We hit the road, Tipperary bound, this past October holiday weekend to catch the end of season at Crawford’s Farm. It was mild for the end of October, but the threat of winter was in the wind. We were greeted by the farm dogs which admittedly, being the city mouse that I am, I was mildly apprehensive about getting out of the car… Needless to say the dogs, much like their owners, were undeniably friendly. Farmers Owen and Mimi Crawford, got their start outside of the natural food industry, working as a carpenter and environmental scientist respectively. Looking for a lifestyle that fulfilled their principals, the Crawfords turned to the land in order to ‘live well, eat well, connect with nature, put their ideals into practice, and ultimately to contribute positively to the Irish food and farming systems.’
We started off into the fields, picking some apples along the way for the ‘the girls’ as the dairy cows are fondly referred to. The fields were roped off to regulate the grazing patterns and the herd was lazily munching in the fields, looking forward to their upcoming winter holidays no doubt. The Crawfords have 11 dairy cows, who work for the spring-autumn seasons and the cows take 3 months off to recoup. The 9 month working schedule works for both farmer and cattle by giving the cows time to calve and rest collectively and therefore concentrating milk production throughout the year. Additionally, the time off allows the fields to regenerate with new, high nutrient spring growth and give time for projects around the farm which are in no shortage of supply. The Crawford’s herd are Irish shorthorn cattle, their milk is not homogenized or pasteurized, and is sold as a natural, raw milk. Their family farm/creamery is compact, efficient, and relies on biodiversity to provide the best quality grass for the herd. The dairy cows are the main focus of the farm, but it’s their symbiotic system that makes it sustainable; Shorthorn calves are reared for grass fed beef; their pigs consume leftover skim milk/apples/vegetables and are later sold as pork; the farm chickens and ducks roam free to fertilize the land and are later sold as poultry; they grow their own organic grain for the cows during the winter months to ensure a healthy diet off season. Each element plays a part in their system that respects the land and animals while producing healthy, sustainably made raw milk. Small production, diverse farms like Crawford’s play a vital role in the future of Irish food production and the preservation of Irish food/farming tradition.
So Why Choose Raw Milk?
Raw milk is a micro biotic, live food high in vitamins, enzymes,
protein, beneficial bacteria, minerals and
amino acids that help nutrients and your immune system. Because pasteurization
kills off most of the aforementioned, its health benefits are significantly
lower than it’s raw counter part.
Crawford’s raw milk products include milk, butter, cream and
butter milk, and are rich, complex and full flavour.
Crawford’s Raw milk is sustainably and ethically farmed in Co.
Tipperary. Cows are treated humanly and live happy, healthy lives.
Crawford’s farm is produced responsibly, handled with the utmost care and stored at optimum conditions to ensure a quality safe raw milk product for customers. Crawford’s grass fed herd have maintained their health and quality of milk through their grass fed diet. Their cows do not receive antibiotics like conventional dairy cows, making them better able to process harmful pathogens through their natural digestion.
The Wednesday morning was crisp and clear, and at times a light drizzle fell. It was certainly the kind of weather that reminds one that they are about to embark on a journey within the hidden wonders of West Cork. The Sheridans Cork team had not met each other yet, however, new relationships and a team spirit came about because of this journey. As we caught up on coffees and introduced ourselves to one another, it was time to hit the road and break the ice.
Leaving the smooth urban roads and arriving onto windy country paths led to conversations about what makes Cork truly stand out. Whether it was our discussion on English, German and Dutch blow ins who have established a bohemian essence to the region, the spectacular landscape, experiences that we had of the area, the food culture which is so widely respected and so on. Of course there is a reason why Sheridans has come to the rebellious south.
When we arrived into the seaside metropolis of Schull, Google Maps became a friend in need as we scratched our heads as where to find the destination of the day; Gubbeen Farm.
