October 28, 2014

Cheese in Ireland: A Short Photo Story

    A selection of things I ate (because we all know what my main goal in life is) and the amazing places we went while touring the west of Ireland.

October 27, 2014

The Board and Wire at Sheridan's Cheesemongers

    I know that when one thinks "cheese" Ireland does not immediately spring to mind.  More likely you'll conjure up the image of a beret topped person tucking into a slice of creamy white Brie in France, or a massive bowl heaped with spaghetti and piled high with fluffy shaved Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy.  These countries are generally what most people think of when it comes to cheese in Europe.  Yes, there are many great cheese making nations (England, Switzerland, Spain, etc.) but my point still stands.  Ireland is vastly underrated when it comes to cheese.  
    Sheridan's Cheesemonger does seem to have quite the focus on Irish farmhouse cheeses.  I was only familiar with a fraction of what they offered in that range.  Sure there was the ever popular Cashel Blue, unctuous washed rind Gubbeen, and crunchy semi-firm Coolea.  Of course what intrigued me the most was the cheese that was completely new to me; Lavistown, Diliskus, and Glebe Brethan to name but a few.  I settled on purchasing a slice of the Glebe Brethan.  It was very alpine in style.  The texture reminding me of a very well aged Gruyere.  The flavors however were much more herbal, earthy, and extremely grassy.  Not quite with the nuttiness and cream of a true Gruyere.  Still I thoroughly enjoyed this cheese (sadly no photos survived my sudden case of blurry pictures).
   Sheridan's also had a well curated core list of quality European cheeses as well (which I mentioned some of in last weeks post). Which brings me to one of the main points of my visit to Sheridan's; raw milk Brie from France.  As an American Cheesemonger there are many types of cheese that I do not have access to due to the laws set down by the F.D.A.  Raw milk Brie, which is made from milk that has not been pasteurized, is illegal for sale in the U.S.A.  By law all cheese made from raw milk must be aged for more than 60 days.  Which is why you'll see some hard as well as blue cheeses made from raw milk in the States.
    Hence raw milk Brie was a sort of a Holy Grail for me.  Well, and for my fellow Cheesemongers, judging by the envious groans when I told them about finally getting to try A.O.C. protected Brie de Meux.  Yes, Brie de Meux is what I spotted in the case at the end of my previous post.  It really was everything I'd hoped for, wished for, dreamed about in finally getting to taste the real deal.  Its texture was silky and slightly fudge-y, turning to a slow, decadent ooze as it warmed up.  Classic flavors of butter, olive oil, herbs, and forest floor were heavy and well balanced.  I have to say not pasteurizing the heck out of milk really, truly makes a difference in the quality and flavor of the cheese.  This was probably one of the best parts of my time in Ireland.  
    Oh, and I may or may not have had tears of joy in my eyes as I reverently scooped spoonful after spoonful of that Brie de Meux onto pieces of warm, crusty bread.  

October 23, 2014

The Board and Wire Goes to Ireland: Part One

    So to share a bit of personal news 2014 was a big year for me.  Not only did I get married back in April (yay!), he and I got to go on honeymoon to western Ireland (double yay!).  Needless to say it was a trip we had been dreaming about for ages.  We stayed in the quirky, cobblestone paved city of Galway, in County Galway.  Which just so happens to be the birthplace of a dream of a cheese shop, Sheridan's Cheesemongers. Coincidence?  A bit.  I am not ashamed that part of my motivation to honeymoon in Europe was to eat all the fabulous, bloomy-rinded raw milk and Irish farm house cheeses that I could stuff in to my face.  Let me tell you, as you'll see in a later post, I succeeded in my mission.  But I digress.
     Sheridan's.  Packed virtually floor to ceiling with high quality, hand selected, and on occasion house-made cheese, cured meats, jam, chutney, bread, wine, veg, and crackers of all shapes.  Basically everything that makes specialty foods absolutely, well, special.  
    The Galway shop is tucked down a narrow lane that snuggles up to the church yard of the massive (and bejeweled with stained glass) Church of Ireland.  The building Sheridan's occupies is a big stone affair partitioned off into shops, and most likely older than the country I live in.  Its store front is wide and welcoming, trimmed with a deep dignified green and through large sunny windows peep the best of what Sheridan's Cheesemongers has to offer.  Being, cheese.
    I walked into Sheridan's with a mixture of church-like reverence and classic kid-in-a-candy-store exuberance.  My darling husband was on hand with the camera to catch that moment, natch.  As I think any Cheesemonger could understand, one of the best smells in the world is walking into a cheese shop.  That wonderful earthy, damp, pungent (yet clean) scent of several dozen well cared for cheeses occupying the same room just fills me with an almost embarrassing bubbly joy.  
    This is my element.  This is what I know.  This is what I love.  
    Once inside Sheridan's I apparently got tunnel vision when I spotted some long lost "friends" stacked neatly on the counter.  There they were, aged Mimolette and washed rind Morbier.  Just hanging out waiting to be cut to order for somebodies pre-dinner party nosh.  Just like they should be in the States, but alas, the FDA has different ideas about what cheese we should be eating.
    Carefully, slowly, I picked, squeezed, and sniffed my way across the huge mound of cheeses.  Marveling at how they are able to keep all but the freshest of cheeses out of the fridge case.  Also, notable was that all cheese is directly cut to order.  No piles of pre-cut pieces languishing in plastic wrap.  The selection of cheese available was impeccably curated.  The focus being on Irish cheese of all types, mixed with a good core selection of European offerings.  Not only could you find your Cashel Blue there but also your Parmigiano Reggiano or French Comte.  
    After more poking about and several good natured photos snapped by my husband I spotted my personal holy grail of cheese...but more on that next time.
*The photos inside Sheridan's Cheesemongers are all courtesy of Ian Hawkins
*All other photos are works of the author's

