Olives beyond Tuscany. Mozzarella beyond Italy.
Toby Simmonds Tells Two Stories.
|Nyons olives, via wikipedia|
Toby Simmonds, telling us about The Real Olive Company and Toons Bridge Dairy, was the star of the show as the Munster Wine & Dine Circle launched it's 2018 programme at a packed L’Atitude last Thursday.
The gathering may have been expecting a genteel tasting of his imported olives and his Toonsbridge Irish cheese; well they got that, and much more, with Toby pointing out the snobbishness surrounding olive oil, the very limited varieties available in the supermarkets (like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in wine and not too much else), the overuse of caustic soda (the Spanish Cure) in olives. And his cheese story is just as interesting.
Toby came into a challenging scene when, with the aid of a three figure loan, he started off here in 1993. But since then farmers markets have taken off in a big way, the English Market stall has been and is a huge success for him and partner Jenny Rose Clark (Jenny Rose also runs the Sandwich Stall in the market).
The snobbery comes across often at a market. “Is those olives from Tuscany?” When the answer is no, the potential customer walks away. Toby sees this as “missing the point” and something of an insult to all those communities around the Mediterranean who take their olives seriously and produce “good stuff”.
And, as regards the limited choice now available in the supermarkets, he says that that diversity is everything. “Olives present a great story”. By way of illustration then showed a slide of himself and a 4,000 year old olive tree. “That same variety is growing as a five year old in the grove across the road.”
So then we got down to the business of tasting a string of his olives, starting with the Kalamata from the centre of Greece. As we moved on, he mentioned the overuse of caustic side in curing. “A little bit is fine. But too much takes the goodness out of the olives. It is happening all the time.” The green Picholine olives from France, though now grown all over the world, have a “little bit of caustic soda” in their cure, were among the samples we tasted.
Others in the tasting were the Galega (my favourite on the night) from Portugal’s Alentejo, the very expensive Nyons variety from Provence, the dry and wrinkly Beldi (“will be even better in three years time”), and the little baby olives which Toby finds hard to sell outside of Cork where it is a firm favourite, not least with the kids.
Then we were on to the amazing Toons Bridge cheese story, a story that saw them “in crisis” just a few years after the original Buffalo/Mozzarella partnership ended in “divorce”. Flying in frozen buffalo milk from Italy wasn't a success but new cheesemaker Franco then turned up with a local solution and made it from cows milk.
A key factor in Mozzarella is the whey starter (“a bit like sourdough”); yesterday's whey is used as a starter the very next day.” The starter is essential for texture and flavour and the Mozzarella is the same as you get from Italy.
So the Toons Bridge cheese story goes on and the good news is that they now have their own little herd of 22 young buffalo with another twenty on the way - you'll have to wait a while for this herd's cheese though. Currently, Mozzarella (from cows milk) is delivered fresh to their English Market stall on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Eat it at home as soon as you can, maybe even eat it on the bus on the way home! It is not meant to be kept!
The challenge presented by that crisis though has turned into an opportunity. 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.
One is Caciocavallo. This can age marvellously, turning the soft, rubbery paste so 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. This cheese was made by the ancient Greeks and they got it from the Babylonians. “It is one of the oldest in history.”
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 and he make this gorgeous Pecorino right here. Another must try from this rural hub of creativity, imagination and passion and, every now and then, a little bit of well deserved luck!
Another of their cheeses 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) or, as Toby suggested at the tasting, “..it is great in a sandwich, like hanging out with gypsies”.
The enthusiasm is amazing. They are a long ways from finished here. More cheeses on the horizon. Keep a look out in the near future for the Toons Bridge Cardoon Cheese, featuring a flowering vegetable used in cheeses in Spain and Portugal. From the Med to Macroom, the links keep growing.
So big thanks to Toby for his amazing talk. Thanks to Andrew O’Dwyer of Market Place for supplying the Prosecco and to L’Atitude for the canapés.
Munster Wine & Dine Chair Eithne Barry filled us in on what is in store for the year. First event, on March 24th, is a Wine Trail (led by Colm McCan and with tastings!) around the historic streets of Cork, stopping at various places associated with wine, including the old bond.
There will be some long distance tours during the summer, nearby producers too to visit, before the finalé, a tour and Sunday lunch in Longueville House, an incredible experience when we visited three years back.
Lots to look forward to in the months head. So do join up (application form here) and enjoy.