with its hints of grass and cream.
Raw milk, cloth bound cheddar made by hand in small batches only in season by cheesemarker Peter Ireson, in the Beara Pennisula. Creamy, nutty, floral, mild, and rare – if you see it, grab it.
Full-bodied, salty, creamy, tangy mozzarella from the only water-buffalo herd in Ireland.
Mount Callen Cheddar
Raw milk cheddar, rubbed with butter and aged in cloth.
St. Tola Log.
All of St. Tola’s cheeses come milk from the Inagh Goat farm and one other farm next door. While St. Tola is renowned for all its goat’s milk cheeses, we love the ones that made it famous, which are the chevre styles; the creamy young log with its hints of lemon, and the slightly more mature Boucheron-style version with its bloomy rind and its buttery interior.
Triskel (Gwenned and Pyramid)
Brittany-born Anna Leveque uses only raw milk from her justly famed cheeses; also she uses only one herd for her goat’s milk and one herd for her cow’s milk. Her other signature is ash – which runs through her buttery, semi-soft washed rind raw milk Gwenned cheese (like Morbier), and through the white, creamy, fresh goat’s milk Pyramid (like California’s Humboldt Fog).