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    Food & Drink: Irish Cheese & Dairy

    By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
    More by Dawn

    Say Cheese

    Ask any Irish person what part of their culinary culture they are most proud of, and the answer might surprise you. While spuds are and always will be an integral part of Irish food, the culinary ingredient most Irish can’t live without is Irish dairy.

    Yes, dairy. In particular, butter and cheese.

    France may have a “copyright” on “country best known for cheese,” but Ireland is climbing the ladder. When anyone visits Ireland, make sure you taste Irish butter and cheese.

    Jump straight to your favourite cheese:

    The Cows, Sheep and Goats

    Dairy cows

    Black Sheep Lambs

    St Tola Goats cheese

    The Irish weather and terrain, such as bogs and wet soil, make it hard to grow many types of crops. Aside from the famous potato and other root vegetables, most Irish crops are grown in the eastern parts of the country, and even then, farming is limited.

    The island’s agriculture has long depended on livestock, and in particular, sheep and cows. With few other options, the people became adept at caring for these creatures over the millennia. Lucky for dairy-lovers and cheese aficionados, it just so happens that to make scrumptious cheese and butter, you need milk from cows, sheep, and goats. And Ireland has cows, sheep and goats in great abundance.

    Connemara grass

    The Grass

    Grass is green. In Ireland, the grass is really green. There’s a reason we call it the Emerald Isle! The vast amounts of healthy green grass make for great grazing for sheep and cows. There are rarely any droughts (and when they do occur, they are short-lived). Irish farmers don’t have to import water or feed the cows, sheep or goats much more than the grass that grows naturally in our fields.

    Rainbows Ireland

    The Climate

    Everyone knows that Ireland gets plenty of rain. While some may take issue with the rainy climate, plenty of rain is pretty good news for Irish cheese lovers. Rain means rich, green, delicious grass (if you’re a cow, that is), and happy cows make happy milk which makes happy cheese. Or rather, yummy cheese that makes you happy when you eat it.

    Donegal Atlantic waves

    The Fresh Sea Air

    Ireland has some of Europe’s cleanest and freshest air. It blows right off the Atlantic, crisp, fresh, and ready to produce green grass and healthy animals. Also, the salty air can affect cheese-making too. Some cheesemakers choose to include seaweed or sea salt in their cheese production.

    Kylemore Cheesemaking

    The Tradition

    Ireland is a place steeped in tradition. In past centuries, the Irish didn’t have much, but they were creative in using what they did have. As a vital part of Irish caloric intake, dairy was an essential part of most Irish menus. Butter, in particular, was a valuable source of calories. Cheese was relatively easy to make with what Irish farmwives had at hand. Though Ireland didn’t develop the plethora of regional cheeses the way France and Italy did, the island has a culture of local farmhouse cheeses.

    Cashel Blue

    Cashel Blue

    Where is it made: Cashel, Co Tipperary
    What’s it made from: Whole Cow’s Milk & Sheep’s milk
    Tasting notes: Semi-soft creamy blue cheese

    Ireland is renowned for its incredible dairy products. Cashel Blue® farmhouse cheese is still made in the traditional way using the sweet, creamy milk from the family-owned Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers. Cashel Blue® is a decadently creamy cheese balancing notes of saltiness, blueness and gentle milky elements.

    Available across Ireland in several locales, cheese enthusiasts can indulge in a lavish tasting experience at their Tipperary dairy farm led by the facility’s owners. At the farm, learn the story behind the cheese before rewarding the tastebuds with a guided tasting session by sampling some of Cashel Blue’s creamy wares.

    These cheesemakers also created other cheeses you might also like, including Crozier Blue and Shepherd’s Store, both made from Friesland sheep’s milk. See their site here.

    Traverse the middle of the country on our Deluxe Coast to Coast trip where you might get a chance to stop off in Cashel to taste the cheese. 

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    Aran Goats Cheese

    Aran Islands Goats Chees

    Where is it made: Aran Islands, Co Galway
    What’s it made from: Saanen and Nubian goats milk
    Tasting notes: Soft, creamy, hints of seaweed

    Gabriel Faherty is a bit of a legend when it comes to the Aran Islands. A well-known islander, Gabriel is as much a storyteller as he is a cheesemaker. The island’s sparse and stony landscape suits goats. Growing up on a farm on the island, Gabriel has kept goats since he was a boy. Aran Island Goats Cheese makes both soft and hard goat cheese – both a feta-style and a gouda-syle cheese. Meet the man himself here.

    Gabriel infuses his fresh cheeses with seaweed or Dillsk, a recognised superfood that is all harvested from the shores of Inis Mór on the Aran Islands. The delicious soft goat’s cheese takes just a week to mature, while the harder gouda-style goat’s cheese takes about six weeks to mature. Gabriel’s cheeses are made with milk from a mixed herd of Saanen and Nubian goats, providing a good mixture of butterfat to milk volume ratio.

