Blessed are the cheesemakers! Let’s all do our bit to support small Irish producers, many of whom are still experiencing real hardship. The farmhouse cheese makers as just one example so let’s make a conscious effort to buy a piece or better still several pieces of Irish farmhouse cheese this weekend. I’m fantastically proud of the range of handmade farmhouse cheeses we have here in Ireland. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk. Toonsbridge and Macroom Mozzarella make tender milky cheese to rival the very best Italian Mozzarella. No wonder it’s so good, it’s made from the rich milk of the buffalos that range freely in the lovely mixed pastures of West Cork.
Toby Simmonds and his team of Italian and Irish cheesemakers also make straw smoked scarmoza Caciocavallo, Ricotta, Halloumi and Cultured Butter easily available from local Farmers Markets or online (www.toonsbridgedairy.com). He’s recently opened a shop on South Great Georges Street in Dublin – how gutsy and deserving of support is that in the midst of Covid-19…
For many of the cheesemakers who were also supplying the service industry, the closure of the restaurants, hotels and cafés business meant the loss of over 75% of their business overnight, yet the cows kept milking and the cheese kept aging, needing to turned and matured to bring them to the peak of perfection, but how or where could they sell their produce. They too had the heartbreak of laying off many of their skilled cheesemakers who were often neighbours from their own parish.
The reopening of the local Farmers Markets has been a significant help to some producers. Local customers are flocking back while observing social distancing. Look out for Jane Murphy’s Ardsallagh goat’s cheese in Midleton and Mahon Point. You’ll find the beautiful Ballinrostig Gouda type cheese there too and a whole display of cheese to choose from at Christian and Fiona Burke’s stall.
A trip to the English Market in Cork will make your heart sing – bring an empty basket and fill it up.
Over 60 beautiful farmhouse cheeses are made around the country and on the islands, a high proportion are made in Cork county. We have soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese to rival anything anywhere and I’m not saying that just because I’m an adopted Cork woman….
Siobhán Ni Ghairbhith makes the legendary St. Tola goat’s cheese from raw milk but she also makes pasteurised milk cheese for the multiples. She employs 7 people on her farm on the edge of the Burren in Co. Clare.
When lockdown was introduced overnight, every cheesemaker in the country scrambled to cope with the gallons and gallons of milk in peak season. Siobhán set up an online artisan cheese box which also includes some other artisan products as did Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Cooleeney and several others. Siobhán is a multi-skilled cheesemaker so she decided to make less soft cheese which has a shorter shelf-life and more hard cheese which will continue to improve with age – look out for it later in the year.
Can you imagine how lovely it would be to get a hamper like that by courier or to send a present to a friend or care worker or as a comforting gift to absent family members. There’s a list of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Cáis site (www.irishcheese.ie).
The reason why Irish cheeses are so good is the quality of the milk. Here in Ireland we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so cows that are out on grass particularly in Summer produce beautiful milk that makes gorgeous cheese. Irish farmhouse cheese have been awarded prizes in the World Cheese Awards many times. As a sector, the artisans are incredibly resilient and resourceful.
These feisty cheesemakers up and down
the country has led the food revolution and helped in no small way to change
the image of Irish food both at home and abroad. In 1984 when milk quotas has just been
introduced, the late Veronica Steele, started to experiment in her kitchen on
the Beara Penninsula. She couldn’t bear
to waste a drop of milk of her favourite – one horned cow named Brisket. The end result was Milleens, the beautiful
washed rind cheese that inspired several generations, mostly women, to make
cheese. Such a joy to see her son Quinlan
continue to make superb cheese. The
second generation continues to build on their parents legacy at Durrus,
Gubbeen, Cashel Blue…how fortunate are we to have access to many exceptional delicious cheeses, now more than ever is
the time is to show our appreciation with our support.
This salad is only worth doing if you have access to tender buffalo mozzarella and gorgeous ripe tomatoes, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil. The first Irish tomatoes are now in season.
2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we’ve two options in Ireland – Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella (www.toonsbridgedairy.com)
and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (www.macroombuffalocheese.com)
4 very ripe ‘beef’ tomatoes or large tomatoes
fresh basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds (or tear apart). Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate. Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices. Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil (I use Capezzana, Fontodi or Selvapiana). Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.
Irish Cheddar Cheese Croquettes
So many traditional Irish Cheddars to choose from, Hegarty’s, ˈ15 Fieldsˈ, Imokilly Cheddar, Coolattin Cheddar, Derg….
