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Great Irish Cheese, Tea, and Bacon

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As Maria Streshinsky and Shirley Streshinsky discovered on their recent trip to Ireland, the country's cuisine has more going for it than potatoes and Guinness. Here, a survey of the island's other memorable foods.

Three Great Cheeses


All three of these fine cheeses are made in the semi-soft, washed-rind style of the old Celtic (and French) monks. I've visited all three of the cheese makers and will vouch for the kindness of the people and the quality of their cheese. All of these folks were pioneers in the revival of traditional Irish cheese--I give them enormous credit for having built sustainable businesses, all of which are in the process of being passed successfully to the next generation. All three are fine cheeses, and all three have been exceptionally generous to us here at Zingerman's, and to the food world at large.

Gubbeen
Some of the first cheesemakers I visited in Ireland, Tom and Giana Ferguson, have been making cheese since 1979. Tom's family has owned the farmland for five generations, and the name of the cheese is derived from the old Gaelic word gobin, which means "small mouthful," and is actually a reference to the incredibly beautiful bay near the town of Schull where the farm is located.

If you're looking at a map, it's the southwesternmost point in Ireland. The milk is all from their own herd, which includes a significant number of the small Irish black Kerry cows, which produce exceptionally good milk. Additionally, in the last few years, the Fergusons have started to become a completely GMO-free farm. The cheese is, again, semi-soft, and its flavor is marked with mellow notes of butter, mushroom, and toasted nuts.

I can pretty safely say that Barry's is to Irish tea times what Guinness is to pubs. It's that big a deal.

Ardrahan
This is a wonderful, full-flavored but not too strong, washed-rind cheese from Kanturk in County Cork, made by Mary Burns. Mary and her late husband, Eugene, were some of the first of the revivalist cheesemakers in Ireland--they started making the cheese back in 1983. It's done with pasteurized milk from the farm's own herd, made into smallish two pound rounds. The flavor is full but accessible, hinting of mushrooms, milk, and maybe a touch of honey in the finish.

Durrus
Made from raw milk, further out west in Cork, this time by Jeffa Gill. She's been at it since 1979, so when I tasted it on my first trip over in '89, I guess the Durrus was pretty much well-established. In the Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, the quintessential companion for anyone headed to Ireland, John and Sally McKenna called Durrus "one of the world's greatest raw milk cheeses," and "... the triumph of art over the blandness of technology."

Two Blues
Both of these cheeses are made by the Grubb family on their farm in County Tipperary. Both are made entirely by hand, and both, I think, are quite darned tasty!

Presented by

Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

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