A sincere welcome can be felt right through your bones as you arrive into Gubbeen. We were due to visit the cheese making department, the meat processing workshop, and the biodynamic garden. Firstly, Giana Ferguson welcomed our group with bubbly enthusiasm. She took us to the cheese making neck of the Gubbeen woods. A small workshop with a lot of attitude and dedicated workers who seemed very happy to see curious faces step into their zone. We were examining cheese molds; to which Giana said when holding one: ‘This was this mornings milk. Tom was up at six this morning milking the herd.’ Incredible. The cheese making department is based on a logical tunnel which sees the milk being churned firsthand, put to bed into molds, and then the next stage being the maturing stage and the smoking section. Once it reaches the office, each cheese is waxed and wrapped up by a bunch of bubbly ladies.
Fingal Ferguson, the life and soul of the party, loves what he does. He doesn’t need a sheet of paper to explain of the workings and philosophy of the Gubbeen meat factory. Loud rock music plays all day long. Men are at work. Chorizos and salamis are being churned out of machines like a slap stick cartoon. Fragments of the animal which are used for bacon, ham for roasting and so on hang like three dimensional sculptures. Spices for the deli meats are taken into careful consideration as if they are for a school science experiment. Machines for smoking and preservation work like clockwork. Orders for specialty food stores and restaurants are taken care of in an office, ready to start their journey from farm to fork.
The final verse of the song of our journey ended in the garden. Ran by Fingals sister Clovis, a stupendous view of Crewe Bay can be seen from this section of the farm. As it was misty we could only see fragments of this coastal inlet. The garden itself is utterly delightful. An array of colourful flowers are growing around herbs and vegetables. A smart way to attract bees in fact. Fingal at one point made a joke about the difference between himself and his sister in terms of growing things from the soil: ‘My sister makes a plant come alive. Me on the other hand? I kill it! Merely because I forget to water them.’ Humor is common place in Gubbeen. Not much different to the Cork team at Sheridans.
He also explained about how his father Tom Ferguson plants potatoes in a certain point every Spring in the garden and how it means the world to him. A visit to Gubbeen is an education in itself. The willingness and dedication of Fingal and his family to
show us why and what they do. As Gubbeen regularly give tours to the public there is an understanding of how when you are talking to a group of people from all walks of life, you make it as though they are the only group in the world to be given a tour. We as a group were lucky to experience this and it made us more aware of what we work with and what we are selling to the public. There are moments when it could be mistaken for an organic farm in Bordeaux, Bologna or the Basque Country yet it’s a smart agricultural enterprise in the middle of rural Ireland.
Special thanks to Constance McKenna for the lovely text.
Last week our Retail Manager Emilia Furey went to visit Gabriel Coulet Roquefort – the producer of our Roquefort ‘La Petite Cave’ raw sheep’s milk cheese in Roqufort -Sur -Soulzon underneath Mont Combalou in the South of France.
There, she met with Emmanuel Laur who currently runs the company with his cousin Jean-Pierre Laur.
The Gabriel Coulet company was founded in the 19th century when Guillaume Coulet, a wagoner by profession, who lived in Roquefort sur Soulzon began digging a wine cellar under his own house. He discovered cavities, natural ventilating cracks called the ‘fleurines’ of the Combalou hill, making this place a privileged site to create a cheese-ageing cellar for maturing Roquefort cheese. Before this time, Roquefort had been made in this area for centuries and Emmanuel told us that at the time of his great great grandfather, there were over 50 companies existing in this small town and area all producing the Roquefort – today there are 7. Emmanuel lives on the narrow winding main street in the 2km long village that is 600m wide at most- half way up the cliff of Mont Combalou. He lives with his wife and two sons in their 4 story townhouse (belonging originally to his great-great grandfather) which holds a cheese shop on street level and is situated above 7 storeys of underground caves which hold and mature the world famous Gabriel Coulet Roquefort. The cousins are the 5th generation to produce the Roquefort cheese and mature them – according to tradition – in the caves beneath the town.
Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a young shepherd, eating his lunch of bread and ewes’ milk cheese, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, the mould (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort.
Roquefort is made specifically from the milk of the Lacaune breed of sheep. It is produced throughout the regions of Aveyron and part of the nearby départements of Lozère, Gard, Hérault and Tarn, in southern France.
