The Grubbs: Blessed be the cheese makers.

Sarah Furno speaking in Ballymaloe

Jean Trimbach loved the cheeses

Blessed be the cheese makers
The Grubbs and Cashel Blue

About this time last year, I was buying some wines in the Rhone village of Rasteau.

The English speaking saleslady was telling me all about their Signature Vin Doux Naturel which, unusually for a dessert wine, is red. She was suggesting cheese matches and mentioned the blues of Auvergne and Bresse. But when she moved on to Stilton I just had to interrupt and tell her we had our own blues in Ireland.

When she asked for a name, I gave her Cashel Blue. And she carried on as before. “Now you take a glass of Rasteau and Cashel Blue and you have a perfect match.” Quite a saleslady but glad I spoke up when I heard Sarah Furno of Cashel Blue (and Crozier Blue also) in action at this week’s enjoyable Trimbach Wine and Cheese evening in Ballymaloe.

Sarah had quite a story to tell and told it so well. She explained that their family farm in Tipperary was struggling to make ends meet in the hard times of the early 80s. Would they go into yoghurts? Into ice-cream? But they had noticed the rise in cheese-making and after much research (including visits to Gubbeen), they decided on making a blue cheese.

There was obviously a market here as the country was importing something like 25 tonnes of Danish blue at the time yet people still “thought we were mad”. But, led by parents Jane and Louis, they kept experimenting and it took them all of four years to create Cashel, which is made from cow’s milk.

The Crozier followed about ten years later. This is made from sheep’s milk. Earlier, they had been told: “You can’t milk sheep”. Sarah: “They graze on limestone fields and produce just two litres a day...It is liquid gold, high yielding, very rich.”

If Blue cheese was something of a mystery to those in Irish agriculture in the 80s, then moulds were even more so. “Something wrong with your cheese?” The moulds are important as Sarah’s husband Sergio explained: “We use mould for flavour. We rely heavily on external mould on the rind to encourage the development of the creaminess and complex flavour from the sweet nature of the wonderful milk.”

And I must say, I just love these blues for those very reasons. And so do consumers in Australia, United Kingdom and United States and online .

It was really fascinating to hear Sarah speak and tell the story and her frequent references to the terroir, references also made by Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen. Sarah for instance mentioned the limestone fields on which the sheep graze while Giana referred to the salt spray from the Atlantic that hits their fields and the warming effects of the gulf Stream.

Sarah just touched on the recent decades. For more on the Grubb family story – it goes back as far, if not further, than that of the Trimbach’s – and indeed much more on the fantastic cheeses and how they are made, go to the Cashel Blue website here.

Just been checking and found I still have a bottle of that Rasteau, bottle number 08446 from the 2007 vintage Signature Vin Doux Natural. Next stop will be the English Market to get one of those blues from Tipperary, maybe both.