St. Patrick’s Day immediately conjures images of frothy stouts, soda bread, and shamrocks, but here at culture, our mind jumps straight to Irish cheese. And while Ireland may be a small country, it certainly is mighty when it comes to cheese.
According to a report compiled by Chef’s Pencil, Ireland ranks third in the world for cheese production per capita. With 125 pounds of cheese produced per person, Ireland is only outranked by Denmark (171.9 pounds per person) and New Zealand (167.9 pounds per person). Ireland’s cheese industry is relatively young – the late 1970s saw the beginning of the Irish farmhouse cheese movement – and has experienced a large amount of growth in recent years (39% between 2016 and 2021), making it the second fastest growing in the European Union.
We compiled a list of six Irish cheeses that represent today’s Irish cheesemaking industry. From fourth-generation dairy farmers to a 26-year-old “young buck” carving out his own path, there is a complex past and present to Irish cheese.
Ireland’s Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers is a family business with a long tradition of food and farming. Since 1984, the Grubbs have been creating Cashel Blue, Ireland’s first artisanal blue cheese. Made with milk from the family’s own herd of Friesian cows, Cashel Blue has a rich, creamy texture and a blue tang that’s punctuated by mineral notes. Read more about the Grubbs here.
“[Mike] Thomson began with a circa-1919 Stilton recipe and experimented from there. He still does every step by hand, including ladling and draining the curds and piercing each wheel 250 times with a metal skewer to ensure the even distribution of blue mold. The resulting cheese has its own character, its texture softer and moister than a traditional Stilton, with a well-developed mushroomy rind, light blueing, and that bright citrus tang.” Read more from Lynne Freehill-Maye here.
Cooleeney Farm, Located near Thurles in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, is home to the Maher family, fourth-generation dairy farmers, and their herd of pedigree Friesian cows. With a soft, yielding texture, flavors of Cooleeney are rich with hints of oak and mushrooms that intensify with age. Read more about the history of Cooleeney Farm here.
Despite dairy farming for six generations, Gubbeen Farm only began making cheese during the 1970s artisan cheese movement. “At this time in Ireland there were possibly only three other small farms making the earliest of the artisan cheeses,” writes Gubbeen’s cheesemaker Giana Ferguson. “This is not to say the Irish cheese industry wasn’t thriving, but only as an industrial model, producing mostly Cheddar and Caerphilly.” Learn more about Gubbeen Farm here.
Would any list of Irish cheeses be complete without a Kerrygold product? Rich and savory with notes of butterscotch, this aged Irish beauty is inspired by the cheddars made 13 centuries ago by Trappist monks. Its roots go back to 1961 when the Irish Dairy Board was established, grouping together some of the small dairy farmers of Ireland in order to promote and export their milk and milk products on the international market. Read more about Kerrygold Aged Cheddar here.
“Although it sounds like some trendy new cheese invented for our modern whiskey trend, but Cahill’s has been crafting these wheels since 1982. This spirit-laced cheddar was originally created for celebrations, like Christmas or the harvest. Now it’s readily available year-round, and I for one am very grateful for it. This is one delicious cheese.” Read more from Erika Kubick here.