Irish female cheesemakers win gold at British Cheese Awards

The three women behind Durrus Óg took the top honour for Irish cheese at annual awards

Cheesemakers Ann McGrath, Jeffa Gill and Sarah Hennessy, winners of Best Irish Cheese at the British Cheese Awards

Cheesemakers Ann McGrath, Jeffa Gill and Sarah Hennessy, winners of Best Irish Cheese at the British Cheese Awards

 

Durrus Óg, a semi-soft cows’ milk cheese made by a team of three female cheesemakers in West Cork, has been named Best Irish Cheese at the British Cheese Awards in Somerset. Irish cheeses claimed two gold, six silver and 11 bronze medals, from a total of 319 awarded at the competition which took place in Somerset.

Jeffa Gill has been making Durrus in the Coomkeen valley on the Sheep’s Head peninsula since 1979, and is one of the original Irish farmhouse cheesemakers.

She was joined in the business last year by her daughter Sarah Hennessy, who previously managed the Sheridan’s Cheesemongers’ shop in Galway for 12 years. In that role, she has judged many cheese awards, including the World Cheese Awards, the Irish Cheese Awards, the Spanish Cheese Awards, and the Great Taste Awards. The third team member in the business is their neighbour Ann McGrath.

Eaten young

The women make four cheeses sold under the Durrus label, and their British Cheese Awards winner is a semi-soft cheese with a distinctive pink rind, aged for only 10 days and designed to be eaten young, at two to four weeks. They also won a bronze medal for their original Durrus cheese, and both are influenced by “the peninsula’s clear salt air which shapes the cheese’s flavour as it ages”, they say.

In describing the difference between their original Durrus cheese and the younger variety, Hennessy says: “I always liken the Óg to a Reblochon – it has that soft, smooth, silky texture as opposed to the Durrus, which has more of an unctuous bite. The flavour is lighter, more floral and sweet, as opposed to the gentle earthiness of Durrus.”

Durrus Óg, a semi soft washed rind cow’s milk cheese designed to be eaten at between two and four weeks old
Durrus Óg, a semi soft washed rind cow’s milk cheese designed to be eaten at between two and four weeks old

“The original 1979 recipe Durrus cheese has a semi-soft consistency with a pinky-orange washed rind. Matured in the curing rooms on the farm, it is best eaten at between five and eight weeks old.”

Supreme champion

The supreme champion at the awards was the Best English Cheese winner, Pavé Cobble, an aged fresh cheese made in Somerset. The champion retailer title was claimed by Marks & Spencer.

Durrus Óg won gold in its category, and only other Irish cheese to take gold was Carbery Group’s extra mature cheddar. The Cork company also claimed bronze medals for its mature cheddar, red Leicester and reduced fat cheeses.

St Tola Irish goat’s cheese made in Co Clare collected two silver medals, as did two cheeses in the “flavour added” and “blended” categories, made by Old Irish Creamery in Co Limerick. Crozier Blue sheep’s cheese made by J&L Grubb in Co Tipperary took silver in its class as did Burren Gold cheese with garlic and nettle.

Gubbeen Farmhouse from Co Cork won two bronze medals, for its original and smoked cheeses, as did Boyne Valley Farmhouse Cheese in Co Meath, for its blue cheese and Tomme. Carrigbyrne Humming Bark from Co Wexford, Burren Gold plain and Old Irish Creamery smoked were the other Irish cheeses to take home bronze in their categories.

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