    Make the trip out to the islands to meet the herd and feed the kids (baby goats), and  yourself too, with a tasty treat. Aran Islands goat cheese doesn’t get fresher than that! Learn more here.

    Take a deep dive across the islands along Ireland’s West Coast here. But to really get a sense of Irish islands – and taste the cheese of course! – make your next visit to Ireland an island-hopping one. Visit the stunning Aran Islands and others on our Island Hopping trip.

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    Gubbeen Cheese

    Gubbeen cheese

    Where is it made: Co Cork
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Woodsy, nuts, mushrooms, and smoky (smoked version)

    West Cork is no stranger to dairy; in fact, some of the most beloved and long-lasting Irish cheeses have come from this region. One such iconic West Cork cheese is the award-winning Gubbeen Cheese, where the milk from the farmhouse cows is used to produce a single type of cheese.

    Produced since 1979 by Giana Ferguson, Gubbeen Cheese is a surface-ripened, semi-soft cheese with a delicate pink and white rind. The secret is in the curing and quality of the milk used.

    Better weather in West Cork means that the cows are out earlier and stay out longer than many Irish cows. Happy, outdoorsy cows make for great milk, which in turn makes for great cheese.

    Gubbeen cheese can be eaten “young” (after just 10 days) – expect a characteristic nose of mushrooms and nuts as well as boggy and woody aromas. Or, eat Gubbeen cheese when it’s “mature,” aged for one to two months. Mature Gubbeen cheese’s body will have evened and softened out, and flavours will have deepened. You could also taste the smoked Gubbeen cheeses, richly flavoured with oak smoke. Learn more here.

    Taste Gubbeen cheese while hiking and travelling through West Cork on our island hopping trip in Cork and Kerry. As one of Ireland’s most rugged places, it’s also become a fabulous foodie hotspot. 

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    St Tola

    St Tola

    Where is it made: Co Claire
    What’s it made from: Goat’s milk
    Tasting notes: Soft, creamy cheese combined with ash and charcoal notes

    St Tola has been making delectable goat’s cheese logs since 1999, and has a focus on sustainable farming and cheesemaking. Constantly changing and evolving, St Tola currently has several types of St Tola goats cheese logs.

    Based in Co Clare, the dairy has in part been inspired by the landscapes that surround them, such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Flaggy Shore.

    One of their new delicious creations is an ash log, a 1 kg log of fresh goat’s cheese that has been rolled in ash, slowing down maturation and giving the soft cheese an elegant, smooth texture and a full, rich flavour. Whichever version you try, you’re sure to walk away smiling. Learn more here.

    Where to taste St Tola? Why not join our new hiking trip in Kerry and Clare? With three nights spent in Clare, you’re sure to find plenty of chances to taste St Tola.

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    Durrus Cheese

    Durrus cheese

    Where is it made: West Cork
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Semi-soft rind ripened; mild and mellow or earthy when mature

    One of Ireland’s longest-running farmhouse cheeses, West Cork’s delicious Durrus Cheese has been around since 1979. Durrus is an institution in the Irish artisanal cheese industry, winning numerous prestigious awards (most recently, the gold Irish Cheese Award in 2021). The Durrus dairy produces cheese using age-old artisanal methods. Using a Swiss cheese ‘harp’ to cut the curd by hand in a traditional copper-lined cheese vat, the curds drain in their molds as they are turned by hand to gently form their shape.

    What makes Durrus Cheese exceptional is its natural rind that is developed slowly by washing it with cultures specific to the Durrus dairy. These cultures develop the mottled pinkish skin as the cheeses ripen in our curing rooms. In the classic original, expect a straw colour with tiny holes and a soft, pliable texture. The taste can range from mild, mellow and grassy when young to rich, strong and earthy when aged.

    Alongside the classic Durrus cheese, there is the Durrus Og (a young cheese), the Durrus Smoked, and Dunmanus, an extra mature cheese. Durrus Og melts incredibly well and can be used as an alternative to Reblochon in dishes cheesy Alpine dishes such as tartiflette and raclette, as well as in pasta dishes or baked tartlets.

    Taste slices of the award-winning Durrus cheese throughout West Cork while island hopping in along the coasts of Cork and Kerry. 

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    Dingle Goat’s Cheese

    Aran Islands Goats Cheese

    Where is it made: Dingle Peninsula
    What’s it made from: Goat’s milk
    Tasting notes: Mellow, grassy and herbal soft cheese

    Dingle Goat’s cheeses are handmade at their dairy situated in the heart of the Dingle Peninsula, one of Ireland’s most beloved regions. The peninsula is encircled by the Dingle Way, a popular long distance trail that combines white sand beaches, rugged hills, saintly connections, ancient archaeology, rural farmland, and the artisanal and culinary specialities of Dingle town.

