High quality pastures are key to high milk production in grazing dairy herds. Ireland’s picturesque pastures with luscious grasses are hosts to many high producing dairy herds. The island’s mild climate and moisture rich southwestern winds produce long seasons of emerald grassy pasture. The lush grass helps produce a milk rich in beta carotene which gives Irish cheeses a deep golden color.
For centuries dairy production in Ireland focused more heavily on butters which it exported to northern Europe and the Americas. In the 1970s farmhouse cheese making had a resurgence. Companies like Kerry Gold continue to work with smaller dairy farmers and co-operative creameries in offering farmhouse cheeses around the world. Today 95% of Irish cheese is exported.
The term “farmhouse” initially referred to the scale of cheese production on a farm and usually applies to cheddars. Cheddars require a specific culture during production and later, a cheese press to shape the curds. But what makes a cheddar special is the cheddaring process which consists of Cutting (the curds), Pressing (the curds into slabs) and Stacking (the slabs), over and over again until enough moisture has drained out. This layering process adds acidity and gives cheddar its crumbly, layered, dense texture.
Traditionally farmhouse cheddars were eaten after two months but today it is more common to age cheeses longer to develop sharper flavor profiles. Wheatsfield’s Irish cheeses include two cheddars aged one year – super sharp Tipperary Aged Cheddar has a grassy flavor while Kerry Gold’s Aged Cheddar surprises with a buttery consistency. Carrigaline smokes their creamy farmhouse cheddar with Beachwood – producing a strong tasting, satisfying cheese.
And for something completely different in the traditional Irish cheese world, Cashel Blue is Ireland’s first blue cheese and having debuted in 1984. A mild and slightly sweet, raw cows’ milk cheese, Cashel Blue is creamy, soft and almost spreadable.
No matter which Irish cheeses you serve this spring, there is nothing like the taste of Irish soda bread to highlight that cheddar (or blue).
Serving Irish Cheese
- The sweetness of Irish Soda bread pairs nicely with the sharpness of Irish cheddars
- Soda crackers work well with Irish cheeses too
- Pair Irish cheese with a dark Irish porter, instead of wine
- Serve with your favorite chutney
- Offer dried cherries or apricots with Irish cheese
- Serve Cashel Blue as dessert instead of anything sweet