This Irish twist on gouda is the creation of Helene and Dick Willems, both natives of the Netherlands, who moved to a small farm in Southern Ireland. They decided to start making cheese in 1979, using the milk from their own herd of cows. The cheese is named after the local village, Cúil Aodha (anglicized as Coolea), but is based on a Dutch recipe.
Production of Coolea closely follows that of traditional gouda. Milk is heated and a starter culture and rennet are added. After coagulation, the curd is cut and the whey is drained off, at which point the curds are washed, (water is added to the cheese vat) to slow down the acidification of the cheese and reheated to expel more moisture. The curds are then packed into molds and pressed for six hours. The cheese is then placed in a salt brine and painted with wax. Coolea ripens for a minimum of four months and is sold at various levels of maturity, all the way up to a year and a half.
Over the years, demand and production have grown steadily, and in 1987 a completely new and expanded cheese plant was built. Willems’ son, also named Dick, joined the cheesemaking team in 1991, becoming the head cheesemaker in 1998.
The texture of Coolea is very firm and dense, with occasional holes. The color of the interior paste is a deep, rich, golden caramel.
Not as assertive as many tangy goudas, flavors are rich, sweet, smooth and complex. There are distinct notes of butterscotch, grass, endive, chocolate and even toasted brioche.
Coolea is a beer-friendly cheese. Pair it with a rich pale ale or a blonde ale. If you're able to find them, spring for Irish selections: Thwaites' Wainwright or Eight Degrees' Howling Pale Ale.