JP McMahon: The Irish farmhouse cheese revolution

How these cheese makers turned the tide on a commodity culture of cheese strings and spuriously named cheddar is beyond me

We have the best farmhouse cheese in the world. Get out there and explore it.

We have the best farmhouse cheese in the world. Get out there and explore it.

 

I’m standing in front of the cheese counter in Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Galway, trying to decide what cheese to buy for our cheese board for Aniar. Of course, I’m focused on the wonderful Irish farmhouse cheeses but that’s not to say there isn’t some amazing European cheeses. Who doesn’t enjoy Manchego, that terrific Spanish sheep’s cheese? Or Mont D’Or, that luscious, unctuous French cheese from the Jura Region. Just bake the whole wheel in the oven and then go at it with a loaf of crusty bread. 

But today I’m focusing on the Irish ones: Durrus, Gubbeen, St Tola and Milleens. To even enunciate the names of these cheeses feels like a religious ritual. Of course their are more: Cashel, Hegarty’s, Young Bucks and Corleggy. It’s all poetry to me. 

Of all the wondrous things that have taken place over the last 30 years in Irish food, the farmhouse cheese revolution has made me smile the most. How these cheese makers turned the tide on a commodity culture of cheese strings and spuriously named cheddar is beyond me, but Irish food culture owes them a credit or two.

Perhaps you don’t even know about our marvellous cheese culture. Did you know it rivals France, Spain and Italy? I dare you to find a better cheese in the same category being produced outside Ireland. You will not find it. And many restaurants still continue to ignore Irish farmhouse cheeses. Roquefort or Crozier? Is it the lack of confidence that allows the Irish restauranteur to embrace the Francophonic cheese board?

Don’t get me wrong. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I love French, Spanish and Italian cheese. But there needs to be some thought behind the process. This is why cheesemongers are essential beings, as they help us navigate through the difficult terrain that makes up the cheese world. 

“You don’t need to be a weather man to know which way the wind blows”, Bob Dylan famously wrote. But that’s not the case for cheese. We have the best farmhouse cheese in the world. Get out there and explore it.

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