In 1925, the cheese was the recipient of France’s first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée when regulations controlling its production and naming were first defined – Roquefort had been fondly known as the ‘King of Cheese’ in France for a long time previous to this.
The Gabriel Coulet company is an independent family-run business pursuing an adventure that began more than a century ago, respecting traditional production methods, assisted by modern equipment. Today, the company control 9% of the‘Roquefort ‘market – with the largest company, Roquefort Société, owning 60% and the other 5 companies dividing up the remainder.
The Rules of the Roquefort Game:
For the production of this French gourmet cheese, the AOC regulations require the use of whole, raw sheep’s milk coming from within the Roquefort region, and from the ewe’s of the Lacaune breed. EU law dictates that only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort, as it is a recognized geographical indication, or has a protected designation of origin. In 1961, in a landmark ruling that removed imitation, the Tribunal de Grande Instance at Millau decreed that, although the method for the manufacture of the cheese could be followed across the south of France, only those cheeses whose ripening occurred in the natural caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon were permitted to bear the name Roquefort.
AOC Regulations The regulations that govern the production of Roquefort have been laid down over a number of decrees by the INAO. These include:
All milk used must be delivered at least 20 days after lambing has taken place. The sheep must be on pasture, whenever possible, in an area including most of Aveyron and parts of neighboring départements. At least 3/4 of any grain or fodder fed must come from the area. The milk must be whole, raw (not heated above 34 °C (93 °F), and unfiltered except to remove macroscopic particles. The addition of rennet must occur within 48 hours of milking. The Penicillium roqueforti used in the production must be produced in France from the natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The salting process must be performed using dry salt. The whole process of maturation, cutting, packaging and refrigeration of the cheese must take place in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
Throughout the day Emmanuel spoke passionately about what made Gabriel Coulet stand out as a roquefort producer. They collect the fresh sheeps milk from various farms in the area. There, sheep farmers milk primarily from the Lacuane sheep, who graze on pasture around the area of Roquefort S-S. This is an area famous for its limestone geology, which dictates the species of grass and wildflowers that grow upon it, and thus influences the taste of the milk. The milk of the lacuane sheep is rich and buttery and the breed are well suited to the terrain and climate of the area. The sheep are milked from Dec to July, thus restricting the production of the Roquefort to the natural lactation period of the sheep breeding cycle. The first ingredient in the Roquefort Gabriel Coulet is unpasteurized and unskimmed ewe’s milk. This milk, heated to a temperature between 28 ° C and 32 ° C for renneting, is then cultured with spores of Penicillium roqueforti. The cheeses are all pierced to allow oxygen in and develop the blue mould spores within the cheese.The mould that gives Roquefort its distinctive character (Penicillium roqueforti) is found in the soil of the local caves. The natural fissues of the caves help create a microclimate that encourages the growth of bacteria and mould. Traditionally the cheesemakers extracted it by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mould. The interior of the bread was then dried to produce a powder. Nowadays the mould can be produced in a laboratory, which allows for greater consistency. After being cut and stirred in a vat, the curd is put by hand in moulds and rotated regularly. Salted on all sides, it is finally ready for ageing in the natural cellars of the village. The caves will be host for the cheese for a period of about three weeks and then moved back to the processing plant. The average temperature of 12°C and humidity of 99% and the natural ventilation allow ideal conditions for maturation of the Roquefort Gabriel Coulet.
In order to obtain the Roquefort Protected Designation of Origin label, cheese is stored at a controlled temperature for a period of a minimum of 90 days (at the processing plant) guaranteeing the authenticity of its manufacturing, as well as its reputation for excellence.
Gabriel Coulet has a range of Roquefort cheeses – varying in maturity & strength or using organic milk exclusively; as well as some sheep’s milk cheeses made in the tomme style and the greek feta style. Sheridans profile the ‘La Petite Cave’ Roquefort, which is available in all our stores, counters and wine bar.
