Cashel Blue: the luck of the Irish
Deliciously mild and creamy, Cashel Blue came into existence almost by accident when, 20 years ago, Louis and Jane Grubb were searching for ways to use the milk produced on their farm in Co Tipperary. As luck would have it, they stumbled upon a winning idea for an outstanding Irish blue cheese, and the rest is history, as Dee McQuillan reports
Cashel Blue is a mild, meadowy blue cheese made not such a long way from Tipperary. It is moist and beautifully marked – the work of the Grubb family of Fethard near the old episcopal town of Cashel. Their farm is called Beechmount; the terrain is rolling hills and the soil is heavy, giving rich pasture in the warm months which, says Louis Grubb, turns into a quagmire of mud under the cows' hooves in winter.
Louis Grubb had taken over his father's farm and started to build up a closed herd of pedigree Friesians in the late 1970s. But he and his wife Jane had a sense of impending doom. 'There were butter mountains beginning to pile up, too much milk sloshing around the EU and talk of quotas,' he explains. 'We did not want to sell the milk to the local creamery who would turn it into cheese at very little benefit to us. So my wife, who had been a chef, said: “We've done the heavy work” – meaning building up the herd – “and now we have to make something from the milk ourselves.”'
The first thing they thought of was ice cream, but that needed expensive cold storage and transportation. A few other farms had successfully turned to farmhouse cheesemaking – Milleens and Gubbeen for example – and there was a good Irish farmhouse Cheddar maker, too, but to their knowledge, no existing Irish blue. Louis researched and Jane started experimenting and, by 1984, Cashel Blue had arrived.
The cheese is made from the milk from their 130-head herd plus some from nearby farms – all of which is pasteurised. 'I could not stand the stress of continuing to use raw milk and our argument, which other cheesemakers are welcome to disagree with, is that the tiny, subtle difference was less critical than the ripeness,' Louis explains.
The milk goes into a 500-gallon vat along with the vegetarian starter culture and the blue mould Penicillium roqueforti and the temperature is raised until the curds begin to form. These curds are cut by hand and then drained on mesh. The curds are carefully fitted into moulds with very little pressure – and strictly no pressing – so the forming cheese retains moisture. It is then put in brine for a day, and as the cheese is already seeded with the blue mould it only takes piercing, which lets some air in, for the veins to start developing. At six weeks the flavour has started to develop and by twelve weeks Cashel Blue is fully flavoured.
The farmer has a very modest take on the award-winning recipe for this sell-out cheese: 'We weren't very clever at copying other blue cheeses,' he says. Believe it or not (and it will be harder to believe if you've already tried Cashel Blue) the technique most resembles Danish Blue. 'There is no comparison with Stilton. Cashel Blue is fully blued, wrapped and labelled before the Stilton makers are even piercing their cheese,' says Grubb. 'Moist cheeses like ours develop fast.' But it's worth noting that there is no true taste comparison with Danish Blue either – Cashel Blue is much less pungent/smelly and salty so I am sure Mr Grubb is right when he says they find that those who have got no bluer than Cambozola can take to a young Cashel Blue.
I wondered whether there is some geographic reason why Ireland has produced such fine soft cheeses, but Louis Grubb's answer is pragmatic: Britain has the tradition of hard cheesemaking and the great territorial recipes, so the modern Irish makers were pushed to develop entirely different styles to distinguish themselves and earn a living. 'It was just luck,' he says. He now sells half of his cheese to us. And that's the story of Cashel, the blue that does not bite back.
How the makers like their cheese
Everyday eating is plain, with bread. Louis thinks Cashel Blue mixes well with cauliflower or celery and Jane makes a blue cheese tart with potatoes. Their daughter Sarah is the wine expert and she recommends 1977/1980 vintage port or a good tawny; the semi-sweet Recioto de Valpolicella or a New World Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot).
Where to buy Cashel Blue
Cashel Blue is available from all good cheese shops and from selected supermarket stores.
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