St Tola Goat Cheese
|Clockwise, from top right: Crottin, Hard on shelve, Hard cut, original log|
filling the logs, eating up, and the Ash log.
The goats, all three hundred of them, at St Tola Cheese near Inagh in County Clare, are looking forward to a better summer next year. “They don’t like the rain,” said our host Grainne Casey, who looks after Sales and Marketing for the organic farm.
The goats didn’t get out as often as they’d like this year but still they were well looked after. The grass was cut and brought into them. But it’s not only the animals that will be looking for a better 2013. Keeping them indoors for extended periods has added hugely to the farm’s costs, as organic feed is not easy to get and costs three times more than your normal feed.
Grainne introduced us to cheese maker Carmen Gal, who is responsible for all aspects of the production operation. Then we enjoyed a very interesting tour of the facility during our recent visit. Grainne explained how the cheeses are made. There are two major types, the regular soft cheese that most people are familiar with and also a lovely hard cheese.
St Tola, under Siobhan Ní Ghairbhith, who took over the reins in 1999, never stands still and have within the last 12 months or so introduced the distinctive St Tola Ash Log, a beautiful creamy cheese that has an ash like covering (edible charcoal).
|One of the little girls!|
The hard cheese is weather dependent, made only in summer with surplus milk. In a good year, St Tola make it from May to July/August but this bad summer they were curtailed to making it from June to mid July.
Then it was time to meet the animals and, first of all, Grainne introduced us to the “little girls”, most of them born in April or May of this year. Beautiful friendly creatures and so too were most of their elder relations. We didn’t get too close to the Pucks. Apparently they stink! Not too many males “survive” here but those that do have quite a choice!
St Tola started off with three different breeds originally, the idea being to get a good balance of milk, including a good proportion of the cream that helps give the cheeses it gorgeous texture. When they are not indoors, the herd has some sixty five acres to roam around.
All was quiet in the shed, which has one side partly open to the outdoors, until Petru Gal, the Farm Manager, appeared on the scene. Then the goats created quite a din, perhaps expecting an extra treat. Petru, a skilled herdsman, has been here since 2003.
|A prize winning selection|
The milking is quite an operation and is done twice a day. The facility is mechanised, the ladies are led in to the parlour, their movement restrained, the reward is a little treat, and the whole operation takes about ninety minutes in the morning and the same in the late afternoon. Two hundred are milking and they’ll let you know if you are late!
After the tour, we sat down with Grainne and enjoyed a cuppa and a cheese tasting. The room was a reminder of how far St Tola has come as it is decorated with many awards, from Ireland, Britain and Europe. The products are widely available and you may see the full list of stockists here.
|Two happy pucks|