“Wonderful Life” A staff trip to West Cork

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As you probably may know, we have opened our new Sheridan’s Cheesemongers counters in a couple of Dublin’s Dunnes Stores, Stephen’s Green and Rathmines, a bit before Christmas and what an amazing exciting set up. A chance to reach more people about what our company is all about, and what we are about is providing good cheese and a great personal service. With a busy set up and Christmas we didn’t have the chance to introduce the new staff to some of our cheesemakers. So Kevin gave me the job of taking some of our new staff; Emma, Philippa and William to where it all started, a land where life is good, wonderful even! “Best place to live in Ireland” I have heard in a recent study; that may well be, but if you are into artisan food in general and farmhouse cheese in particular, you may well be on to a winner here! Plus, West Cork is not only gentler when it comes to our insular climates; it is also quite easy on the eye…

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I picked up our crew in strategic Tallaght, I travelled from the most western part of Meath, cleared the M50 before 7am, straight for Saggart, Rathcoole and we were on our way, the M7, Portlaoise, the M8 and a dusting of snow on the Galty Mountains. We were heading straight for storm “Imogen” and once out of the Jack Lynch tunnel, it looks like we would reach Gubbeen Farmhouse by lunch. I understand now why people say that you are half way there when you get to the outskirts of Cork city! The N71 to the west, to Schull is as long as it is beautiful.

I parked the car in the yard and we stretched our legs. Giana Ferguson was waiting for us on the porch of the dairy with a big welcoming smile, apologising for the chaotic morning they had, a tree fell, luckily between the two buildings, the clutch of Tom’s van went “ Slán leat” and one of their wonderful staff was off sick. I was reassured to see that “Mondays” can also affect the most Western and idyllic parts of the country.

We all geared up for the legal health and safety uniform and protection and started the visit of the cheese making area, where the curd was already in moulds; quite a shock from outside, as the air was warm and humid, with the comforting smell of fresh heated milk, curds and whey… The atmosphere was jovial, with great camaraderie and elegance, careful routines repeated over and over through the years with the same patient respect…We finished the tour in the packing room, with a taste of cheese of course, questions and answers while I kept trying to capture emotions with my camera. Fingal, clearly hungry, concluded the first visit with a simple “Hackett’s for lunch”? We all jumped in the car for a quick stroll down to the local legendary pub where the blackboard invited you to everything Gubbeen, cheese, bacon, salami… You name it. Toasted Gubbeen cheese BLT for everyone! Nice. As we were about to leave, another legend walked in: “Hi Bill!” as I respectfully shook his hand a hello and good bye. Another cheesemaker I explained, he made parmesan style Desmond and Gabriel! The colourful characters of Schull…
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After visiting Fingal’s Gubbeen Farmhouse products, of smoked salami, chorizo, and bacon, experiments and things to come, we left the Farm with cheese and saucisson before heading for Durrus village, down below Mount Gabriel we climbed and descended, as the glimmering lights of this stormy day started to fade behind sheep’s head. We quickly stopped in Bantry for a spot of shopping; on the self-catering menu tonight, Sally Barnes “Woodcock” smoked tuna, brown bread, butter and lemon, followed by a Gubbeen Tartiflette, 100% Irish made! Needless to say, we slept well that night!

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Tuesday morning was much calmer; bright and early we drove up the heather road to Coomkeen, home to Durrus Farmhouse cheese where we were treated to a lovely fry, brown bread and marmalade laid by Mother and Daughter Jeffa and Sarah, my former colleague in my early years in Dublin… I couldn’t help smiling at the third generation looking at us slightly perplexed. “If you are interested, I am about to add the rennet now!” said Jeffa, with her calm and meticulous sense of organisation; we geared up again and this time, we got to see the whole process, the gentle purring of the warm vat, gently and patiently cutting the curds and where a human hand and eye remain the best judge. The curds were ready to be transferred into moulds, small and large, extra-large for the more matured to be Dunmanus… A tasting, a chat about micro-gardening, penicillium and local yeast around one last cup of tea, we headed back on a 500kms journey home toward Dublin and Meath. As we passed the last Cork roundabout, I checked my two colleagues in the rear view mirror, in Morpheus arms while my co-pilot and I discussed and shared anecdotes about the origins of a still palpable cheese revival in Ireland… And the amusing fact that we would be hitting the “Red Cow” at 5:30pm…

 

 

Story and photos by Franck Le Moenner, our Meath Retail Manager