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The Cheese Blog

 

Coolattin: Irish Cheddar, Raw Milk, and Grazing Ladies

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Despite the awe-worthy Gothic inspired architecture, amazing music and super nice people, I couldn't wait to leave Dublin for Wicklow County. Why? Cheese. We were visiting Coolattin Irish Cheddar producer Tom Burgess, someone whose cheese I hadn't yet tasted because none of the 70 wheels he made a week made it to the states, but I was aching to try.

Around the UK and Ireland, Burgess's cheddars have been making waves. In 2015 he won both Ireland's Best Cheddar and gold, silver, and bronze medals at the British Cheese Awards. Not too surprising that all the cheese was eaten up before it had a chance to hit California. Perhaps you're wondering with so little access to the cheese, how did I hear about the creamery?

Well because Mr Declan O'Brien, the man who did much of the ground work for the Cal Discoveries Irish Cuisine & Culture tour I guest-lectured on, played rugby with the cheesemaker.

And, that's how cheese writers learn about cheese, my friends!

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Tom and his family invited our group to tour the dairy, then head to his gorgeous house to drink tea in the kitchen with his family. No biggie, just drinking raw milk from their herd in our tea while eating huge amounts of cheddar and snuggling with farm kittens in their house. The cheese was beautiful, and... almost as memorable, I had the opportunity to name a farm kitten (Susie)!

The story of Coolattin cheddar starts in 1987 with a fluctuating milk market.

Tom bought the farm in 1987 and like many farmers frustrated with with the EU milk market and quotas, decided to reclaim control of his herd's milk and pull it out of the system all together. Making cheese from that milk instead of selling it to processors would allow him to control where the milk was going, who was using it (him), and because cheese was a value-added product, he could set his own prices (many American dairy farmers have also made a similar move).

So Tom started experimenting with his herd's raw milk in his kitchen. Like all burgeoning cheesemakers, he had some misses, then, hits (you also wait six months or more before your creation is ready to sample), then found his groove. He took his young cheddars to farmer's markets to see if it would sell, and came back without any cheddar. A sign. Soon after, he hired English cheese consultant Christine Ashby, a Stilton and cheddar specialist who with worked at Montgomery's Cheddar, refined his wheels, then went commercial.

Tom has 3 rules he stands by for Coolattin Cheddar.

  1. It's made from raw milk only.

  2. He only makes Coolattin in the seven months of the year when his ladies can graze on fresh grass (tastes better, and according to Tom, "really freed up my time").

  3. He will only milk his animals once a day to give them a little rest. Most cows are milked twice a day.

Coolattin cheddars are sweet, grassy, meaty (think rib-eye fat), and become more intense (but still sweet) with age. They're lovely.

The wheels pictured here with natural (food-safe) red coating are his original style of Coolattin. With the urging of Slow Foods, Tom started making a bandage-wrapped style, below, and a year later that cheddar won gold, silver, and bronze at the British cheese awards. Score.

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Tom has plans to grow, so let's cross our fingers that Coolattin makes it here soon. Right now he has the help of cheesemaker Ritchie (who also gives historical neolithic site tours in Wicklow), and his son just might be edging his way into the make room too. If you make it over Ireland, reach out. They're a kind family, they serve you raw milk with tea, the cheese samples are amazing, and come spring and summer there might be farm kittens.

Thank you for the visit, Burgess family!

Tom demonstrating how he uses the cheese harp (knife) to cut the custard-like fresh curd. This is the first curd cut before milling.

Tom demonstrating how he uses the cheese harp (knife) to cut the custard-like fresh curd. This is the first curd cut before milling.

The shovel used to push lift curds into the milling machine.

The shovel used to push lift curds into the milling machine.

Tom took off the funnel top of the milling machine to show the mechanical magic inside. He puts the curds in, and the pegs chop them up to so they’re perfect to press into wheels.

Tom took off the funnel top of the milling machine to show the mechanical magic inside. He puts the curds in, and the pegs chop them up to so they’re perfect to press into wheels.

Coolattin dairy – where The Cheese is made.

Coolattin dairy – where The Cheese is made.

Susie, photo by Haley of Cal Discoveries UC Alumni Travel.

Susie, photo by Haley of Cal Discoveries UC Alumni Travel.