Cheese of the Month – Cashel Blue

Being Irish and a lover of blue cheese, it’s only fitting that I start my ‘Cheese of the Month” with a cheese that is near and dear to my heart, Cashel Blue, a semi-soft blue cow’s milk cheese. It is unique, as it is Ireland’s first farmhouse blue cheese. Cashel Blue is made on the dairy farm at Beechmont, by Jane and Louis Grubb near Cashel in the valley of the Suir River, County Tipperary, Ireland.

In the late eighteenth century, the family Grubb was part of a sect called the Anabaptists who were persecuted in England. The family fled to County Tipperary, Ireland where they became butter makers and millers. In 1978 Louis Grubb returned from working as an agricultural research worker in the west of Ireland to the farm he was born and raised on, along with his wife, Jane, and daughter, Sarah. Louis first established a commercial dairy and later decided to make cheese. Jane had been a chef and with a love of quality food and after researching various styles of cheese identified the need for an excellent blue cheese from Ireland. In 1984, two years after first looking at cheese as a way of diversifying the farm, Cashel Blue began.
The Grubb’s make most of their cheese from milk from a herd of Pedigree Holstein Friesian cows that are all from a “closed” herd (meaning that new stock is only replenished from existing cows within that specific herd) making it a true farmhouse cheese. The remaining small amount of milk is brought in from local Tipperary farms and is closely monitored. The Cashel Blue herd is fed a specific high protein based diet, together with the lush grass of Tipperary’s limestone pastures. Cashel comes from the name of an enclosure for herds of cows in the middle ages.

In 2001, Sarah returned to the family enterprise with her husband, Sergio Furno, following a time working for a French cheese-maker in the Alps and a winemaker in Piemonte. Sergio, originally from northern Italy, met Sarah while at the university in Wales. After school they both worked various jobs in the wine industry in England, Ireland, France and Italy, fine-tuning their tasting skills and business acumen and nurturing their love of food and wine.

Cheese is not a simple commodity, but a gourmet product which develops with age, changing in form and flavor. Quality is taken seriously at every step in the production of Cashel Blue. Initially, on a very small scale, with 8 wheels of cheese being produced a day, using an old brewer’s 90 liter (20 gallon) copper vat. The cheese was sold in the local Country Market in Fethard and to a few specialty shops in Dublin and Galway. Within its first year, Cashel Blue’s reputation for high standards was established as a result of winning the Supreme Champion at Clones Agricultural show, (at the time the principle Irish cheese show). Today over 200 tons of Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese is sold by the Grubb family, helped by a team of ten local staff.

Cashel Blue has a beige rind, which develops a pinkish cast as it matures and the paste changes from firm to a soft texture. At about six weeks of age, the cheese is firm and crumbly with a tangy flavor; from six to twelve weeks, the cheese develops a fuller flavor while changing to a softer creamier texture. The mature cheese is moist, creamy and semisoft with a voluptuous texture.

Cashel Blue Farmhouse cheese, when young, is a very mild blue with less salty flavor than other blues. As it ages it develops a much creamier texture and a stronger, more piquant flavor of dried herbs, woody leaf notes with a hint of sweetness and salty butter with the tangy notes of a great blue.

This Cashel Blue works great with any dish where blue cheese is called for. Use it over a fresh salad when young and crumbly, in a sweet tangy salad dressing, great in a blue cheese soufflé or in any casserole where you want a rich creamy sauce with just the right pungent flavors to accent the complete dish. At its ripest, it will ooze at room temperature necessitating spoons for scooping onto crusty walnut bread, plain crackers such as Bremner or fresh whole wheat bread.

When pairing with wine, I recommend:
2005 A&P de Villaine
– Bouzeron – Aligoté from Burgundy, France. There is a very pleasant slight sweetness to this blue cheese that balances well with the crisp mineral flavors of the Aligoté.
2006 Marc Bredif – Chinon – Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, France. This same sweetness balances well with the red berry fruit and pleasurable acids of this great wine.
2005 Palmina – Santita – Malvasia from the Santa Yenz Valley, California. A beautiful rich sweet wine that plays off the sweetness of the blue cheese. Add some roasted nuts and dried fruit and you have the perfect dessert.
NV Viñedo de los Vientos – Alcyone – Dessert Wine from Atlántida, Uruguay. This is the most incredible red dessert wine I have ever tasted. Packed with vanilla, chocolate and apple mint, it works unbelievably well with the sweetness and salts of this marvelous cheese.

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