James Whelan Butchers: A Cheesy Feeling

We’ve come along way since those before us fell in love with the individually wrapped easy single, way back in the mists of time. We weren’t exactly the greatest country for cheese before then; a little Calvita cheddar perhaps, a chunk of stilton with a glass of port for the sophisticated and a little foil wrapped triangle here and there. We then embraced the easy single and sandwiches and burgers seemed forever doomed to be adorned with this tasteless, yellow, shiny square of plastic that is, in my view, unrecognisable as real cheese. Don’t bother to write and tell me I’m a cheese snob. You’ll never change my mind about the easy (or even worse ‘easi’ ) single and I refuse to buy the ‘it’s so convenient’ line. Cut a sliver off a block of real cheese and I guarantee it won’t take any longer. It may not be perfectly square, but unless you have severe OCD, the shape of the cheese shouldn’t be a problem.

The progress in the Irish cheese landscape is quite remarkable. From a simple cheddar loving nation, our palates have evolved to encompass so much more. Even corner shops now stock a few different varieties. If you go to any of the larger stores or a speciality shop or deli the choice can be quite overwhelming. I remember being in one place where the counter was laden with an amazing cheese selection from all around the globe. The choice was so great I almost retreated to the chill cabinet for a simple block of Cheddar.Cashel Blue

That seems to be the main problem these days, the abundant cheese treasure available confuses us and makes choosing cheese an overly complicated chore. Cheese can also be relatively expensive and so it is understandable why people don’t want to take too many risks with unknown varieties and brands. All you really need to understand are a few basics and then the world of cheese opens up and it’s a journey that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. There is a lot of cheese out there and many cheese regions in the world. However the chill cabinet or cheese counter in your local shop is probably the best place to start. It is also worth saying that it’s okay not to like certain cheeses. Enjoying or disliking a cheese is just that, it shouldn’t ‘say’ anything about you. Everyone has different tolerances for cheesy flavours. Even within cheese groups there are tolerance levels; not all cheese is created equal.

There are a few general categories of cheese. However, just like wine, every cheese of the same variety doesn’t taste exactly the same, but there should be a similarity. While the taste will always be a surprise with a new cheese, you should know what to expect. Let’s start with hard cheese.

Cheddar is probably the most widely available cheese. Cheddar is a ripened hard cheese. The more aged (mature) it is, the drier it appears. Experts would concur that it is best made from whole milk and aged for a long time. Despite the fact that poorer quality, tasteless cheddars have flooded the market, should you find a good cheddar cheese it should always be on hand in the fridge. It is very versatile for cooking, for sandwiches or for just shearing off a chunk and eating it. If you want my advice avoid any of the ‘low fat’ or ‘fat reduced’ cheddars; inevitably they’ve taken the taste away with the fat.

Brie and Camembert, which have become really popular here, are considered soft ripened cheeses. Typically they are aged for anything up to 4 months. While the cheese is soft, they have a hard rind. To eat or not to eat the rind is a personal choice. I don’t particularly like it but a friend tells me that the brie rind adds to the cheese’s flavour profile.Cashel Blue Tasters

Soft unripened cheeses are considered ‘fresh cheese’ and these are usually the ones that are mixed with herbs, fruits or nuts. They have a high moisture content and again are really useful in cooking. You can stuff mushrooms, olives, tomatoes or meat with soft cheese before baking. They are also a great base for canapés as they spread easily and provide a nice ‘gluey’ platform to balance other things on top of. I have even used soft cheese to thicken up a pasta sauce.

Blue cheese or, as my children like to call it, ‘sweaty smelly cheese’ (Before you judge them they are all under 10!) is probably the most divisive. In truth the blue parts of blue cheese are actually mould. Overall blue cheese will span the taste spectrum from mildly blue to quite salty with a very strong bite. A really good blue cheese will have earthy flavours also. The texture is dry and crumbly and the taste, although often perceived as an acquired one, is quite addictive. We have one of the world’s premier and award winning blue cheese brands on our doorstep, Cashel Blue Cheese, and so we have no excuse for not trying it.

Indeed we have many great cheese makers here in Tipperary. Even if we never left the environs of our own county we have quite a few to choose from. Explore some local cheese this week. We even stock a selection of fine cheese on our website and at our store in the Oakville Shopping Centre. Drop by any time.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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