I spent a very pleasant few hours at the Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival in Meath yesterday. I would love to have stayed longer as there was a lot going on, but sadly, I had plenty of chores waiting for me back home.
The highlight of the day was a raw milk tasting. We worked our way through four cow’s milks, made from different breeds, a sheep’s milk, a goat’s milk and even buffalo milk, all raw and untreated. The producers gave a quick talk about their milk and its attributes. For cheese it is all about fat levels apparently. Frank Shinnick of Fermoy Natural Cheese gave a great talk on the healthy attributes of raw milk – it is only a short time since the Government was trying to ban it. Apparently we need to drink milk with A2 beta casein that, some people believe, helps those with eczema, asthma and lactose intolerance. I enjoyed all of the milks – the goat’s milk was not early as ‘goaty’ as you would expect. Marion Roeleveld of Killeen cheese said that for some reason, pasteurized goat’s milk has a stronger flavour. Most of the producers do not generally produce raw milk, keeping it for the all-important business of cheese making.
Once this was over, I headed off to buy some cheese. For the last twenty years, I have had a personal addiction to sheep’s cheese and Ossau-Iraty, a brebis from the Pyrenees in particular. I came across it at a wine and food fair in the UK, and have always bought it when possible since. In recent years it has become more popular; both M&S and Tesco sell it, and Sheridan’s generally have a selection. Yet I have only ever come across one Irish sheep’s cheese; strange given the number of sheep we have, and the popularity of sheep’s cheese in France, Spain Italy and Greece. Séan and Deirdre FitzGerald in Co. Clare have made Cratloe Hills for around two decades now. I hadn’t seen it for a while, so I was delighted to find a stand with Séan and his cheese there. I also came across Lorraine Cahalan who makes Cáis na Tíre in Terryglass. I bought a piece of each and conducted a taste test including a French raw milk cheese bought from Sheridan’s last week in the lineup. The competition was a bit unfair – I went for the lighter version of the Cratloe (they have a mature version too) but both Irish cheeses had that lovely firm sweetness you get in good sheep’s cheese. The French was still the best for me, but my wife and daughter both preferred the Irish cheeses, finding the brebis a little too powerful. I find sheep’s cheese a good match for most red wine – although this may be just an excuse I have made up to allow me indulge in my two favourite vices.
I also bought some Boyne Valley Blue, made from goat’s cheese, the only Irish blue goat’s cheese? That was delicious, with a certain similarity to some of the Portuguese versions that I have tried. I also sampled the blue cheese spread from Cashel Blue – a great product (blue cheese and cream, can’t go wrong?) but some people might be put off by the grey/brown colour.
I bumped into David Llewellyn, producer of all things wonderful from apples, including a cider, various apple juices, a syrup, a wonderful vinegar and a balsamic apple vinegar. He showed me his new Perry – a delicious fresh dry pear cider with about 6% alcohol. I also sampled Jane Russell’s bratwurst and sauerkraut – both very good.
As well as the cheeses, I came home with a bottle of O’Cléirigh Virginja American Pale Ale, the first beer from a new local craft brewery, and only bottled that morning. It was very good, with a nice hoppy bite but well balanced. I also bought some Macroom flour, cakes for my mother, a collar of free-range Tamworth pork, some raw milk from Crawford’s Farm and a nice bag of salad.