Irish Cheeses and Butters to Enjoy this St. Patrick's Day!
Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Yes, there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It's found in each blade of grass growing in Ireland's lush pastures, where small herds of cows graze freely, and the milk, rich in beta-carotene from the grass, produces butter and cheese of an exceptionally unique golden hue. Thousands of years before the Irish discovered potatoes, dairy cows, milk and butter were woven into the fabric of Irish society. As far back as 1769 The Cork Butter Exchange, a market created by the merchants of Cork City, Ireland, was the largest butter market in the entire world, exporting as far away as Europe and America. Today, cooperatives of farmers, creameries and cheesemakers provide delicious Irish butter and cheeses throughout the U.S. under the Kerrygold label.
St. Patrick's Day in rural Ireland is steeped in traditions centered on farm and family. County Cork dairy farmer John O'Sullivan describes a typical observance:
"I get up, do the milking and check on the cows that are close to calving. We go to mass and have dinner (what Americans would call lunch) at home. Then we go to the town of Clonakilty for the parade. It's a 1 1/2-kilometer line of people in fancy dress, singing and dancing. The parade is lovely. The days are getting brighter and sunnier around this time of year and local supermarkets distribute free green ice cream cones to the children."
For their St. Patrick's Day dinner, the family enjoys traditional Irish food. With warmer weather, they like lighter fare, such as a market plate, which is easy to assemble with local ingredients. The market plate consists of an assortment of cold meats, smoked fish and Irish cheeses served with mustard and chutney, accompanied by hearty chunks of brown bread.
Dubliner cheese is always present on the O'Sullivans' market plate. O'Sullivan supplies milk to make Kerrygold Dubliner, a popular Irish cheese with a natural sweetness, the flavor of a mature Cheddar and the bite of an aged Parmesan.
Ireland's farmer and producer cooperatives ensure the survival of small family farms. O'Sullivan has a herd of 50 cows, but the average herd size in Ireland is just 40. The local farmers pool their milk to make butter and cheeses at local co-op creameries, and the renowned dairy products are exported around the world.
For Irish dairy farmers, quality starts with the grass. "The climate suits the grass. And the grass is brilliant. It's a premium product," O'Sullivan observed. "Our cows go onto grass pasture as soon as they calve. They are rotated amongst the paddocks to ensure they get fresh grass after every milking." The quality of the grass is reflected in the quality of the milk, which is reflected in the quality of the cheese, O'Sullivan explained.
For St. Patrick's Day, try the family's market plate and raise a pint to John O'Sullivan. The Dubliner cheese you bring home from the grocery just might have come from his farm.
Kerrygold Irish Butter and Kerrygold Dubliner Cheddar Cheese
All natural Kerrygold Salted Butter, Unsalted Butter and Garlic and Herb Butters are available at Kowalski's and are fantastic, flavorful butters – perfect for use as table butter or in recipes. Also look for new, naturally softer, tub-style Kerrygold Irish Butter, including reduced-fat butter.
Kerrygold Dubliner Cheddar Cheese has a distinctive, rounded flavor and a natural hint of sweetness. Aged for 12 months, it has elements of mature Cheddar, the sweet nutty tones of a Swiss and the piquant bite of aged Parmesan.
Kerrygold Cashel Blue
In 2011, Kerrygold co-branded with another amazing Irish cheese, Cashel Blue, made on Beechmount Farm in Fethard in South Ireland's County Tipperary. The 130 pedigree Friesian cows on this picturesque farm in rural Ireland are fed a grass-based diet supplemented by maize, peas and oats all grown on the farm and mixed fresh. No growth hormones are used. In 2010, Cashel Blue was named Best Irish Cheese at the World Cheese Awards and has been a consistent winner in multiple international cheese competitions. Cashel Blue is subtle, creamy, well balanced with a hint of spiciness and slight graininess. It is a beautiful pale yellow with stunning gray/green blueing. It's surprisingly appealing to both blue cheese lovers and those intimidated by the traditional image of blue cheese.
Recommended accompaniments to Cashel Blue:
- Fresh figs or pears
- Dried dates and apricots
- Walnuts and pecans
- A light mixed-flower natural honey
- Water crackers, fruit bread, raisin toast or good quality French baguette
- Rhubarb or apple chutney
- Red onion marmalade
When it comes to finding something to drink with Cashel Blue, dessert wines such as Sauternes from Bordeaux, Vin Santo from Italy, Tokaji Aszú from Hungary and aged Tawny Port from Portugal are good choices. Some "New World" sweet wines, in particular those from California and Australia, also work well. In general, look for wines with enough acidity to compliment the younger, more acidic Cashel Blue. Try Gewürztraminer, Sancerre, Vouvray or Pinot Grigio.
Finding a red to match with a blue cheese can be a bit more of a challenge. "Old World" wines of France, Italy and Spain are more suited to tackle blues, as they tend to be earthier, less fruity, less alcoholic and slightly sharper. With Cashel Blue a slightly flatter, riper Southern Rhône can work well, as can a Merlot-based St. Emilion, a Tempranillo-dominated blend from Rioja or a Sangiovese Chianti. As a note of warning, reds should have a bit of age to them and not have too many of the vanilla tones derived from new American oak in order to not overwhelm Cashel Blue.
Not into wine? Cashel Blue also pairs beautifully with Chimay Blue (the well-known Belgium Trappist beer) and Connemara Irish Whiskey.