Cheesemaking Buzz at Toons BridgeCafé And Shop. And A Pizza Oven
|Franco, the maestro, ready to rock 'n roll|
It is around noon on Friday and Franco gives the signal. No big noise then but you can feel the creative buzz as the three-man crew swing into action making Mozzarella in the gleaming Toons Bridge Dairy. Amazing to see the trio work from the big floppy cubes of curd.
First the cubes are mechanically diced, then Franco gets his hands on it - the skilled hands of a fourth generation Italian cheesemaker who’s been making cheese since he was eleven - manipulating the curd in a steaming vat (hot water is being piped in), stretching it to almost unimaginable elastic proportions, then after a little draining off, he hands it on and soon from the little machine opposite emerge those gorgeous little balls.
|Awaiting their turn to get to market - Cacio Cavallo mainly.|
We are offered a taste. We chew the sample; it is like a milky “meat”! No salt yet. Brineing, a strong one for a short spell (an hour or so), and then it goes into its “transport brine”, the one you’ll see in the stalls the very next day. Toons Bridge Mozzarella is the freshest in Ireland,” says our guide Ronan. “Made today, on sale tomorrow.” Indeed, if you call to their cafe next door, you could well be eating your freshest ever! Some of the whey, by the way, is retained in the dairy and used as a starter for the next batch
We’ll get to the café soon but first there’s much more cheese to be seen and tasted. With no fresh buffalo milk available to them anymore, Toons Bridge have creatively filled the gap by adding a string of gorgeous Italian style cheeses to their range.
Recently, we featured their Cacio Cavallo as Taste of the Week. They actually make four versions of this cow's milk cheese. Cacio Cavallo can age marvellously, turning the soft, rubbery paste hard and flinty that it needs to be broken in shards. The flavours can be huge, as they harness all of the various raw milk bacteria to ripen the curd.
Franco tolds me that they use a kid rennet (in a paste form) for the Piccante version and also in their Pecorino (we’ll get to that later). He reckons it enhances the fermentation, leading to better flavours. They also do a Mesophilic version. No starter culture at all is used, just a natural slow fermentation of the milk. The result is reminiscent of traditional English cheese such as Caerphilly or Cheshire.
|The curd, before it is diced into much smaller pieces|
Lots of new words to be learned around here. Another is Scamorza which is a simple stretched curd cheese that is hung (you can see the mark of the string) for a short period of time to air dry. It is similar to mozzarella and melts well. It is sweet and delicate. They do both smoked and unsmoked versions and I must say I enjoy the smoked one (great when stuffing those big flat mushrooms). Pier 26 in Ballycotton have it on their cheese plate.
They also do Halloumi and Ricotta (try with Highbank Orchard Syrup). And then there’s the Pecorino Vincenzo. Pecorino is the general name for sheep’s cheese in Italy. This pecorino is made in Toons Bridge by Vincenzo to a family recipe from his native Marche region. Vincenzo has a small flock of sheep nearby and they make this gorgeous Pecorino right here. Another must try from this rural hub of creativity. If you want more details on the cheeses, please click here.
The counter was lined with attractive colourful salads (quite a few in the shop for takeaway as well) including Pearled barley, harissa, carrot and dill; pesto, potato and pea; beetroot, quinoa and chickpea, with balsamic dressing; two potato and mint. You could pick any three plus salad leaves for nine euro. We each did just that and enjoyed them in the sun in the garden. Meat Boards and Tapas Plates were also available as were of course the pizzas. Lots of soft drinks too, including my Elderflower cordial, wines by the glass and local beers.
|The old stumps - there are 100s-|
in The Gearagh
Our first stop was at the nearby Gearagh, the only ancient post glacial alluvial forest in Western Europe, a beautiful spot, great for a walk through bushes and trees and wild-flowers and the stump-strewn waters on both sides of your path. Click here for the Discover Ireland listing and a short paragraph of info on this remarkable place.
|Looking into the cafe, from our table in the garden;|
we were early, the place would soon be full.
But last Friday, we settled for The Gearagh and Toons Bridge Dairy and Cafe. Well educated and well fed, we headed for home and a sunny afternoon in the back garden!
|Walk through The Gearagh|
|Take a break!|