When most people think of Ireland, they might envision a sea of emerald green and a pot of gold that hangs below some rainbow. And most people would be right. That's exactly what Ireland is all about. Have you been? Then you understand. And when non-Irish people think of Irish food, they jump to images of Guinness, Jameson, boiled potatoes, some sort of stew, Murphy's stout, Redbreast whiskey, and fish and chips from Leo Burdock.
But when we consider Irish cheese, we think of…well, here's the problem. The Irish have a relatively newer cheese-making ancestry that's even younger than its America cousin. After 700 years of English rule, they were left with a bit of a vacancy in terms of food production. What were they to make on their own if they weren't being forced to make something for someone else? If one thing is true about the Irish, it's that they are creative, driven, and all-around badasses. The artisanal cheese movement is a testament to that. The complete opposite of the mass-produced, creamed cheddar that's been dyed green with a shamrock smeared on top is the crop of truly divine cheeses coming from all over this little Emerald Isle.
Take the County Cork—the Southernmost county in Ireland—for example, where there are at least half a dozen kick-ass ladies making stinky smear-ripened cow's milk cheeses that are heavenly to taste. Ardrahan cheese—made by the grandmother of the movement, Mary Burns—is a decadent puddle of earthy, funky cow's milk that might smell like fresh manure and an overflowing sewer, but tastes like as if bacon and butter made sweet, sweet love. And then there's Durrus, made by the amazing Jeffa Gill since the late 70s: a fudgy, earthy wonder with a peach-hued rind that contains hints of smoked ham and fresh spring water.
In the hillside, the Dickie boys (I kid you not, those are their names) have been making the gouda-inspired Coolea since the early 70s. Father and son craft these caramel-y sweet, candy-esque behemoth wheels of wonder. Those crunchy, crackly bits that people love in their cheese are developed in these wheels after a year. Up north, Marion and Haske—two inspiring hippies that will make you want to burn your clothes and buy a yurt—are busy making an incredible goat milk gouda that tastes like Meyer lemon Laffy Taffy and honey-roasted peanuts.
Yet the one thing that all of these cheeses have in common—besides the fact that the people who hand-craft them are geniuses with their feet planted in the soil—is that they all pair extremely well with both whiskey and ale. I'm not fucking with you here. I have personally taste-tested all of them alongside a gamut of libations, and there is almost no bad pairing that could take place with these cheesy bits.
I don't know if it's something in the water or that I'm drunk right now, but they all taste delicious with a pint of Guinness and a bowl of Lucky Charms.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in December, 2015.