If you – like me – are still wondering where to start your Christmas shopping, you could consider cutting to the cheese and making your local cheesemonger your one-stop Christmas shop.
There are now over 50 Irish farmhouse cheese-makers creating over 140 different styles of cheese – many of them truly world class, as their recent success at the British Cheese Awards proved. One newcomer to the market produced in Waterford by Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna Cheese, Kilree goats’ cheese was crowned Supreme Champion and several others picked up Gold, including the wonderful Bellingham Blue, a raw milk cheese for true blue lovers.
Cheese makes for a real feel good gift – you’re supporting a great industry, and putting money back into the local economy. And it feels even better if you take the time to go in to your local cheesemonger and ask them to talk you through some of their offerings – with tastings of course.
Throw in a bottle of something delicious or a copy of the new Collins Press publication, Farmhouse Cheese of Ireland: A Celebration, and you could have a really personal DIY gourmet hamper on your hands. And it’s not just about red wine either – many cheeses work just as well if not better with white, sweet or sparkling wines, or even craft beers or cider.
A bottle of David Llewellyn’s Irish cider, produced in north Dublin, would go down a treat with an earthy washed rind cheese such as Milleens, which has been produced by Veronica Steele down in the Beara Peninsula since the mid-1970s. Veronica is widely recognised as the first of the Irish farmhouse cheesemakers, and today her son Quinlan has taken over the business to safeguard it for the next generation of cheeselovers.
Also wonderful with that Irish cider would be a round of mild, creamy Smoked Gubbeen from Giana Ferguson, whose son Fingal produces a gorgeous array of salamis and chorizo, so maybe throw in a sweet sausage of venison salami while you’re at it.
If cider doesn’t do it for you, a bottle of bubbles such as a Cremant de Jura would be a perfect pairing with David Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan cheese. Produced in Co Louth from the milk of his own herd of Montbelliard cows, Glebe Brethan is a gruyere-style cheese akin to Comte from the Jura Alpine foothills. Nutty, spicy, floral, herby – this cheese has it all. Also a great match with bubbles is the creamy Cooleeney, a camembert-style white mould cheese produced by Breda Maher since the mid-80s.
If you’d like more inspiration for cheese and drink matches, check out Bord Bia’s superb Guide to Irish Farmhouse Cheeses, free to download from their website. As well as listing (almost) all the farmhouse cheese available in Ireland today along with contact details, it also recommends wine, cider and beer pairings. So pour yourself a glass of something tasty to get you in the mood, and settle in for a bit of background reading (or you could watch a bit of telly if you prefer, see link for my debut on TV3′s Morning Show today, about 12 minutes in) before heading down the cheesemonger for a spot of feel-good shopping.