Burren Gold’s the star of the Aillwee Cave Farm Shop that highlights the best of Irish Food.
There’s a bunch of cows, Holstein Friesians and Fleckviehs (an Austrian breed), grazing on the tough fields around the Caherconnell Stone Fort in the heart of the Burren in County Clare. The Fleckviehs have arrived in the last couple of years.
Not easy for a cow to get a decent biteful here; grass is not plentiful, far from it, but the cows also eat some of the famous herbs and plants that grow in the crevices in the great pavement of the Burren rock. And that hard-earned mix of flavours goes to make Burren Gold, a Gouda style cheese for which Aillwee is rightly famous.
We made our most recent visit to the famous complex last week and Farm Shop manager Dave filled us on the benefit of the new arrivals. “Before we were milking twice a day, now it is once a day, which is just what the farmer wanted. From the same number of cattle we are getting much the same quantity of milk but milk of a better quality; that there is more butter content in the milk is to our advantage.”
So both Aillwee and the farmer have benefited from the inclusion of the Austrian breed. They have been making the cheese here since 1985. So why haven’t we heard more about it? The main reason is that over 90 per cent of it is sold right here in the Farm Shop and the rest locally.
Burren Gold is a firm textured Gouda style cheese with a rich creamy taste. It comes in a variety of flavours:- Plain, Smoked, Cumin, Garlic & Nettle, Black Pepper and for something a little more exotic—Piri Piri.
They also age some of the cheese. You can see the racks of wheels in a glassed off section of the cheesemaking shop (you can also see the cheesemaker in action), one for 12 months, another for 24. These mature cheeses are splendid and we bought ourselves a piece that was just over 12 months. And it seems every bit as good, if not better, than it was on our last visit in early 2019. And you’ll soon be able to buy even older cheeses here.
|Some of my shopping!|
With all the sales at the cave, I thought they would have been lower numbers of cheese purchases because of Covid restrictions. But not a bit of it! Dave: “It has been our busiest summer ever.” But they did take steps to make sure sales stayed up. They introduced online sales and also a Cheese Club and both have been very successful. Check it out here.
When we spoke on September 1st, Dave was keen to let me know how the shop itself had changed over the past two years, stressing that the range of produce and products available had changed. Before, much had been imported. Now “it is 95% Irish” and he is rightly proud of this and the fact that many local Clare people have an outlet for their work.
“We are all about sustainability and local. We have St Tola here and Tipperary Blue by Pete McDonnell (who is out in southern Africa at present helping set up a community cheese enterprise).”
Dave pointed to soaps by Airimid from Kilfenora and those under the Moher name (made by an ex employee), local jams including some from the Clare Jam Co in Doolin. They have beautiful occasion cards by Lamblittle (see lamblittle on Insta), coffee by Anam, seaweed products by WASi, colourful pottery by Bridget Shelly, dairy free chocolate by Nobó, beeswax food wraps by octogenarian Mary Wall of Cutra Bees and much more.
|Dave with a 5-year old wheel|
When you visit Aillwee, be prepared to spend some time there, not just on the shopping. You may of course visit the famous cave, part of the Burren Geo-Park. You may buy a combined ticket that will enable you see the Birds of Prey put through their paces in the arena. And if you want to interact closely with one of nature's top predators, then sign up for the Hawk Walk (you’ll need to do this in advance). This walk also includes admission to the cave and the Birds of Prey. More details on my August 31st Hawk Walk here.