Christmas is the time of year where it is perfectly acceptable to park yourself beside the fire at any time of day with a cheeseboard and a glass of fine wine – defined meal times be damned! In Ireland we are blessed to have some of the finest artisan cheese producers in the world, meaning there is no need to look beyond our own shores to design your festive cheeseboard.
With so many of our homegrown producers picking up awards for exceptional cheese of all varieties, it is easy to keep it local when choosing your festive fromage, or Christmas Cáis if you will. Each different variety tastes uniquely of the pastures which produced it, meaning a selection from around the country is like a little taste of Ireland itself.
What’s more, buying quality Irish products has the perfect Christmas feel good factor as you are supporting hard working small artisan producers from all around our lovely country.With a selection of the delights below, your Irish Christmas cheeseboard will be a guaranteed hit!
Corleggy Raw Milk Hard Goat’s Cheese
Cavan based artisan producer Corleggy is headed up by German born Silke Cropp, whose farmhouse is located on the banks of the river Erne in Belturbet. She matures this raw goat’s milk variety for a minimum of 2 months, and this cheese is a previous 3 star winner at the Great Taste Awards and currently holds the distinction of a Super Gold Award from the World Cheese Awards 2016, meaning it is now ranked in the top 2% of world cheeses. Flavour wise, expect younger examples to be quite mellow and mild, getting more earthy in tone with age. Unmissable.
St. Tola Ash
St. Tola, a well known goat’s varietal from Inagh in Co. Clare, is notably delicious in its young original form, smooth, creamy and lactic and this is heightened by the addition of a food grade ash coating, as seen in Loire Valley cheesemaking tradition. The ash coating slows down the maturation process, meaning the log stays soft, dreamily smooth and mild for longer while adding a subtley spiced layer.
One of the most distinctive and full flavoured examples of Irish farmhouse cheese, Jeffa Gill’s West Cork produced Durrus is a washed rind, semi soft raw milk cheese which has picked up many an accolade since establishment in 1978. Durrus óg is one of only 141 products to be awarded 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards 2016. Made with single herd milk from coastal pasture grazing cows meaning a subtle salinity is imparted, Durrus óg is eaten at 2-4 weeks old and is a softer, slightly milder yet still earthy cheese.
The most pungent of Irish Farmhouse cheese varieties, also from the Beara Peninsula, is Milleens Dote, a washed orange rind semi-hard cheese akin to a Munster. Rich and creamy soft within, Dote is less chalky than the original Milleens but retains a strong and full mouth enveloping flavour. Not for the faint hearted but an outstanding example of the Irish artisan cheese craft.
Mikes Fancy Cheese producer Mike Thomson has created a remarkable raw milk blue cheese, Northern Irelands first. Made in Newtownards Co. Down, Young Buck is punchy, creamy textured and complex in flavour – nutty in parts closer to the rind and piquant in the blue veins. Having appeared on cheeseboards in some of the best restaurants across the country, Young Buck is a decadent treat for your own festive board.
The Ferguson family of Schull in West Cork are well known for producing an array of artisan products from cheese to charcuterie. Cheesemakers Tom and Giana are seen as true champions of the Irish food scene, along with their charcutier son Fingal. They are utilising their bespoke smokehouse to create fantastic Oak Smoked Gubbeen Cheese, which is mild with a subtle but delicious oaked undertone.
Little Milk Company – Brewer’s Gold
When we think of cheese, wine is the natural pairing to spring to mind but Brewers Gold, made by the Little Milk Company in Dungarvan, proves that beer has its place in the cheese world too. Brewer’s Gold is a semi soft cheese which gets its distinct flavour and texture from hand washing the rind in Irish Craft Beer. The bacteria in the beer breaks down the cheese to give it a soft, malleable texture as well as imparting a nutty slightly sweet flavour. Unsurprisingly, this cheese pairs beautifully with stout and craft beer.
Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese
Ireland’s answer to Manchego and the first sheep’s milk cheese to be made here, Cratloe Hills is produced in County Clare by farmers Sean and Deirdre Fitzgerald. Pasteurised sheep’s milk from hill grazing ewes on their own farm produces a firm and grainy textured cheese which has a distinct and full flavour profile, which tends towards sweetness in mature versions aged for over 14 months.
From Birr Co. Offaly, Mossfield is produced on an organic farm, meaning the milk used has benefited from cattle feeding on herbs and various grass varieties, the growth of which is unimpeded by pesticides. This is compounded with the presence of unique limestone soil to produce incredible depth of flavour in the finished product. Mossfield Slieve Bloom is matured for a minimum of eight months and the result is a delicous, strong Gouda-like cheese to savour.
Cooleeney Dunbarra Brie
The wet green pastures of Tipperary produce many a delicious cheese, with the peat-rich land making it an ideal region for the production of flavourful fromage – after all, great milk makes great cheese. Although it is already buttery, rich and unctuous within, popping white rind Cooleeney Dunbarra brie into an oven proof dish whole and allowing to gently melt before placing the quivering disk onto your cheeseboard is such a heavenly way to incorporate different temperatures and textures into your selection.
Looking to spice up your cheeseboard and set it apart from the others? Add some slices of heady and richly spiced Christmas cake! Trust me, a thin sliver of cake (minus the nasty fondant) topped with brie is a sweet meets savoury delight.
Foods of Athenry Cumin Seed or Hazelnut Cranberry Multigrain Toasts are the perfect vessel for any of the delicious options above. Wafer thin and crisp, spiced or sweet, these are perfectly light meaning you can fit in more cheese!
We all love a figgy pudding as the carol goes, but better still is the combination of luscious fresh figs with blue or goats cheese. Dried figs also work well, but there is something so abundant and opulent about fresh ones, visually they are the perfect cheeseboard accessory.
Crossogue Preserves Damson Port Chutney was a three star winner at the Great Taste Awards and is a fabulously rich complimentary preserve for any number of cheese varieties, providing that crucial sweet cutting edge against the richness of the above picks.
The final and potentially crucial accompaniment to the Irish cheeseboard of your dreams? Wine. All the wine. Have a very Merry Christmas one and all!
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.