October 22, 2014

This Cheese Doesn't Suck: Meule de Savoie

    Today is all about another French cheese, the raw cow's milk Meule de Savoie by Herve Mons.  Meaning (also literally) "Windmill of Savoie", it is made high up in mountainous Savoie in the Rhone-Alpes region.  I have to say one of the many things I love about French cheese is that delightful, conversational way they name their cheeses.  Not content to name cheese simply after where they're made, oh no.  
    This cheese has all the great hallmarks of a good alpine style.  Creamy uniform paste, pale almond color, thick woodsy natural rind, and made in wheels the size of a coffee table.  Granted by the time we receive them at the shop the Meule has been cut down for us into a more manageable wedge (I know, I know, losing serious cred for receiving a pre-cut wheel).  
    The Board and Wire has already discussed some of the magic of Meule de Savoie in an earlier post in which I concocted a fabulous grilled cheese with it and various "leavin's" in my fridge.  Which shows that if you have a lump of some delicious cheese you can probably make just about anything from stuff hanging about near your crisper.  This time Meule de Savoie is just shining away, all on its own, on my cheese board today.  It's almost meditative to break out a single piece of cheese, let it come to room temperature, and slowly, carefully taste it.  Catching all of its flavor profiles and intricacies of texture. 
    The Meule, like I said above, already has the visual earmarks of an alpine cheese.  It does not disappoint once it goes in your face.  The flavor is subtle, but punchy, with that high singing acidity reminiscent of a young Gruyere.  Compound butter, raw hazelnut, and a good dose of toasted hay round out the palate.  The texture has a classically creamy, toothsome grit to it.  Very much what I would expect from a lightly aged high mountain cheese.  Meule de Savoie really is ideal for slapping onto a Raclette grill and greedily scraping off ribbons of molten cheese onto new potatoes.  Pair this all up with a great I.P.A. or go nuts and try it with Gewurztraminer.  

October 20, 2014

This Cheese Doesn't Suck: Pave du Nord

    Pave du Nord is a little known cheese from the north of France.  Translating literally to "Paving Stone of the North", Pave du Nord is formally a working man's cheese.  The texture of this raw cow's milk cheese is most commonly hard, crisp, and flaky.  Quite like the famous aged Goudas of Holland or its fellow countryman, Mimolette.  In fact the most common comparison made to the characteristics of Pave du Nord is to Mimolette.  
    It's firm texture playing up flavors of dry earthy cave, minerals, and brown butter.  However my most recent encounter with Pave du Nord completely rocked everything I know about the cheese.  See, I've only every encountered it in all of it's uber aged glory (see above descriptions).  
    This time when we broke into our first loaf of the year, eyes glistening in anticipation, cheese knives poised and all that, we were shocked (shocked I tell you!) to find a supple, yielding, springy cheese.  What kind of chicanery was this? It was clearly Pave du Nord, alright.  But, well, a rather young loaf it seemed.  Never the less we dug in and all eye brows shot right past our hairlines.  
    "Baby" Pave du Nord was seriously excellent!  That supple paste went straight to cream under the tooth.  New bright, light butter flavors shone through right away and were quickly balanced out by that familiar mineral punch.  Also new were the vegetal green pepper and dry legume notes that came wafting in with the rest.  To wrap up the decidedly complex cheese was a delightful astringency that seemed to clear away any heaviness of flavor that lingered behind.  If you ever get your hands on young Pave du Nord pair it up with a good Sauvignon Blanc or a well balanced Petite Syrah.  Dang.