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Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Taste of the Week
St Tola Ash Roll
I know this has been mentioned here before but it is such a superb product that I just couldn't resist putting it up again. Bought half a roll recently in Iago (Princes Street, Cork) and enjoyed it no end.
It is an amazingly creamy cheese from the tough fields of St Tola in County Clare. The cheese has been rolled in traditional food grade ash when fresh. The ash slows down the development and maturation of the cheese and after a few weeks of careful handling, an elegant, smooth textured and full flavoured cheese emerges.
Take your time as you savour the special flavour and that smooth creamy texture; you might even notice the slightly grittier texture of the ash. Enjoy it on its own or pair it with either of these two delicious Irish products: Killahora Orchards Rare Apple Ice Wine or the Hot Crabapple Pot (if you don’t fancy the heat - it is mild - then try their Elderflower and Crabapple Pot) by Wild Irish Foragers and Preserves.
Ireland V95 XA9C.
GPS: 52.903140300 -9.178353600
Thursday, June 1, 2017
These Ladies Like to be Out and About
Bluebell Falls Goats Cheese
“Our goats are outside all the time. They have the use of the shed but seem to prefer the outdoors, even when it’s wet,” said Victor O’Sullivan to me when I visited his Bluebell Falls goats, all four hundred of them, last week. “It makes a definite difference to the cheese.”
Victor and his cheesemaker wife Breda have a mix of three breeds on the farm, just outside Newtownshandrum in North Cork “Why the mix?”, I asked. “They each have different characteristics and, with the three, we get a more balanced type of milk.”
Two of the breeds here are originally Swiss. The Saanen goats are a white or cream-coloured goat breed, named for the Saanen valley in Switzerland. The Toggenburg goat, is a breed of milk goat, named after the region in Switzerland where the breed originated, the Toggenburg valley in the Canton of St. Gallen. The British Alpine is a high-producer of quality goats' milk, and the breed can be found in many goat dairies.
They’ve had goats here since the middle of the last decade and the herd was up to the 400 mark by 2007, the milk being sold on to dairies. They took the big step in 2013 when they bought out Bluebell Falls (then in County Clare). Breda and Victor did cheesemaking courses under Eddie O'Neill at Moorepark (near Fermoy) and, very importantly, Paul Keane of the original Bluebell gave them a solid grounding in the business over a three month period.
By 2014, they were retailing their own cheese. And, continuing “the same system as Bluebell”, have expanded each year since and are proud of their BRC accreditation, the global standard for food safety.
Their long oval packages have becoming well known to cheese lovers at markets, festivals and in the aisles of supermarket such as Dunnes and Tesco. Varieties such as the Original, the Honey and Garlic, the Cranberry, the Pepper, Mixed herbs and Garlic, and the Caramelised Onion and Caraway seeds, will be familiar to many of you.
I met Victor at the recent Mallow Garden festival and he showed me the original and the cranberry in a newer different “tub” packaging. As tasty as ever but looking well.
And right along them were the new products, not made from goats milk but from cows. Not any cows either. He uses gorgeous creamy milk from a herd of pedigree Jersey cows on a farm in nearby Dromcollogher. And the two new products, the Jersey Cream Cheese Original and the Jersey Cream Pesto are absolutely superb, well worth seeking out.
After that chat, it was time to get out and do a bit of farm work. Victor took us through the long grass where a big group from the herd were grazing and soon, with the promise of food, we were surrounded.
“How about giving a hand with the milking?” was the surprise question. Both of us put the hand up. Soon, he had a hold of one of the goats and CL was taking instructions, trying to concentrate and avoid the odd stray leg flying out. A second goat was more steady and the milk flowed, well flow may not be an exact description but she was getting the hang of it as I did later.
|One of the young ones|
Luckily, Victor doesn't have to rely on city visitors to do the milking of the large herd. He has a mechanical set-up that milks them twice daily. Then of course the cheese making starts.
And when it is made, you must sell it. And that too takes time. Last weekend, Victor was at both the Mallow Festival and at The Sheridan's Irish Food Festival in Co. Meath. This week, it is five days at Bloom in Dublin, not counting the coming and the going. Tough going really but he gets great satisfaction from making a top class product and getting it out to the public. He is rightly proud of Bluebell Falls cheese and we consumers are lucky to have him on our Irish doorstep. Bluebell Falls is another reason why I'm happy to buy local!
|Victor at the Mallow Show|
The multi-award winning soft cheese is supplied to top end hotels, restaurants and food service. It is distributed by, among others, Pallas Foods, La Rousse Foods, and Plassey Foods. Also available in all major retailers and good health stores.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Ballinwillin House & FarmWhere the deer and the wild boar roam
We are in a country town. We have been feeding the deer and checking on the goats and Wild Boar pigs. Time now for a drink in the Hungarian wine-cellar. A red, appropriately named Young Bull, goes down well. It is made from the Hungarian grape Kékfrancos.
