When you think of St. Patty’s Day, the first thing that comes to mind is probably green and beer. And unfortunately, probably green beer. Eck.
But St. Patrick’s Day is much, much more than just beer, leprechauns, and malarkey. This year, you should be celebrating with more than just beer. You should invest in some good Irish cheese. Ireland makes some of the most under-appreciated cheeses in the world. These cheeses are called farmhouse cheeses (cheese makers aren’t tied to a specific family recipe, and they only use milk from the animals they raise). You probably haven’t paid much attention to them because they’re made in small batches and usually tucked away in-between the brie, Manchego, and Havarti. Irish cheese is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (sans leprechauns). Some cheeses are relatively easy to find at your local grocer or cheesemonger, while others are a bit more tedious to pin down—like searching for a four leaf clover.
This pasteurized cheese is made with milk from a specific cow native to Holland and Germany. But apparently these cows weren’t too keen in the lands of tulips and bratwursts, because they now reside in Coolea (Cork County, Ireland). Their happiness can be experienced in the dreamiest, creamiest gouda-like product their milk produces.
Even though these moo-cows (technically called Meuse Rhine Issel cattle) are living the life in the land of grassy knolls and leprechauns, the cheese produced is actually made in traditional Dutch manner. Milk curds are cut and washed, which removes the lactose and creates a sweeter, denser fromage. They’re then pressed into shape, brined, and painted with a wax coating to seal in all those nutty flavors.
Coolea is the ultimate versatile cheese and goes great with white wines, and obviously, beer. Put it on potato bread or on Irish boxty if you’ve enjoyed your Guinness a little too much, and that might save you in the morning.
Killeen Goat Cheese
When you hear goat cheese, you probably think of the soft, mildly tart, somewhat spreadable log that can be coated with herbs or fruit preserves. That’s not this cheese. Killeen Goat Cheese is made on a small farm in County Killeen, Ireland. The milk comes from a special breed of goat imported from the Saanen Valley in Switzerland (they’re called Saanen goats…super creative name). The end product is a pasteurized, semi-hard gouda-like cheese that, like Coolea Cheese, is made using Dutch methods.
These goat-cheese rounds are aged in-house for a minimum of nine months, and that’s where the magic happens (magic not done by leprechauns). Over that nine month fermentation, the cheese develops a deeper, somewhat sweet and floral, toasted hazelnut flavor.
Killeen Goat Cheese goes well on its own, or maybe on a brown bread cracker with some blackcurrant preserves. And a shot of good Irish whiskey. Or beer. Depends on how early you start celebrating.
Wicklow Blue Cheese
Located in County Wicklow, Ireland (obviously), is Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese. There are 150 Friesian cows (they originate from North Holland and Friesland, hence the name) that are milked daily, and the cheeses that this dairy creates have gone on to win a slew of awards. Wicklow Blue Cheese is their most popular and has won Best Irish Cheese in the World Cheese Awards and the Du Pont Danisco Trophy for Best Vegetarian Cheese in the International Cheese Awards.
This isn’t your typical semi-crumbly bleu cheese. The Wicklow Blue is milky and creamy, more reminiscent of brie but with the subtle essence of a blue cheese (i.e. probably not as stinky).
It’s recommended as a breakfast (aka hangover) cheese, melted, or deep-fried, and paired with a full-bodied red wine. If you can’t find a good Irish wine—yes, there is such a thing—then just go forth and drink mead. Because mead is delicious and is basically juice for adults.
This farmhouse cheese is produced on 250 pristine acres of grassy knolls in County Cork, Ireland. On one side is the Atlantic Ocean, the other is the majestic Cnoc Osta (Mount Gabriel), which helps create a little fortress that protects the Gubbeen herd. The name Gubbeen is actually the Anglicization of the Irish word “Gobin”—not goblin—which means a small mouthful in Irish. While you’d think the name suggests a happy mouth full of their dreamy cheese, it’s actually a reference to a local coastal bay.
Gubbeen Farm has been producing their artisanal cheeses since 1979, and the milk used for making their cheeses comes from a blending of four different dairy cows: Kerry, Jersey, British Friesian, Simmenthal. (Who knew there were so many species of cow?) Unlike other cheeses, Gubbeen cheese is surface-ripened (ripens from the outside inward). The result is a semi-soft cheese with a pink and white rind, and a nutty, almost mushroom-y flavor depending on the maturity of the cheese. So…mushrooms and cheese. Questionable? No. In fact, you’ll probably be gobbin’ it up (or gubbeen).
If you’ve heard of any Irish cheese, then it’s probably this guy. Dubliner is a pale yellow cheese made from
aged cow’s milk. While it’s not technically the type of cheddar you’re thinking of—you know which one…that beautiful orange brick that you can see from the opposite end of the refrigerated section— Dubliner is firmer cheese with a sweet, nutty taste. Just like American cheddar, it can be mild, medium, or sharp. And also just like American cheddar, it’s freakin’ delicious.
Kerrygold is often associated with butter—which is great on pretty much any carb known to mankind. But what you might not be aware of is that the brand is also part of an Irish agri-food cooperative called Ornua. This co-op markets and sells on behalf of Irish dairy farmers and producers (yay for helping out the little guys!) and they’re the largest exporter of Irish dairy products. Kerrygold butter is the second-highest selling butter in America. Americans love butter. Everything is better with (Irish) butter, just like cheddar makes everything better.