The ‘La Petite Cave’ Roquefort is matured for minimum of 4 months. This Roquefort is matured longer to develop the blue vein within and to distinguish the tasting profile of the cheese, which also helps create the silky smooth ivory paste of the cheese
Once the cheese are created – they are left in the cave for 3 weeks and then they are packed in tinfoil and shipped to the processing plant. The tinfoil allows the cheese to breathe and further develop for another 10 weeks minimum. The cheeses are washed using a machine to remove excess salt, mould spores and anything that may have settled on the outside rind. Emmanuel explained that this is a small step they take and a costly one for them with staff and waste of the product – but its one of the markers of quality that separates them from their competitors. This simple step ensures that the best possible presentation is available for the customer and that every bite will taste as good as the heart of the cheese ( which is known to be the most special and beautiful). Our ‘La Petite Cave’ are then aged in boxes in a special temperature controlled room to further allow the development of the flavour and the paste until they are ready to be cut and wrapped. Emmanuel explained that even at this stage whey can drain from the cheeses so this time is very important to firm and mature the cheese to become the ‘ La Petite Cave’ Roquefort. We walked in there today and the sweet spicy smell of Roquefort blue cheese was everywhere. It was intoxicating.
During the cutting/wrapping phase – each cheese is weighed by a machine and composition analysed and the cheese is ready to be wrapped and labelled. We stock the half wheels of GC Roquefort ‘La Petite Cave’ and this is also further cut by Sheridans and sold as smaller sections to our customers. Currently we are getting through 80kg a month and this increases to 200kg at Christmas time!!
During the cutting in two of each wheel of ‘La Petite Cave’ Roquefort– the blue mould distribution inside is checked. They also inspect the ivory paste of each cheese. This is done by hand by GC staff. This is a lengthy and expensive option but Emmanuel again stresses that the quality of the cheese is also in the consistency and the care given to it at all stages. He explained that only 1 half of every 10 halves of ‘La Petite Cave’ are okayed and moved to the next stage of wrapping. The rest of separated and used in other products such as melting roquefort products or dumped.
The final step for our Roquefort is testing for various possible dangerous pathogens within a batch and once cleared they are packed according to orders and sent out on temperature controlled refrigerated transport to their new homes.
The Moral of the Story
The most important aspect of my visit today was seeing where the cheese begins life and the rich history surrounding this established French king of cheese. Equally important was meeting the people behind the product and hearing their story. Emmanuel received us with such gracious hospitality. He also knew every staff member by name ( 95 people work in the three locations – caves, shop and plant); either shook their hands or spoke with them briefly as he went through the plant. The factory, cheese cave, and the cheese shop was spotless and very organised and everyone smiled and said hello.
The importance of quality in the creation of their Roquefort – the care they expend on the cheese and the pride they have in their business, staff and their reputation; they are trying to conserve artisanal methods in a modern setting and they are focusing on small (albeit costly) extra steps that ensure that they can protect this quality, grow their business in a sustainable manner without losing their the ethos of artisanal cheesemaking and their own family influence and history and all the while trying to ensure that their product stands out in a place with every neighbour making the same cheese!
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…
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…
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!
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
The winter feast has a long history in many cultures; a time to break from the darkness and cold and the lean times, to celebrate life and plenty almost in spite of the darkness. Central to this feast has always been the preserved foods stored from the summer and autumn, kept from rotting and decay through salting, drying, smoking and pickling. One of the most ancient and most successful ways of preserving the goodness of plentiful times is cheese. A wonderful and almost magical process that turns rich nutritious fresh liquid milk from lush summer pastures into a firm food that keeps its nutritional value and can be aged and matured for months and even years. Not only of such practical use; we have developed ways to make countless delicious varieties of this miracle food. And so cheese is central to the winter feast; in Ireland we forgot for many generations but it has returned as part of a new Christmas tradition. Maybe twenty years ago only a ‘posh’ house would have some Stilton and maybe vintage Cheddar with Port after dinner on Christmas day but now so many households have their favourite cheeses and very often their favourite Irish cheeses.