    To make Dingle Goat’s cheese, the dairy uses the freshest goats’ milk from their organic Saanen, British Alpine, Boer mix, Nubian and Toggenburg goats that freely graze on herbs, flowers and wild grasses abundant in Dingle. These wild Irish herbs greatly add to the unique flavour and nutritional value of Dingle cheese.

    Recognised as organic, the relatively new cheese-makers are already racking up the medals, winning gold a few times since 2019.

    Learn more about southwest Ireland’s foodie interests including cheese in this video. Taste Dingle cheese while hiking the Dingle Way, a perfect snack for a fantastic long distance trail along the iconic Wild Atlantic Way.

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    Toons Bridge Mozzeralla

    Toonsbridge Cheese

    Where is it made: County Cork
    What’s it made from: Italian Water Buffalo milk
    Tasting notes: Soft, textured, juicy with hints of umami character

    For something a little bit different, Cork’s Toons Bridge Dairy has a herd of Italian water buffalo that produces exceptional Irish mozzarella cheese. The water buffalo graze year-round on the emerald-green pastures of Cork, yielding nutrient-rich milk that is high in milk solids – just perfect in particular for ‘Pasta Filata’ cheeses like Mozzarella.

    Using folk techniques to culture the milk, the mozzarella develops its unique flavour. Once the curd is drained, the cheese is stretched by hand in a traditional mastello. Using this ancient technique, the cheese gains a layered texture that helps retain the cream, giving it an irresistibly juicy bite. The use of whey and milk starter drives the distinctive flavour profile of Toons Bridge Mozzarella and contributes a delicious umami character – not found in commercially-produced Mozzarella.

    You probably guessed it, but like all Mozzarellas, Toons Bridge Mozzarella is best enjoyed fresh. Learn more here.

    If cycling is more your pace, refuel on fresh tomes of Toons Bridge cheese while cycling the Wild Atlantic Way Southwest on this self guided plus tour. 

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    Cleire Goats Cheese

    Cape Cleire cheese ice cream

    Where is it made: Cape Clear island
    What’s it made from: Goat’s milk
    Tasting notes: Mild, grassy and soft

    What’s so unique about Cleire Goat’s Cheese is not the cheese itself but who makes it. Produced solely on the tiny Cape Clear island, Ireland’s most southwest tip (and the last sight of land most emigrants from the UK and Ireland ever would have had by boat), Cleire Goat’s Cheese is produced by Ed Harper, a blind goat farmer.

    The dairy was established in 1979, and Harper’s herd of twelve friendly island goats comprise an eco-friendly goat farm. Want something truly different? You have to try his goat’s milk ice cream!

    Cape Clear is a magical place, home to a small but distinguished Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking community. It has several stunning walking trails, it is a great spot for birdwatching, and has a few lovely beaches. The island’s typically good weather for Ireland is a draw as well.

    Visit Cape Clear and other wonderful islands and coastlines on our island hopping trip, Cork and Kerry. 

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    Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese

    Wicklow farmhouse cheese

    Where is it made: Wicklow Mountains
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Rich, creamy and flavourful

    Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese is a family-owned dairy situated between the mountains and the sea in the Wicklow region. With a long family history of milking cows, the family began making farmhouse cheese in 2005. The milk used comes from the family farm’s herd of Friesian cows to make several creamy delicious kinds of cheese.

    The proximity to the sea adds a distinctive flavour to Wicklow Farmhouse’s award-winning artisan cheeses. Of note is the St Kevin brie, a delightfully creamy, buttery brie with a distinct aroma of mushrooms that is aged for six weeks. Also, taste the decadent Wicklow Blue, a mild, creamy blue brie cheese that balances the strength of blue cheese with the creamy Irish milk and is best paired with chutney and full-bodied wine.

    Inspired by Irish flora, taste the Wicklow Gold, flavoured with nettle and chives, or any of their others. Learn more here.

    Which type will you taste? Plenty of cheese options to try when you walk the Wicklow Way, Ireland’s premier long-distance trail. Fuel up on rich and creamy Wicklow cheeses for your hike. 

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    Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese

    Kylemore Farms Cheese

    Where is it made: Co Galway
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Rich, creamy and flavourful

    Hidden in the little-visited Slieve Aughty hills of east Galway is the Kylemore dairy farm, home to a herd of some 60 dairy cows.

    Not to be confused with Kylemore Abbey, Kylemore farmhouse cheeses are inspired by the delicious Alpine-style cheeses of France and Switzerland. Unlike many of the fresh cheeses on this list, Kylemore Farmhouse cheese is matured for at least five months, giving it a richer and more mature taste.