Dubliner is a universal cheese. It’s great to snack on when you’re waiting for the keg of Guinness to arrive, but it also looks pretty spiffy on a cheeseboard and served with a full-bodied red wine.
Kerrygold Cashel Blue
Brought to you by the cheese magicians at Cashel Farmhouse—in America, you’ll find it under the name Kerrygold, but it’s still the same farm—Cashel Blue is actually the first farmhouse blue cheese to be produced in Ireland. If that doesn’t impress you, then perhaps knowing that it’s taken home the Gold medal at the International Cheese Awards since 2009 might sway you.
Cashel Blue is named after a rock called the Rock of Cashel—a spooky historical tourist destination that overlooks the pastures near the farm where this cheese is produced. Unlike the more prominent Blue cheese, Cashel Blue isn’t overly pungent (i.e., stinky) but still maintains that blue-esque quality. Blue cheese crumbles easily, is whiter, and more prominent with the mottled blue, while Cashel Blue is semi-soft and slices easily (but you can still crumble it, which means it’s a great addition to grilled cheese sandwiches).
Because of its flavor, it goes well with steak, pears and/or figs, and can transform a salad into a work of art. Sounds like sorcery, which actually meshes well with the whole Cashel Rock haunted ruins’ theme.
Murray’s Irish Cheddar
This cheddar is fancy. It’s so fancy, it’s wearing a green coat. Kind of. Ok, so it’s got a green rind on it, but it also pairs well with more than just beer and red wine. Murray’s Irish Cheddar is made from the milk of pasture-raised cows located in Wexford, Ireland (that’s the Southeast, so the temperature is mild and there’s actually some sun). In case you were beginning to doubt how fancy this cheddar is, the land the cows graze on is known as the “Garden of Ireland.” Sounds heavenly.
This cheese has a creamy, buttery, and sweet flavor, and because of it’s fancy green wax jacket, it’s softer than traditional cheddar. It’s great for sandwiches or on a charcuterie board with Irish pickles. As mentioned earlier, it pairs well with porters, stouts, malbec, chardonnay, and even bourbon. Bourbon and cheese seem to be an unlikely pair, but why not live it up a little?
Located inland near the County Tipperary, Ireland—which is also the largest landlocked county in Ireland— Cooleeney Cheese Farm has been in operation since 1905 and has been in the same family for over four generations.
Quality is at the heart of this cheese farm, and the milk used to make Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese comes from the farm’s own pedigree Friesian cows, which roam freely over expansive pasturelands. This is the family’s way of maintaining the highest caliber product for cheese lovers everywhere. It’s like QA for the cheese (you could call it being a control freak, but this is the good kind of control).
Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese is made with unpasteurized (raw) milk and is fully mature at eight to ten weeks. The result is a pale yellow cheese with a white rind, and a creamy, buttery texture with hints of white button mushroom. It’s similar to Camembert and is sometimes mistaken for brie. But it’s not a brie, because brie is its own class of creamy decadence. Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese pairs best with sparkling wines and Beaujolais, which is a French red wine that pretty much only wine people have heard of.
Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese
Just outside of Limerick in County Clare is Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese, a family-run farm specializing in cheese made from sheep’s milk (and only sheep’s milk). The farm has been in business since 1988 and is the first of its kind (in Ireland) to produce cheese made from sheep’s milk. It’s also won awards from the British Cheese Awards and World Cheese Awards, to name a few.
Cratloe Hill’s uses milk sourced from their own Friesland ewes that roam the lush Irish grasslands. The milk is pasteurized and can be aged up to 15 months to attain varying degrees of sharpness. Sheep’s milk produces cheese that is a bit different from cow or goat milk cheeses. The color is a dusty yellow, and it generally has a firmer texture, similar to Gruyère. The more mature the cheese, the more firm and granular it becomes. Younger cheeses have a more mild, sweet and apple-y flavor that becomes more prominent the older it sits.
Cratloe Hill’s Sheep’s Cheese transforms crackers into vessels of happiness. If you really want to make your mouth happy, add a dollop of Loganberry jam to your vessel of bliss. Remember your manners and don’t forget to share, because sharing is caring.
Cahill’s Whiskey Cheese
So ‘whiskey cheese’ doesn’t exactly sound tantalizing, but If gold was edible, Cahill’s Whiskey Cheese would be it. You’ll feel like the luck o’ the Irish has been bestowed on you with every bite you take. Cahill’s Farm, located in Limerick, Ireland, has been making their delectable farmhouse cheeses since 1902.
This semi-hard cheddar is made with cow’s milk and then is mixed with Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, which is sourced from the Cooley Distillery in County Louth, Ireland. Why? Because whiskey makes everything better (for the most part). To make this delectable cheese, the curds are formed, and the whey drained off, and then the Irish happy juice is added.
This process gives the cheese a pale golden hue. It’s sealed with a golden wax—so much gold—and then set to mature for ten months. Then Whiskey Cheese is born. Its flavor is smooth and rich, with a creamy, almost butterscotch essence and a faint aroma of roasted pecans and whiskey (obviously). This cheddar goes great on a sandwich, with fruit, or just straight in your face alongside a shot of Irish whiskey.