Monday, 12 January 2009
Cheese of the Month - Ardrahan
I don't blame you if the scene above looks familiar. Ardrahan is a soft, pungent, washed-rind cheese and is certainly not the first of its kind on this blog. However, it is the first Cheese of the Month ever to come from Ireland, and specifically Co. Cork, which has a reputation as a culinary capital of the country and hosts the annual Taste of Cork food festival (sister event to the prestigious Taste of London in Hyde Park). If I'm perfectly honest, although I'm sure the Irish have a perfectly decent culinary heritage, I'm pretty far from an expert on it. The best I could come up with after a very unscientific poll of a few mates was Guinness, Oysters and some bar in Dublin which apparently does nice chicken wings, but that's probably more down to ignorance on our part than a lack of anything to eat over there. For someone who really does know what they're talking about, try here. Meantime, I've got some cheese to taste.
After the disappointment of last month's mail order fiasco, it was a blessed relief to be back in a proper cheese shop (Whole Foods in Kensington, whose selection seems to actually improve every time I visit, if not their service) where I could see the products up close before I handed over the cash. We had actually dropped in for some Gubbeen (a house favourite which for some reason I've never got around to reviewing) but the Ardrahan caught my eye partly for the novelty and partly because I'd had a lovely pie made out of it in the Prince of Wales in Putney last year, and if there's one thing I admire in a cheese it's versatility.
The benefit of the personal touch made itself evidence once I had unwrapped and brought it to room temperature later that evening. This is a cheese in perfect condition - glorious, billowy, bouncy flesh without a hint of chalkiness and coated in a delicate layer of sticky orange rind. Also, like other cheeses of this kind, although it smells like something dragged up from the seventh level of hell, in the mouth the aroma is reduced and a satisfying, earthy, farmy flavour comes through. But most of all, it's the texture that I love about Ardrahan. It's firm enough to cut and display neatly on the cheeseboard but is spongy on the bite and the salty, rich flavours dissolve generously when eaten.
Although Ardrahan is a safe choice in some respects - I knew I'd like it and I did - let's not pretend for a second that cheeses like this are easy to make, and I don't want anyone to think I'm getting blasé about yet another washed rind cheese being nice to eat. Ardrahan, like Stinking Bishop, has been produced by one family for the last fifteen years, from a small herd of specifically bred cattle, and a tight rein is kept over quality control at every stage of the process. The Burns family, at their farm in Kanturk, Co. Cork, clearly make cheeses because they love making cheeses, and the fact that the product available in your local cheese shop is a triumph is most definitely not an accident - it's the result of years and years of hard graft and attention to detail. So well done them, and lucky, lucky us.