    With a focus on sustainability, Kylemore cheeses are fully traceable and organic, farm-to-fork food products. Led by a female cheesemaker, the Kylemore team is community-driven and passionate about empowering women in agriculture and rural Ireland.

    What to taste? Kylemore has a few delicious options. Their flagship cheese is the award-winning Coolfin Mature, a semi-hard “mountain” cheese that is matured for ten months. Coolfin has a depth flavour, including a mild, nutty, creamy and buttery taste within its natural handmade rind, much like a Gruyère-style cheese.

    How to best eat it? Coolfin works great in a fondu, Croque Monsieur, or other hearty French and Swiss Alpine cheeses dishes. Other options include extra-mature cheeses and limited edition cheese – learn more here.

    This hearty mountain cheese makes for great fuel. Taste Kylemore Farmhouse cheeses when pedalling through Connemara on our fun Connemara & Aran Islands bike tour, perfect for cycling novices.

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    Knockatee Kerry Blue

    Knockatee cheese

    Where is it made: Beara Peninsula, Co Kerry
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk, Buffalo milk
    Tasting notes: Creamy, flavourful and strong

    Like nearby Cork, County Kerry is a place that has quietly become a foodie hotspot in Ireland. Wild and wonderful, Kerry is praised for its natural beauty – windswept coastlines and lush forests, crashing cascades and serene lakes, rugged valleys and majestic mountains. A place perfect for adventure.

    And the best way to reward oneself after a day’s explorations? How about a delicious taste of Knockatee cheese, one of Ireland’s rare blue cheeses? Or indeed, taste the “Beara Blue,” a cheese inspired by the Beara Peninsula and Ireland’s only blue cheese made from buffalo milk.

    Knockatee is the definition of local – the milk comes from grass-fed cows in the valley next to the creamery and is made using old-fashioned and largely hand-made methods. Kerry Blue Cheese is a firm and slightly crumbly blue cheese wrapped in wax, matured for three months, and is perfect for cheeseboards.

    And of course, you’ll have to try the Beara Blue, made with Macroom buffalo, a creamy and poignant blue cheese with a sharp and salty taste and marbled with green and blue veins. Another yummy option is an Irish cheddar, matured for 18 months with a nutty, fruity, smooth bite made using those same local Kerry cows. Learn more here.

    Taste Knockatee’s blue cheeses and other cheese while hiking in Kerry on our deluxe grade trip in the Kerry mountains. By day, explore the majesty of Kerry’s soaring peaks, and by night, enjoy deluxe hotels and local cuisine like Knockatee cheese.

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    Coolea Farmhouse Cheese

    Coolea Cheese

    Where is it made: Cork
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Semi-hard cheese with sweet notes

    Coolea cheese has a long history. This family-made cheese was first developed in 1979 and has been in the family ever since. Based on traditional Dutch recipes of a Gouda-style cheese, it is ripened for two months and matured for at least 12 months, sometimes as much as 18 months when it becomes sweet, almost like toffee. It has been winning prestigious cheese awards since the early 80’s and is an institution in the Irish cheese lineup. Coolea’s long run has meant lots of opportunities for varieties.

    Located in the northern part of Cork near the Kerry border, there are lots of opportunities to try Coolea cheese while exploring the great outdoors of southwest Ireland, a region that has shown an aptitude for great food, including cheesemakers like Coolea Farmhouse. Learn more here.

    Cycle the extraordinary wilds of the Kerry Peninsulas from Beara along the Ring of Kerry and onto the Dingle Peninsula for an unforgettable bike tour in Ireland. Treat yourself to tasty slices of Coolea cheese while biking this iconic region.

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    Cooleeney Farm

    Cooleeney Farm cheese

    Where is it made: Tipperary
    What’s it made from: Cow’s milk
    Tasting notes: Semi-hard cheese with sweet notes

    Established in 1986, Cooleeney Farm’s wide selection of Irish cheeses is one of Ireland’s best-known cheeses. Made using the exceptional milk of the farm’s herd of Friesian cows, four generations of Mahers in Cooleeney have built Cooleeney Dairy to become what it is today.

    The classic is of course, Cooleeney’s farmhouse cheese. This creamy and buttery cheese with slight white mushroom notes is wrapped in a white rind and matured for just ten weeks – pairing perfectly with red wine.

    Another well-known type of Cooleeney cheese is Tipperary Brie. This smooth and mild cheese emanates slight grassy undertones. But the farm also produces a number of other types of cheese, including semi-hard varieties, flavoured types, a robust cheese produced using raw cow’s milk, and a few kinds of goat’s cheese from a local herd. Learn more here.

    You can taste this cheese in many places across Ireland. You might like to taste it on our Ireland Coast to Coast trip which visits three regions of the island including three national parks and highest peak in three of the four ancient provinces of Ireland. Learn more below.

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    Tasting Ireland

    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    “American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

    View profileMore by Dawn

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