Riffing the Cheeses

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Bord Bia's Organoleptic Cheese Seminar held this week was a marvel of discovery.
Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's Cheesemonger's took us through a plate of six cheeses – 2 Gubbeens; 2 Cooleeneys, Mount Callan Cheddar and Coolea – showing how the Gubbeens were differentiated by two distinct rennets – animal versus vegetarian – and the Cooleeneys by virtue of raw milk versus pasteurised.
The animal rennet Gubbeen showed better than the vegetarian rennet, offering more of the cooked mushrooms and mustard notes that characterise this most marvellous West Cork champion. The vegetarian rennet simply wasn't as complex, though it was still mighty fine.
With the Cooleeneys, only a day separated the two 8 week old cheeses, but the raw milk cheese had more of that wonderful “baby's breath” aroma, and notes of pork fat and hazelnut in a superbly integrated cheese. Both cheeses showed brilliant cheesemaking from winter milk, but again the primal cheese won the day.
Lucy Hayes's Mount Callan had aged to 21 months, slightly longer than normal, and had notes of silage and sherry in its feral and rather wild nature. This is one of the great elemental cheeses, and so was the powerfully buttery Coolea, at 17 months sitting right at its peak, with a huge length to the burnt cream flavour. Kevin Sheridan's explanations and presentation were not just faultless, but inspiring.
Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard Dairy and Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery Cheddar followed, with a tasting of four Montgomerys. Number one, made on April 10th 2007, was a very fine, middling level cheddar, still developing towards its optimum time of 14 months. Number 2 was made on May 8th 2007, and was sour and awful. The cheese was made on a day of terrible weather, and “had gone off the rails, and was distinguished by empty flavour” said Jamie, who forms a terrific double-act with Randolph. Number 3 from March 30th was characterised by high acidity and a crumbly texture that even allowed some blueing to develop. Number 4, from March 19th, was formed and focused, balanced, showing all the shades of a cheese that was wrapped up in its own journey towards flavour.
This was the most intricate and focused cheese tasting, and the most revelatory, that many of us had ever attended, and it was eye-opening and taste-bud-opening to see how weather and cheesemaking decisions impact on the final product to such a colossal extent. Hopefully the next organoleptic seminar might focus on Irish beef, and I would love to see further seminars on potatoes and bacon. here's hoping...