As many of you know, I am living in Ireland making Gubbeen Cheese. After a furiously fast six weeks, I realize two things; i have learned a great deal about cheese production and the difficulties and passion that is necessary to do this for a living, and that I have barely skimmed the surface…no pun there, i swear…maybe.
There are some remarkable cheeses made here in Ireland and there are these pioneers who began this industry in the 70’s out of necessity and a massive love of cheese. Before all the bureaucratic nonsense regulating the dairy industry, most people had a few cows and had excess milk. What better way to fix that then to make cheese! These people were self starters, learning from each other and any text they could get their hands on. Most had traveled to Spain or France and learned from other small producers.
This last weekend Gemma and I took the big white van and headed over to visit Cashel Creamery in Tipperary. The land here has been farmed for centuries, being some of the most rich fertile and sought after soil in all of Ireland. We met up with Louis Grubb for a tour and to see how this large production creamery makes it’s world famous cow and sheep blues. We were lucky enough to arrive for production and see the curds pressed into their molds. Blues are inoculated with penicillin to create the beautiful blue ribbons of mold. Each cheese is turned in it’s mold for 24 hours before being brined, poked with long needles to inject spores deep into the center and then hand turned for several days.
I was curious if the aroma of the blue was going to knock me over but the curing rooms were rich and nutty. Beautiful cheeses!!
Armed with our gifts of Cashel and Crozier, we spent the night in the town of Cashel visiting the infamous Cashel Rock and a 12th century Abbey. the weather was cold, wet and windy with moments of sunshine so we were lucky to be the only people wandering through the ruins…
The next day, we drove back to County Cork, past Cork City and out onto the Beara Peninsula. WOW! This area is historically known for its copper mines and as we wrapped around infinite inlets and winding roads, we became more and more entralled with the land. The jagged rocky earth could not have been more different from our last visit and I was mystified how a cow dairy survived in this place.
We past the cemetery, and turned onto what we hoped was “the next tarred bouderain”. Apparently this just means bitty narrow road with tufts of grass growing out of the middle. What we did learn is that these roads were built by the farmers to move their dairy cows from field to milking parlor. Most of the cows could maneuver over a mile up these lanes, through their pastures, past other open pastures and turn at the appropriate drive to arrive in time for milking. Brilliant!
We did the same and arrived at Milleen’s farm to meet up with Norman and a very fussy goose. Norman and his wife Veronica raised their family, learning to make cheese and teach cheese making classes in their farm house high above the sea. Their production could not have been more different from Cashel. They were producing from about 15 tons of milk a year in one room of their kitchen. In the early 70’s, Veronica decided to make cheese because her single cow was producing more milk than she and her family could consume. Using “The Cheeses & Wines of England & France with Notes on Irish Whiskey” written by John Ehle from North Carolina, Veronica started experimenting with soft washed rind cheeses and now produces one of the most exquisite cheeses produced in Ireland. She also taught Jeffa Gill of Durrus who in turn, produces her own wonderful and successful cheese.
We sat in the kitchen of their farmhouse, listening to stories about the mishaps and success of making a farmhouse cheese while sharing bits of cheeses and Gubbeen Salami. I had a momentary love affair with their irish Setter. With regrets, we said our good-byes and headed out to explore the peninsula. We could not have asked for a more wonderful experience. Gemma was armed with several remarkable contacts in New Zealand and I am hoping to get out to Montana this summer to make cheese with Veronica!
To say the least, thank you so much to both Louis Grubb and Veronica and Norman Steele for taking time to share your stories and cheese with us. It was an experience I will never forget and one that has inspired me greatly!