We the Irish have been geographically negligent. Not all areas technically west in the county of Cork have been given equal amounts of love in the promotion of “West Cork”.
The state of affairs as it currently stands is the evocation of jagged sea cliffs, swooping birds, and a striped landscape of moss, lichen, cold heather and bog pools along the heads of Mizen and Sheep in the winter, and a haze of small boats, burnt shoulders, smokey mackerel and buoyant sea foam in the summer. But West Cork is not just coastal. Moving two hours inland, the maw of Ireland’s end is replaced by hills, almost mountains, that house hermits, river origins and timeless cheese makers.
Gougane Barra, west of Macroom, is a ring of mountains surrounding a river basin in which can be found a 6th century monastery laid by the hands of St. Fionnbarr as well as the first spurts of the river Lee.
Ten minutes beyond that, if you find yourself to be driving a Volkswagon Golf as we did, you will come upon this sign:
We are exploring the OTHER West Cork and we have found some cheese.
It is January so Dicky, second generation master gouda maker, is occupied with repairs. Cheese is made only between the months of April and October when the cows are out to pasture. Apparently a diet of silage (fermented hay, fed to cows when indoors in the wet, cold months) corrupts the flavour of the cheese.
Nonetheless, we are kindly given the grand tour, using our imaginations to fill in the gaps.
The farm was first started in the early 1980s by Dicky’s father, Dick. At that time the family had it’s own herd of cows and used the milk to make cheese in a gouda style, a style familiar to the Dutch family.
Up until 1999, the cheese was unpasteurised and the family cultivated its own cheese starter, having full control of the milk supply chain. However, as demand grew, more milk was required and a second supplier was sourced. Due to a tuberculosis scare in one of the cows in the second herd, the cheese produced for one entire season had to be discarded. Dicky recounts that around 10,000 kilos of cheese the equivalent of 70,000 Irish pounds was lost. Since then the milk has been pasteurised.
Gouda: What is?
To make Gouda you need:
This one is a large one for a large and delicious gouda.
Bought from Holland since the home herd is no more, added to the milk 30 minutes before the rennet.
Add. Let milk sit in big vat for 2.5 to 3 hours.
Cut into hazelnut-sized pieces (mmm hazelnuts…) using a metal cutter. The solids (curds: future cheese) are separated from the liquids (whey: potentially ricotta, whey protein, pig feed).
|||Much Washing of Curds|||
This is a key action in the making of Gouda. Through multiple rounds of washing and draining the curd with heated water, the naturally present milk-sugar lactose is washed out so the lactic acid bacteria will have less food (sugar) to convert into lactic acid, thus the cheese will ultimately be less acidic and more sweet. SO, in washing away the sugar, the cheese becomes sweeter as it ages. Cool, ay?
Once the curd is sparkling, it is collected into individual moulds and pressed using this very old and glowing cheese press. The less moisture in the cheese to begin with, the slower its ageing time and the deeper the final flavour.
This brine is 15 years old and has never been changed.
It seems that the brine is the family secret of every farmhouse Gouda cheesemakers.
Once pressed, the cheeses are brined for 3 days.
Good Gouda = Salt. And Water. And Time.
Cheeses are tested with a cheese iron as time passes and a sample of each batch is sent to ENVA for microbiological testing before release.
The first cheese to leave the cave is 4 months old.The room temperature stays between 74 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Dicky’s preference is between 18 and 24 months old.
Final Result: Coolea Cheese
Different buyers have different tastes.
Currently Coolea can be found in
- Neal’s Yard Dairy, London.
- Sheridan’s Cheesemongers Galway, Dublin and Meath.
- On The Pig’s Back, Cork.
- Iain Mellis Cheesemongers, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Last year Dicky and and his helper Denis made 24,000kg of cheese in 7 months. He has two children and will continue until they express interest in the business or have become independent. After the tour and tasting led by the passionate Dicky, we hope for the latter.