Every year I gather my favourite cheeses on the way out the door of the shop on Christmas Eve; looking forward to enjoying them after dinner the next day, I think only once did I manage to actually eat them at the Christmas dinner table, who has space after several delicious courses to start on a plate of cheese. Mostly they get brought out on Stephens’s day while watching a movie; and I have to say I love my Stephens day cheese feast!
on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th December – 10am to 6pm.
There will be loads of local craft and food stalls as well as all of Sheridan’s Cheeses, wines hampers and great foods. It’s a fun and festive way to do your Christmas shopping in a relaxed way – we’ll have mulled wine, and music too!
Among the producers (but list by no means exhaustive!) will be Clayotic, Bakelicious, Newgrange Gold Oils, What’s for Pudding, Floods Butchers, Richard Hogan Fruit & Veg, Rogan’s Smokehouse, Boyne Valley Blue Cheese, Cole’s Home Bakery, Kilconny House Preserves, Pollock’s Pickles, Annie’s Bakery, Paul Gallagher’s Handmade Cards, Scott Cider, Moran’s Jams, Delish Donuts, Cockagee Cider, Caulfield Boards, Klara Dechant Angel Stars, Jackie Gavin, Bridget’s Mantle Scincare.
We here in Sheridans Virginia Rd Station shop in Meath are extremely excited to welcome Eimear of Bakealicious into our shop. Bakealicious have opened a new ‘Pop-up Tearooms‘ and will offer a great selection of cakes and bakes Thursday – Friday from 12pm – 6pm and Saturday from 10am – 6pm. So why not pop by and try some of her delicious treats. I highly recommend the ‘Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie’ – all the goodness of two desserts rolled into one, delicious. And guess what? All of Eimear’s cakes and bakes are made from Organic Spelt Flour.
While we focus on Irish produce for the month of March in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s not forget our french and international friends and their amazing cheeses.
Seamus Sheridan and I were lucky enough to get the chance to zip away to Salon du Fromage in Paris the last week in February – ah Paris in the springtime! Aside from all the lovely cheeses and other cheese related exploits, the highlight of my trip was; as always when visiting Paris, the simple pleasure of drinking Coffee on the pavement outside the simplest most local and admittedly grottiest looking Café I could find (they always have the best coffee).
Salon du Fromage is an annual trade show for cheese, and though primarily French cheese is on show, lots of our other international friends were there. Bord Bia had its first ever stand in association with a number of Irish cheesemakers; Cashel Blue, Little Milk Company, Cooleeney and Cahills. Other cheeses such as Carrigaline,Durrus, Ardrahan, St. Tola and Corleggy were also on Display along with our very own crackers and chutney! We also had the honour of both a visit to the show from the Irish Ambassador to Paris Rory Montgomery, and then the further excitement of attending a reception in the – it must be said, extraordinarily fancy – ambassador’s residence on the D4 esque Avenue Foch! It was all gilded mirrors and constantly refilled glasses and erm, well; cocktail sausages – yes really!
I got the chance to sneak away from the show one of the days to visit a french cheesemonger customer of ours in North East Paris; Fromagerie Beaufils. I proudly navigated 3 metro changes to get there, and it was worth it to see our crackers and chutney gracing their shelves, as well as a specially painted blackboard featuring Chutney Irlandaise. Christophe and Emmanuel there looked after me admirably, and I got the chance to see their maturing rooms, and came away with a mutitude of recommendations of artisan cheeses for us to source. Check out their website, and scroll down to see our featured products!
Seamus and I had the pleasure of wearing two hats for the duration of the show, as we attended both to meet with some of our existing export clients and of course to find some new ones, as well as to met up with many of our current suppliers and with the brief of sourcing some new cheeses!
As well as many contacts made and hopefully sales leads which will come to fruition in the fullness of time, we have already acquired a new Belgian cheesemonger customer (Kaasmeester Callebaut) who have already received their first order as well as a French distributor for our chutney and crackers who will be receiving their first order in the next couple of weeks. I also had the pleasure of catching up with our UK distributors of our crackers; Neal’s Yard as well as the inimitable Will Stud from Calendar Cheese in Australia and Jason Gale the new MD – I feel an Australian business trip coming (Kevin and Seamus Sheridan – are you reading this, pleease can I go? !!!)
