My mother and I have just come home from a trip to County Cork, Ireland, where we visited three cheese makers. I’ve always been interested in the Irish Farmhouse Cheese movement because of its similarities to the movement here in New England. Both are relatively new, the farms tend to be similar in scale and both here and in Ireland dairy farms struggle and are disappearing.
Ireland had mainly produced butter and ate imported English cheese until Veronica Steele the founder of Milleens began making cheese with the extra milk from the family cow. The combination of Veronica’s willingness to teach others the craft and the amazing quality of her cheese are what really began the movement of farmhouse cheese in Ireland. I imagine she played a similar role as Peter Dixon did in Vermont. We were so lucky to visit Milleens. Quin, Veronica’s son has taken over the cheesemaking since her passing and just won a gold in the World Cheese Awards. More on my conversation with Quin to come in a future blog post.
These are a couple of notes from Veronica’s early cheese making days that I adore. Monday 12th June cheddar, larded and waxed, fell and wax broke!
Sunday 25th June cheddar, hand pulled, stolen by dog!
I recently came across a make sheet note from my first year that says, “ph meter broke, no staff to cover going to market, many tears.” I have a back up ph meter now- boy the first year (or two) has a steep learning curve!
I also visited a Durrus, owner and cheese maker Jeffa began making cheese right around the same time. In Veronica’s cheese notes you can see that Jeffa took a master class with Veronica. The wonderful bit about this story is that Jeffa has followed in Veronica’s steps sharing her knowledge with other women cheese makers. Several women from France have apprenticed with her because apparently it is often hard for women in France to break into their male dominated culture of cheese making.
The third cheese maker we visited was Coolea. Dicky the owner and cheese maker gave us a tour. It began with the mechanics of how the milk is pumped and heated and I got some great tips on practical tracking of batches and management of brine. he makes milk seven days a week when the cows are on grass but shuts down in the winter because of milk quality differences and I imagine sheer exhaustion. Although to be honest exhaustion is the last word that comes to mind with Dicky, it was an incredibly efficient, well thought out operation and the loud hip hop/pop music playing in the background seemed pitch perfect. He makes a Gouda style cheese, which because of the long aging period allows him to take months off at a time, not possible with younger softer cheese if you want to have a constant supply.
So many of the people we met talked about the impending Brexit and what that meant to the food and dairy businesses on the island. One cheesemaker said their costs could go up 60% if no agreement was reached! The uncertainty of how this will all play out was definitely felt wherever we went. The dairy farms there, like here, are disappearing. It is a rough industry to be in. As cheese makers who buy in milk, it makes it nearly impossible to ask our dairy farmers to do anything more, although we all talked about how current dairy practices are designed for mass production of fluid milk and are not ideal for what we need for cheese making. We all come down on the side of working with what the dairy farmers can give us because they surely have the harder road to walk.