An Irish Farmer's Market: Nettle Gouda & Ardsallagh Cheese
Not far from the wisteria covered Ballymaloe Inn and Cookery School off the rocky coast of Cork, Ireland, is a little town called Midleton. It houses two very important things, and perhaps a few others. The first is Midleton Farmer's Market. The second is the Jameson Distillery.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling in another country is to visit farmer's markets. They intimately introduce you to the food culture of a land by focusing on small producers and things that are caught, grown, or made nearby. At a farmer's market, you can walk around and snack on buttery scones while buying cheese straight from the people who pressed the curds, or buy lobsters from the family who pulled the crustacean from the ocean.
The promise of these things brought to me Midleton Farmer's Market, which is saying a lot because I was at Ballymaloe and another option would have been staying for a second breakfast of Macroom oatmeal with raw Jersey cream from the dairy and stewed fresh apricots, then visiting the chickens and herb gardens at the cookery school, then going to the cafe for dessert, then walking the grounds imagining dinner. But, cheese called.
Thank you Darina Allen for launching the market so locals would have a place to buy beautiful regional produce and cheese. Thank you too for putting it walking distance from Jameson.
Ardsallagh Cheese & Ballinrostig Gouda
It is with great pleasure that I present to you Ardsallagh Cheese and Ballinrostig Gouda, two small-production, artisan cheesemakers of Midleton Market.
Ardsallagh Farmstead Cheese is a small, family business twenty minutes outside Cork,. Cheesemaker Jane Murphy stands fiercely stands behind the curative power of her goat's raw milk, which she says, helped her children recover from ailments like eczema when young. Jane started keeping goats because she was enamored with the frisky, sweet animal and the power of its milk, then, as often happens when there's an abundance of milk, decided to embrace fermentation.
Jane makes a few cheeses. One is Soft Cheese. The other is Hard Cheese. Then there's another that could be referred to as The Other Hard Cheese (my name). Their titles speak truth to their style. Jane likes to keep it simple.
Hard, dry, a little crumbly, and sometimes reminiscent of a hard sliceable, Hard Cheese number 1 and 2 reminded me a little of the sliceable, gratable cheese otherwise known as Queso Seco Nicaraguense: Juan’s Mom’s Cheese, but less salty. A little meaty, peppery, grassy, and nutty- beautiful.
But my favorite was Soft Cheese. It's kinda like a chevre that's been given the princess treatment. Most chevres are made in the lactic-acid set style where they're left to ferment and drain over a night or two, but Jane lets hers set, relax, and come into its own over four days. The curds form into a deliciously silky cheese that's thick and rich. Tastes like lemon, butter, fresh milk, a fresh herb or two, and sunshine (which is hard to come by in Ireland).
Not far down the row were gleamingstacks of gouda. Those of you who haven't yet had a chance to sample a lot of Irish cheese may not know that the Irish rock gouda. Really. From Coolea to Killeen to Ballinrostig, the Irish could trick a blind cheese taster into thinking their wheels where straight from the motherland.
Dutch farmers who came to Ireland in the seventies and eighties brought with them their cheesemaking skills and been enabling gouda addicts with their sweet, smooth wheels ever since.
Stephen Bender of Ballinrostig Homstead honors this tradition by using a family recipe in his three year-old dairy to produce beautiful gouda. His gouda isn't yet in the states, but likely would travel well so I'm hoping it'll hop across the pond soon. Inspired by the longstanding Dutch tradition of adorning cheese curds with seasonal spices or herbs, Stephen makes his sweet, creamy, lightly peppery nettle gouda with local nettles. His "Gold" plain gouda he makes year-round.
Don't serve either at a party if you're hoping for leftovers. I passed them around the bus touring us around Ireland- people asked for seconds.
Because I guessed that you might wonder what to drink with these two beauties and I wholeheartedly support your plight, I diligently tested duos for you Midleton. The key to these pairings is to keep it local.
Serve Stephen's Gold Gouda with Yellow Spot whiskey. If not available, a rich white wine like Viognier or Pinot Noir would do.
Enjoy Ardsallagh Soft Cheese with Jameson and ginger beer. If you're out of ginger, serve with a Sauvignon Blanc or Melon de Bourgogne from the Loire Valley.