Everyone loves these cheese croquettes, crunchy on the outside, soft and melting in the centre.
Makes 25 – 30, depending on size
450ml (15fl oz) milk
few slices of carrot and onion
1 small bay leaf
sprig of thyme
4 parsley stalks
200g (7oz) Roux (see recipe)
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese
a pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached
fine dried white breadcrumbs
Ballymaloe Country Relish
Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time. Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go. Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere. (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spread out on a wide plate to cool.
When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx. Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten
egg and then in fine breadcrumbs. Chill until firm but bring back to room
temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst. Just before serving, heat a deep fryer to
170°C/325°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a
green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe
110g (4oz) butter
110g (4oz) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Note: Cooked Cheese Croquettes can be kept warm in an
oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.
Durrus, Potato and Rosemary Focaccia
1 x White Yeast Bread Dough (see recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (or thyme leaves), optional
waxy potatoes, boiled until almost cooked, peeled and thinly sliced
175-225g (6-8oz) Durrus cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
28 x 40cm (11 x 16 inch) baking tray
Make the dough, knead well and allow to rise until well doubled in size. “Knock back” and allow to rest for 4 or 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the base of the rectangle baking tray with chopped rosemary or thyme.
Roll the dough into a rectangle. Lay the dough on top of the baking tray.
Dimple with your fingertips. Brush with extra virgin olive oil.
Cover with thin slices of Durrus cheese.
Season the slices of potato well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange in overlapping slices over the dough and cheese. Sprinkle with rosemary and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Bake in a preheated oven 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 20-25 minutes or until the base is crusty and the potatoes are beginning to crisp.
Drizzle with extra
virgin olive oil and eat warm.
Ballymaloe Cookery School White Yeast Bread
We use Doves Farm organic white bread flour, the water quantity may vary for other brands. This bread can be baked in loaf tins or made into plaits or rolls.
Makes 2 loaves
20g (3/4oz) yeast
20g (3/4oz) organic sugar
400g (14oz) warm water
700g (1 1/2lb) strong organic white flour
25g (1oz) butter
16g (1/2oz) pure dairy salt
2 x loaf tins 12.5cm (5 inch) x 20cm (8 inch)
Crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and 400g (14oz) of warm water (anything above 45C will kill yeast). Mix and allow to stand for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, put the flour into a wide mixing bowl, add the salt, mix then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Add all the liquid ingredients to the flour and mix to a dough with your hand. Turn out onto a clean work surface (no flour). Cover with the upturned bowl and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Uncover, if it feels a little dry and tough, wet your hand, rub over the dough and knead by hand until silky and smooth – 10 minutes approximately. Return to the bowl and cover with a tea-towel. Allow to rise until double in size.
Steak Sandwich with Piperonata, Cashel Blue Butter
4 x 50g (2oz) minute steak
salt and freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
4 x French bread (small baguette)
1/2 quantity Piperonata (see recipe)
Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese butter (see recipe)
Green salad and cherry tomatoes and rocket leaves or flat parsley
Heat a pan grill until very hot. Season the steak with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Slap onto the hot grill pan, cook for 1-2 minutes on each side.
Meanwhile split the loaf along one side but keep attached on the other side. Char grill the crumb side. Spread the bottom with a little Cashel Blue butter. Top with a few salad leaves, and the steak. Add a few spoons of piperonata and finally a few slices of Cashel Blue butter. Press down the top. Pop onto a plate and serve immediately with some good green salad. Repeat with the other baguettes.
Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese Butter
Serves 8 – 10
110g (4oz) unsalted butter
50g (2oz) Cashel Blue cheese
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl or better still, whizz in a food processor. Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends. Chill or freeze until needed.
This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) onion, sliced
a clove of garlic, crushed
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
a few leaves of fresh basil
Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.
the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and
peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with
salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if
available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.
Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese
We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm. It’s become a favourite little nibble with a drink.
Ripe Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte
dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a
little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse guile
Wild and Free
Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides)
Sea Purslane is at the peak of perfection along out coasts at present. It is a sprawling, clumpy perennial undershrub which spreads its way across the dry, upper reaches of salt-marshes mainly along East, West and South coasts. The leaves of sea purslane are a delicious, slightly salty nibble, with a crunchy texture; however they need to be washed in several changes of water to remove the sand completely. They bloom from July to October and it is rich in vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids and is an antioxidant. Add to salads or make into a pesto, also delicious pickled.