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Get Your Irish On with the Amazing Irish Cheeses

Ireland’s mild climate and lush emerald pastures seemed to have everything to keep a cow content.  But cheesemaking, once one of the many areas of Gaelic traditions, all but disappeared in Ireland.  Fortunately, a steady revival began around 1970 and with honing their craft, Irish farmstead cheesemakers are producing some of the most interesting Irish cheeses I’ve seen or tasted.

They have a richness and quality like French cheeses but there are also many that resemble Dutch or Italian styles. Unlike most of Europe, where each cheesemaking region is entirely different in terms of terrain, Ireland is a dairy wonderland of steady climate, temperature, elevation and pastureland.  The damp sea mists of the South West Ireland have also proven to be ideal for ripening washed-rind cheeses.

This St. Patrick’s Day why not share in the revival and celebrate with cheeses from the Emerald Isle.  Here are some of my recommendations to try for an Irish cheeseboard:

St Tola Ash Log

St.Tola Tastings Gourmet Market
It tastes like Ireland: sweet, grassy, and creamy.  The product of premium raw organic goat’s milk, it has no cream added and a low salt content at just 1%. When it is fresh, St Tola is rolled in traditional food-grade charcoal ash, which helps neutralize the natural acidity of the cheese and slows down its ripening. It also allows for a more even spread of the mold, which adds creaminess to the cheese and allows the rind to grow. As it matures, St Tola develops a pale yellowish rind and a citrusy flavor. The flavor of goat’s milk is not overpowering like in some goat cheeses.
With its unique taste and distinctive flavor that owes much to the clean fresh environment in which it is produced, St Tola Ash Log is the winner of numerous awards, most recently the bronze in the 2018 World Cheese Awards and the gold in the 2018 Irish Foods Awards.
A rare find in the U.S., St Tola is an amazing cheese with an unforgettable taste. This is one of those special cheeses that comes along only every now and then and is not to be missed!
Origin: Ireland (Co Clare)
Producer: Inagh Farmhouse Cheese
Milk: Raw goat
Rennet Type: Animal
Age: 1+ month
Look: Soft, white artisan goat cheese rolled in edible food ash
Feel: Smooth. The center has the texture of firm ice cream, and the area next to the rind develops a spicy ooziness.
Smell: Fresh, creamy
Taste: Unbelievable! Creamy, full-flavored, reminiscent of the sea with undertones of peat, flowers, and honey.
Pairs well with: Excellent in a salad, beautiful on a cheese board. The ash is gorgeous and helps prolong its life. Try it on toast with honey, or with filo pastry and tomatoes. Excellent with cherry jam.
Tastes good with: Alsace white wine

Shepherd’s Store

Shepherds Store Tastings Gourmet Market
Combining a complex mix of both savory and gentle, sweet notes, Shepherd’s Store is handmade from 100% local Irish Friesland sheep’s milk. It takes 30 sheep one day to produce enough milk to make a single wheel of cheese! This is one of the reasons why Shepherd’s Store is so rich and delicious. Another reason is the love and care that has been put into the cheese: the cheese makers wash and turn each cheese by hand once a week for 6 months, until it reaches a balanced flavor and is ready to enjoy. Shepherd’s Store’s excellence has been recognized with numerous honors, including being named the silver winner in the 2018 World Cheese Awards.
Origin: Ireland (Co Tipperary)
Producer: Cashel
Milk: Pasteurized Sheep
Rennet Type: Vegetarian
Age: 6+ months
Look: Semi-hard
Feel: Delicate, creamy texture
Smell:  Sweet, creamy
Taste: Savory and gentle, sweet notes. Think brown butter, cashews, and biscuits.
Pairs well with: Marcona almonds, dried apricots. Try it in a green salad with toasted pine nuts, ripe tomatoes, and prosciutto. And nothing could be better than a biscuit slathered with cashew butter and topped with Shepherd’s Store.
Tastes good with: Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc

Tennessee Whiskey BellaVitano

Bella Whiskey Tastings Gourmet Market
You’ve likely tried Balsamic BellaVitano; now try the Tennessee Whiskey version. Full of spirit and winner of the “new cheese” class at the 2018 World Cheese Awards, Sartori Reserve Tennessee Whiskey BellaVitano will have you singing “Tennessee Whiskey” as you prepare your St. Patrick’s cheese board. Like all BellaVitanos, it tastes like a cross between Parmesan and Cheddar. With the added zip of Tennessee Whiskey, this could be your new favorite!
Origin: Wisconsin
Producer: Sartori
Milk: Cow
Rennet Type: Vegetarian
Age: 10-12 months
Look: Semi-hard, sold in 5 oz. wedges
Feel: Smooth, young, creamy Cheddar with a crystalline crunch of premium farmstead Parmesan
Smell: Sweet, creamy
Taste: Rich, creamy, sweet, nutty, fruity
Pairs well with: Roasted almonds, apples, dried cherries, bacon, pretzels
Tastes good with: Sauvignon Blanc; Beers: IPA or Porter

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