A real pleasure of the show for us and what has left me feeling so enthused was the chance to meet up with the producers whose cheese we sell. All the usual suspects were there, from our friend Giorgio Cravero, our Parmigianno affineur, a man with the sunniest personality that makes one happy immediately on being in his presence to the somewhat stern and very French Monsieur Goux from Marcel Petit Comté! We met with Luc Dongé our Brie de Meaux producer and made some adjustments to the way our wheels of brie will be selected.
I shall end upon a little story, indicative of the type of meetings had with all of our producers. At the show i arrangd to meet with Pascal Jacquin, aided by Sarah Furno from Cashel Blue as translator, and learned a little story about St. Maure de Tourain (a Loire valley, ash rinded mini goat log which we sell) Mr. Jacquin incidentally also has a special connection to Ireland, as he spends several months of each year in his house in Kenmare! I’ve always been interested in the ettiquette of the straw in the centre of St. Maure – so I asked him how they deal with it when cutting, and he told me as follows;
“First”, and here a finger was waggled strongly, to emphasis the point,”you must never cut in to the skinny end, always open at the fat end, it is impolite otherwise”
“Second”, and a dramatic demo of his words ensued, “we remove the straw with a flourish when opening the cheese” he then pointed out us that each straw has the name of the Apellation and the producer branded on it as is required by the AOC, this being the reason for such dramatic flourishing as the straw is then offered as proof to the consumer that the cheese truly is a Sainte Maure de Touraine.
As a result of our trip, we hope to also bring you some new and exciting cheeses in the near future.
My name is Natasha and for the past month I have been an Intern in Sheridans Cheesemongers store in Galway. I came to the beautiful island of Ireland this past January to learn about Irish Culture and about its cheese. As I started in the store I was introduced to the first Irish cheeses of Ireland. One of them being a fresh milk cheese called Durrus. A raw cow’s milk cheese with a hand washed rind. As this round semi-soft cheese melts in your mouth, the flavours of creamy butter develop more and more giving a hint of acidity that lingers in your mouth much like the humble characteristics of the land where it is made.
For a week I was offered to visit the beautiful county of Cork, on the farm of one of the first female Irish Cheese producers of the 20th Century, Jeffa Gill the maker of Durrus Cheese. As she took me in for a week I managed to see her dairy and work along with her and her team. Every night Ms Gill receives milk from her neighbour to produce the morning cheeses. This is different to back in the day when she would have had her milk directly from her own cows originally.
As my first morning came, Jeffa heated the milk in a copper vat and added the rennet. As I watched her keep an eye on the Ph. balance and temperature, the milk magically firmed up to a consistency almost gelatin like. I was amazed how it only took minutes to coagulate. On came the cutting process, for which Jeffa uses a beautiful Swiss cutting harp. Cutting is a serious job, a two woman job from side to side and a lot of arm strength. As the women cut pieces of curd of about 1/2 oz. each, the cutting process was done. On to putting the curds into molds where the whey would drain off by its own weight and turn into cheese. This process led to an end result of about 280 cheeses. A batch of small Durrus “Óg” meaning young in Irish, and a 4-9 week more mature Durrus in a small and large wheel.
Then came cleaning, which is very important for cheese production and you could see it in Ms Gills Dairy, impeccable. As some cleaned I had the honour of turning the cheese. I was ecstatic for this job, really any, related to the production. Hand turning cheese seems like a simple task, but one that requires skill. You tilt the cheese in your hand as you hold the mold on the other and flip the cheese back into the mold. This keeps draining the weigh from the cheese and give it’s nice round shape. That would be done three times and a fourth held later at night. I would say turning is a very important part of cheesemaking, it allows proper drying of the cheese and air circulation. Consequently turning would be done through all the cheese process into the selling.
For the second day the previous days’ cheese where taken out of the mold and left to mature. While another day of cheese making took place. By now I felt like a pro with some experience. I could anticipate what was to be done next.