Back to the main house now for dinner which will start with a plate of charcuterie, all from the farm. The mains will feature both venison and pig. The southern town is Mitchelstown and we are having the time of our lives in Ballinwillin House (built in 1727 by the local Earl of Kingston for the famous agriculturalist Sir Arthur Young).
|One of the pucks|
When we arrived in the late afternoon, we were welcomed by Patrick Mulcahy. Patrick and his wife Miriam have been owners since 1985. The estate once had 1240 acres but the Mulcahy’s are doing very well indeed with 162 acres, divided into various parcels. In 1985, they started with the house and 16 acres.
The first thing you notice when you come through the gate is the herd of deer in the nearby field. Patrick told us the original deer were brought in from Hungary and there are now 850 of them. The field we were looking at had about twenty five, a “small harem” for the single stag. What we didn't see though were the first of this season’s “babies”. Just born and about the size of a hare, they were hidden away in the long grass of a far corner by the cautious mothers but they will be out and about in a few days.
|The young ones|
After that we were taken to see a small herds of goats and then the Wild Boar pigs and their young. To see more about the Wild Boar and how they came back to Ireland check out this Ear To The Ground feature on Ballinwillin.
Patrick, from West Limerick originally, has some more “ordinary” animals too, including cattle. We saw a mother and her newly born twins. The birth had been very tough on all three but tender care and no little muscle from the Mulcahy's saw them all pull through. They were on the point of calling the vet but didn't have to. Indeed, the vet is rarely involved here as the operation is organic and healthy.
|All calm for the twins after a tough start to life|
And those healthy meats, most of which are sold online by the way but also to hotels and chefs, are used in the house for entertaining. They have nine rooms for B&B, six of them in a courtyard and three in the house itself. They also entertain groups with a convivial start usually made in the wine-cellars built for Patrick by some of his Hungarian friends.
He has made many friends in Hungary over the years and that is how the wine came into it, a wine that is now combined with the other produce of the farm. His wines in Hungary are bottled under the Chateau Mulcahy label and there too you’ll see a deer silhouette. The wine names are usually in honour of relations or friends: Clos de John Patrick, Amy Rose, South Winds (after a friend’s house).
|A big welcome|
The Kékfrancos is a native Hungarian grape but most of the others are the familiar international grapes such as Chardonnay, Merlot (for the rosé), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for example. All in all 14 wines, including a dessert one, are available so you’ll have plenty of choice either in the atmospheric cellar or in the dining hall.
The cellars are dimly lit and not very big but that just tends to get people closer to one another, all the better to smile and chat and laugh. You won't be checking the colour of your wine - but you sure will be enjoying it and the occasion. Indeed, you may book a cellar visit as a standalone.
|In the cellar|
The high roofed dining room was our next call - we were with a group of about twenty from the Munster Wine & Dine. Starter was a generous plate of charcuterie, all from the farm, all delicious.
Hard to beat the mains. Miriam is well able to turn her hand to virtually any hearty meat dish and on this occasion we enjoyed a five star Venison Bourguignon with all the trimmings. About halfway though that, a stuffed fillet of Wild Boar was added to each plate. More wine was ordered and we were on a roll!
Dessert, Miriam’s Raspberry Cake, arrived in due course. Then a little sing-song broke out - Patrick chipped in with There’s An Isle - and it was a very happy gang that trooped into our bus back to the city.
- The brilliant day out had started with a visit to the Grubb family farm at Beechmount, near Fethard, the home of Cashel Blue and other beautiful cheeses. Read all about it here
- If you’d like to join the fun with Munster Wine & Wine, please send email to email@example.com
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Mabel, Matriarch of Loughbeg FarmMeet Ginger & Biscuit. Black & Decker too.
|Mabel (left) and one of her possible successors.|
We are high on a hill on a farm in Lowertown, Schull, County Cork, and have a 360 degree view.
Looking out to the Atlantic we have a splendid view. It is the last day of August and here, as it often is, the sky is clear and we can see, to our right, the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and the long blue of Dunmanus Bay; Dunmanus Castle (near where there a sea urchin producer operates); we can see, to the left, all the way over to Cape Clear island. Beyond Sheep’s Head, Hungry Hill, blue/grey in the distance, rises into the sky on the Beara peninsula (where there is an abalone producer).
|Decker and her litter|
And, if we shift position a bit and head towards the pure bred Connemara ponies on a neighbouring farm, we can even spot the Fastnet Rock in the distance.
