Like Belgium, France, Spain or Italy, green, beautiful Ireland produces highly coveted artisanal cheeses for a worldwide market. The common ingredient that makes cheeses from Ireland so unique is the exceptional quality of the milk used—either from cows, sheep or goats.
More than 75 artisanal cheeses come from Ireland. The difference between Irish and other European cheeses is that there are no regional denominations in Ireland. Instead of Parmesan, Manchego or Roquefort, Irish cheeses are unique to the artist, family and farm that produced them.
Cashel Blue cheese takes its name from historic Cashel Rock, a medieval castle that was the seat of the Munster kings. According to tradition, here is where St. Patrick began converting the pagan Irish folk to Christianity using the cloverleaf to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Production of Cashel Blue started in 1984 in Tipperary County and is considered the original Irish cow’s milk blue cheese. Jane and Louis Grubb, founders of J & L Grubb, decided to produce a softer blue cheese as an alternative to other, stronger cheeses like the British Stilton. Cashel Blue is firm and creamy with a white paste that turns buttery yellow as it ripens. The crust develops a marbled texture, and the edible mold, intrinsic to the cheese, contributes to its excellent flavor and complexity.
Cheese maker Maja Binder perfected her skills in Switzerland and her native Germany. A few years later, she settled in Kerry County’s Dingle Peninsula, Ireland’s westernmost point. In this beautiful area, the lush meadows extend almost to the sea. It is one of the few places in the world where cows graze right where the Atlantic waves hit. This is where Binder produces the famous Dilliskus, a magnificent cheese made from raw cow’s milk. The Dilliskus is a semi-soft cheese with a natural rind, washed with brine and milk whey. This process gives character and style to the product, but its main feature is the addition of Dulse seaweed, an edible aquatic plant that grows along the coast of the North Atlantic. These algae give the cheese its original marbled dark garnet tones and a subtle salty taste.
Croghan is a semi-soft cheese with a white rind, made with goat’s milk in Wexford County. Its producers are Luc and Anne van Kampen, who have earned several British Cheese Awards, including best soft cheese and best Irish cheese. The Croghan is inspired by the Dutch Gouda. The intensity of flavor is the result of a creative development and the magnificent grass that grows on the coast. Its flavor suggests grass and hay, while the taste is aromatic, without being too spicy. Croghan is produced only from spring to autumn and can be difficult to obtain, but certainly worth looking for. ■