For my third morning I got to brine the cheese where they are put in brine for 2 to 5 hours depending of the size and desired maturity of the cheese. Brine is basically a bath of salt and water, for added taste and limiting bacteria growth.
For the fourth day the brining was done for the second batch of made cheese while the first batch would be washed in a brine solution that would begin to develop the nice pinkish color on the rind. For my fifth morning came the curing of the cheese. Where it seems like a spa for the cheese to maintain the humidity, appearance and sanitation. While watching out for any particular development that happened through the last 4 days, this being molds, or bruises. The cheese is taken in one hand and with an exfoliating glove scrubbed. Here it will remain in the curing room, being turned each day for a couple of weeks, until it reaches its maturity and gets packed and sold.
While cheese was being made on my fifth day I managed to escape to see the making of Sheridan’s crackers. That lovely cheese companion, ranging from linseed to mixed flavours. The warehouse was about an hour from Durrus Village in a village called Lissavaird in West Cork. This small artisanal warehouse had ten employees, consisting of two shifts. As I arrived at 10:30 in the morning, greeted by the first shift bakers responsible for Sheridans crackers. These bakers had been in from 5:30 am in the morning; around the schedule time the batter is made. Around 10:30am they where in their second batch of cookies. After the preparation of the cracker dough, it gets separated, measured and rolled by hand into a 450g log. This l og is then laid into a dough sheeter into about a milimeter thick. It is rolled about 4 times each to get the desired thickness. After it is carried to a baking sheet to be cut by hand into small rectangular crackers, removing any disfigured crackers. Afterward they are placed in a 12-row trolley to be baked in a closet size industrial oven for around 20 to 25 min. After baking the crackers are to be packed and sealed. What I thought to be done by machine was a very artisanal part of the production. Packing the crackers into little plastic trays is done manually while weighing each tray to 120g to be exact. My job came to an end here. What was missing was the plastic wrap and seal, done through a machine held by another employee. As I left I thank them all for a wonderful day and left happy to understand the crackers are very much artisanal, nonetheless they seem perfect every time.
After my day in the crackers warehouse I returned to the lovely Durrus village where I would say goodbye to the whole production of cheese, including Jeffa’s warmth. I travelled back to Galway with a head full of knowledge, a story of cheese making, the fresh Durrus and its beautiful landscapes. With this experience I get to share more with the customers at the store and I manage to transport myself both to Durrus and the crackers every time I have them.
Genius: an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.
If we agree with the definition of genius given by the Oxford Dictionary then Natalino Crognaletti, the driving force behind Fattoria San Lorenzo, is definitely a genius.
He has no particular secrets to craft his unique wines, but lot of very personal and sometimes extreme ideas. So extreme that every time I spend few days with him I always leave with the same doubt: either I know much less about wine than I think, or he is gloriously messing me around telling me bizarre stories….
Biodynamic ante-litteram as this is how they always did it since his great grandfather started growing grapes: take a walk in the vineyard with Natalino and you’ll be amazed by the incredible amount of ladybirds, butterflies and bees “working” with him. And if you compare with the desolate “death valley” landscape of the neighboring chemical-sprayed vineyards, the difference is striking.
The farm is also self-sufficient and pretty much everything they need is home grown or produced (they basically buy only flour, sugar and coffee).
It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite from the vast range of wines Natalino produces, but the Rosso Piceno “di Gino” is consistently one of the best reds he makes, and possibly one of the best value for money I ever found.
A blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese in a 60:40 ratio mainly aged in steel vats (only 10% of the wine sees oak, just to soften a bit the natural acidity of the two grapes and to add a extra layer of complexity), this wine is rich, deep, funky, complex, ripe but never overpowering. It’s also full of black cherries, red fruit, spices, liquorice and tobacco. And just in case you were wondering, it is age-worthy and at the same time has that sort of please-give-me-another-sip drinking feel that I know you like.
Anything else you need to know about it? No.
So, get it now! You’ll make your turkey happy this Christmas…