Behind us, the mountains, including Mount Gabriel, match the sweep of the sea in front of us. And immediately below and around us, lies the farm where Walter and Josephine Ryan-Purcell raise their pigs and goats, soon to be joined by a Dexter cow or two; here they grow their vegetables and do much more besides.
|Dunmanus Bay and, beyond, Sheep's Head|
In the mountains, you note the ridges of rocks crowding together like the bonhams feeding! The pattern is repeated as the rocks continue through the farm and onwards. On the farm, the gaps get a little wider, allowing some grass to flourish, but still narrow, and the gaps get a little wider (sometimes the width of a decent field) nearer the coast. There are some good fields in the vicinity but this farm is not so lucky. Still, the rough land, bushy and scrubby and sometimes marshy, is an ideal spot for the chosen animals.
|Connemara pony and Ginger and Biscuit|
Decker and her pal Black (who is due to give birth to her litter any day now) are Duroc crossed Large Black while the dad Bubba is an Gloucester Old Spot. We also met Ginger and Biscuit, a happy pair of pure Tamworth pigs.
|Waiting time. Black in the mud.|
But, for all the animals, Loughbeg is now best known for its bread, for its Oat Bread in particular. Loughbeg benefited from the Supervalu Food Academy and now you can find the hugely popular loaf all across Cork and Kerry. And maybe further afield in the near future. And if you do come across it, ask too about the delicious Oat Tea Break (soaked in tea and cider!).
Such has been the success of the Oat Loaf this year that Loughbeg now employs nine, including six full-time. Walter hasn't had as much time to concentrate on other aspects of the farm including his Loughbeg Watering System. He is developing this using drainage pipes with slots for his pots and the water in the pipes keeps the plants irrigated. He never stops! And neither does Josephine. As we were galavanting around the farm with Water and Munich based food writer (and translator) Natascha Afanasjew, Josephine was getting hundreds of loaves of bread packed.
We finished up with a lovely lunch of local produce. The bread and the brack featured, of course, as did some of their own chutneys, ham from Gubbeen, tomatoes and cucumbers from their greenhouse, and cheese, a new one, from Sean O'Brien of Ballingeary. Lovely food and good conversation.
We were joined for lunch by Bruno, here to improve his English and, like Natascha, staying in a newly built cottage on the farm. You may rent a room or rent the cottage, check it out on Airbnb, and then you can really take your time as you take in the fabulous views and indeed everything else that goes on in this remarkably productive piece of West Cork.
- Just keeping this down the bottom (maybe the little piggies won’t see it). There are plans to add to the Loughbeg Range with rashers, sausages and puddings likely to appear in the near future.
|Walter, under glass.|
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Taste of the WeekOrchard Cottage Goats Milk Cheese
The Desmond family in Ballinhassig, (County Cork), make a fantastic soft goats cheese, under the Orchard Cottage label, and it is our Taste of the Week. Can't make out how I’ve haven't come across this one until now.
It is beautiful and comes in a jar. There are two different combinations: the round balls of cheese come in a sunflower oil with sun dried tomatoes, basil and garlic and also in sunflower oil with thyme and garlic. This latter has won a silver medal at the world cheese awards and is the one I’ve tasted. The other one (pictured) is in the fridge - though not for long more!
The cheese flavour is mild and the texture is creamy, milder and creamier than usual, less of a tang. May have something to do with the fact that these goats feed mostly on good grass rather than on a rough hillside or bog. If you haven't liked goats cheese previously, this is worth a try and could well be the one that puts you on the way to liking it.
I got mine from the Fresh from West Cork stall in the English Market but the Orchard Cottage products are widely available including Thursday’s market in Mahon and Saturday’s in the Coal Quay. Read more about the Desmond’s farm here.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Spring In St Tola Air
Spring is in the air at St Tola Goats farm as they see their in-house winter experiments take exciting shape.
The County Clare farm has teamed up with Benoit Lorge, the renowned chocolate master in Kenmare, to create some truly beautiful Cheeserts ....Fresh St Tola Goats Cheese, dipped in the finest dark chocolate and beautifully finished with hazelnuts. They make an elegant and unusual finish to a romantic meal or a great talking point for an Easter Lunch.
Grainne Casey, Sales and Marketing at St Tola told me. “We are aware that the teaming of soft goats’ cheese and chocolate is a somewhat controversial mix.” She needn’t have worried. Just tasted a sample myself and am delighted with it.
I love St Tola in any case and the outstanding feature of the cheese is its creaminess and that still stands out but now in addition you’ve got this smashing chocolate and the whole experience is one of a delicious balance between the sweetness of the chocolate and the sharpness of the cheese. Next time, especially if romance is in the air, I might get myself a wine to go with the Cheesert, thinking of something like Beaumes de Venise or a Tokaji but open to suggestions.
And speaking of romance, St Tola are going to make a plain heart shaped crottin especially for St Valentine’s Day. The Cheeserts will be launched next week at the Food Forum in Galway and will be available shortly from all good delis nationwide including Fallon and Byrne and Sheridans Cheesemongers.
Further details from Grainne at firstname.lastname@example.org
See my October visit to St Tola here
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
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|
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Well done to all at Ardsallagh Cheese on winning gold at the Irish Cheese Awards this week. Their Ardsallagh Cranberry Roulade came tops in the New Cheese Section.Two other Cork producers also struck gold and quite a few were honoured. Well done to all. To see the full list click here