Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cashel Blue in Safe Hands

Cashel Blue in Safe Hands
Cashel Blue, at 3 weeks. See the needle holes made to allow the blue develop
“One sunny summer’s day my daughter Sarah and I were watching my husband, Louis, herd his cows in from pasture. What a deliciously rich and creamy milk they gave! I started to experiment. Eventually, in 1984, I created Cashel Blue, a cheese I believe truly represents the outstanding quality of Tipperary milk. I hope you will agree.”

This is Jane Grubb telling how Cashel Blue cheese came into being and we do agree, as do thousands of customers worldwide, from the US to Australia, from Harrods to IKEA. “All areas of the market are supplied," Sarah told us on a recent visit. Sarah emphasises that this is a deliberate decision, as they want everyone to try their cheese, not just those that shop in elite outlets.

I should of course say cheeses as Cashel Blue has been joined by two other products, the very latest being Cashel Cream Cheese, a convenient cheese in a tub for everyday use, a mix of Cashel Blue, Natural Cream cheese and 5 per cent cream.

The other cheese is Crozier Blue. Jane’s nephew, Henry Clifton Brown, of Ballinamona Farm, overlooked by the Rock of Cashel, set about establishing a flock of milking sheep, then somewhat of a rarity in Ireland. As a result, in 1993, Crozier Blue was developed. To this day Crozier Blue is the only blue cheese made from sheep’s milk in Ireland.

Blue is doing well here on a 6 week Crozier
But back to Jane and those early days. She had decided to make cheese but didn’t know how. So she got herself a library book. Even that wasn't available locally and had to be obtained via the inter-library route. That book, lots of experiments and then the aquisition of a small vat, led to the famous Cashel Blue.

Over twenty years later, the new dairy was established near the original, farmhouse (which had become almost overwhelmed by the success) and opened in 2010 right in “one of the best fields” and locally became known as Louis’ shed. Louis is Jane’s husband and the entire family were glad to get their home back.
Some of the thousands of wheels in the Maturation Room.
 While there is no great visible signs of it in the Tipperary countryside, this is a major operation and a boon to the area. The production team now consists of about twenty members, sometimes joined by their children. And isn’t it great to have such a place to sustain the countryside, keeping the people at home. Sarah told us that some forty children under 10 live between the two local crosssroads and she finds that so encouraging for the future of the area.

The early cheesemakers too needed encouragement as they tried to find their way. And that encouragement came in the shape of an early prize and soon they were on the right path, choosing to make the blue rather than what many others were making.
The Dairy
 Cheesemaking is no easy job. Lots of muscle and hands on work is required. Cheesemaking starts at 6.00am and work goes on everyday, though they do try and keep it that bit less demanding at weekends. Still, someone has to be there 365 days a year!

We saw Geurt van den Dikkenberg, now the main cheesemaker, (by the late 1980s Jane developed a bad back, the infamous cheesemaker’s back, and so taught Geurt how to make Cashel Blue) in action with the cheese harp, drawing it through the curds and whey in large vats time after time. Not easy work at all and yes that Cheese Harp has to be re-strung from time to time.
Main cheesemaker Geurt van den Dikkenberg,
using the cheese harp.
 With all that hard work, some people would be tempted to cut corners and speed up the process. But glad to say, there is no compromise here. The quality of the milk, which is pasteurised but unhomogenised, is all important and the care that it gets from the time it it piped into the vats, through to the final wheels in the Maturation Room, is hands on.

There is of course some mechanical help with placing the mix from the vats into moulds and also with the injection of the wheels to allow the blue to occur and also the turning of the wheels but nothing whatsoever to compromise the integrity of this natural product. Find out more about the Cashel way of cheese making  here
Wheels, ready for turning

We recently enjoyed an eye-opening guided tour of the Dairy with Sarah showing the way ( and also met other members of the family who are involved, including Jane’s husband Sergio Furno and her cousin Louis Clifton Brown).  The cheesemaking operation at Beechmount Farm was in good hands from the start with Jane and her husband Louis the pioneers and is in good hands now and for the future with Jane and Sergio and their team.

Wish we had more leaders like them in this country, modest people who get on with it. It is a fascinating story, a slice of history even, and you may read more about it here

Some Beechmount facts:
·         Sixty five per cent of the cheese output is sold abroad.
·         25,000 wheels in the Maturation Room
·         Crozier is white while the Cashel as it matures tends to be more of a yellow colour.
·         The sheep milk, used for the Crozier, is heavier and that means more muscle needed especially while it is in the vats.
·         The wheels are salted by soaking in brine, the better to preserve it. Previously the salt was added by hand but soaking in the tanks of brine gives a more consistent result. You will probably notice that the edible rind is that bit more salty than the paste.

No comments: