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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7


The progress that Irish artisan cheese has made over the last few decades is astounding yet being able to buy it abroad is still a rarity. I saw this lately in France where they are happy to buy in our meat by the truckload but its bringing coals to Newcastle trying to get foreign cheese onto the continent. There are the courteous nods to Holland and Italy with the odd specimen of Gorgonzola and Edam on the shelves but otherwise the French are happy to eat their own stuff, they have around five hundred beauties to pick from.

The Irish have been seriously reviving its cheese making heritage since the seventies and the calibre is there with genuine international recognition from those who judge what is good and great in the annual world cheese awards. The likes of Cashel Blue and Milleens are past gold medal winners from usually around four thousand competitors representing forty countries with judges from each nationality too. This is the annual Michelin Star of the cheese world so it is not to be sniffed at. Naturally France, Italy and Switzerland dominate the fromage gongs which are held in a different country each year; they will be in Norway this autumn.

Other Irish cheeses making international noises in the past have been the likes of Durrus and Gubbeen along with St. Tola and Ardsallagh, two of our big goat cheeses are now joined by a goat cheese from my own Boyne Valley but skilfully made into a blue this time which is delicious.

Being Ireland we have of course some cheeses with Guinness and Whiskey flavours and plenty of smoked varieties as well, like the superb Knockanore. The south of the country tends to be where the more prominent producers are but around our small island we have about seventy talented artisan cheesemakers crafting around two hundred types many of which are raw cheese. Style wise they work right across the range emulating quality versions of everything from buffalo mozzarella, ricotto and percorino to brie, camembert, feta, halloumi and gouda using sheep, goat and cow’s milk. They have worked long and hard to gain the expertise to reach the levels of quality.

It should be no surprise that cheese has had such a revival in Ireland after all our monks and missionaries spread it in all its forms across Europe by founding monasteries in the likes of Munster in France and St. Gallen in Switzerland from the seventh century. Cheese was an integral part of the Christian diet so it would have literally been a life saving skill. Locals would have gained the evolving recipes that still exist today in each region of Europe. Previously the ancient Greeks and Egyptians were the first at cheese but after the Roman Empire fell so did cheesemaking in Europe until the monks revived it in the middle ages.

Hence the amazing cheese culture of continental Europe has thrived ever since as a result. Medieval cheese making in Ireland was also common place. The Gaelic word for cheese is Cais and this derives from Norman French qualifying the continental connection. As the English took over Ireland sadly the art of cheese making was suppressed as well as the Irish language. Cheese was deemed a luxury when farmers became tenants on their own land.

Irish milk being of such a high standard means the raw product is of exceptional quality. It is just a pity that more people cannot enjoy Irish cheese abroad. Speaking to foodie visitors here who have had farmhouse cheese tours and tastings they are extremely surprised by the quality we have to offer. The food marketing bodies do their best to get our stuff exported but then you have to scale up to manufacture the amounts foreign markets will require and in doing so often the magic of the small artisan flavour is lost with the increased regulations imposed to make the product safer and safer. This is the same for most countries exporting cheese. We have our own cheese in Ireland again and it is right up there with any other big cheese.

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