R: Ardrahan (£2.20/100g)
I'm loving doing this little series of posts. It's not simply that I've been encouraged to try new cheeses (about a third of those presented thus far); it's more that sampling them with, and talking about them to, Robbyn has made me appreciate all the more the individual cheesemakers and their craft.
I like it that knowing about the clubbish exclusivity of the Grubb's herd of cows, or the particularities of traditional Lancashire production, or how the climate of Cork imparts its own unique quality to the taste of the Ardrahan adds immensely to our enjoyment of these cheeses.
Blessed be the cheesemakers.
Cashel Blue is handmade by Jane and Louis Grubb on their dairy farm at Beechmont, near Cashel in the valley of the Suir River, County Tipperary, Ireland - where the family have been farming since 1719.
In the early 1980s, Jane and Louis were looking to diversify the farm, and spent two years learning to make cheese. In 1984 they began making Cashel Blue - the first farmhouse blue cheese to be made in Ireland.
Most of their cheese is made from their ‘closed’ herd (they do not allow other cows to join the herd). It is full-flavoured, but not strong, with a touch of sweetness that balances the tangy notes and nutty blue veins.
It has much less salt than most blues, which makes it ideal for cooking.
mrs. kirkham's lancashire
Graham Kirkham, from the third generation of the family, makes this cheese at Lower Beesley Farm near Goosenagh, in Lancashire. There are only a handful of cheese-makers still making traditional Lancashire.
The milk comes from their small herd of Friesian-Holstein cows that are cared for by Graham’s father John Kirkham, and until only a few years ago Graham’s mum Ruth made the cheese herself.
Each morning Graham adds raw, cooled milk from the previous evening's milking to the warm, morning milk. Starter culture and rennet are added before the curd is cut by hand and allowed to settle, thereby retaining as much fat as possible within the curd.
In keeping with traditional Lancashire production, Graham then mixes curd from the previous day's production in equal quantities with the curd from the current batch. The cheeses are matured for at least six weeks which produces a cheese that is mild, creamy and slightly crumbly. The texture is moist and rich, and the flavours are buttery, lemony and yoghurty, with a pronounced tang and a long, rounded finish.
Ardrahan is a type of washed-rind cheese whose name means 'height of the ferns', and is one of Ireland's best loved washed-rind cheeses. Washed rind cheeses are particularly well suited to County Cork as the climate is ideal: mild and damp, with the Atlantic spray rising off the coast, seasoning the air with a salty tang.
It is made in Kanturk, County Cork by the Burns family who have been dairy farmers for generations. Eugene Burns Senior established a herd of pedigree Friesians in 1925. The lush countryside of the Duhallow region in Co Cork, is famous for its rich, fertile grazing and clean environment - the perfect backdrop for producing this premium cheese. In 1983 Eugene Senior’s son, also Eugene, and his wife Mary turned their hands to cheese making. Their first customers were actually in France at Rungis Market as the pungent smell of Ardrahan seemed foreign to 1980s Ireland.
However, it wasn’t long before they were selling cheese in London and shops all over Ireland as well. The business is still a family affair. Sadly, Eugene died in 2000, but Mary is now supported by her children in running the farm and making the cheese.
Ardrahan cheese has a buttery textured honey-coloured centre with a complex delicate flavour. It has a washed rind which grows into a golden colour, and its size and weight tend to vary slightly due to the fact that it is a hand-made product.
Ardrahan is lovely with an earthy, salty, gritty exterior from having a washed rind. Yes, it's stinky, but not overly so. Barnyard funky, yet with notes of sea air and saltiness.