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For St. Patrick's Day and every day: Irish cheeses

If happy cows come from California, the bovines that hail from Ireland must be ecstatic. After all, those vast patches of emerald that are so enticing in photographs are also attractive to cows. And not just to look at.

Grass-fed cows produce most of the milk that ends up in Irish cheeses sold in the United States. Some of the cheeses are familiar and can be found locally, such as Kerrygold's Dubliner and Blarney Castle, and Cashel blue. Others — such as County Cork's gouda-like Coolea — can only be purchased online or at the nation's retail shrines to cheese such as Murray's Cheese Shop in New York and Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Mass.

Today is St. Patrick's Day and it's a good bet you're wearing a bit of green even if you don't have a drop of Irish blood in your veins. You may be having corned beef and cabbage for dinner; perhaps you've made soda bread. Cheese isn't something you're likely to think about for the gathering of the clan, but cookbook author Margaret Johnson The Irish Pub Cookbook, The New Irish Table and others on Irish cuisine) thinks you should. She also is a wee bit irritated that Irish dishes aren't thought about in the United States much past March 17.

Johnson was in Tampa last week for a cooking class at Publix Apron's Cooking School. Part of the demonstration included Irish cheeses, including how to put together a cheese board with tomato chutney and fig compote alongside. She is sponsored by Kerrygold, the brand of the Irish Dairy Board.

"Cheese is everywhere in Ireland now," Johnson says. "A lot of Europeans have moved to Ireland and brought their cheesemaking techniques with them. All the natural ingredients are there so it makes sense."

Just as in several U.S. dairy states (Wisconsin, Vermont and California among them), the artisanal cheese movement in Ireland is growing, Johnson says. Small-batch farmstead cheeses are being made there, too, but because raw milk is often used, they are not exported to the United States and can only be sampled close to the source. (Another reason to plan a trip to Ireland.)

Still, Johnson says larger cheese manufacturers are producing quality natural cheeses by using only summer milk from grass-fed cows. Some cheese aficionados say that milk from grass-fed cows produces a sweeter, cleaner taste as compared to that of year-round milk from cows fed corn and grains, which is not their natural diet.

To put together an Irish cheese board for a St. Patrick's Day gathering or any other time of the year, Johnson suggests offering three to four cheeses. A variety of soft and hard, plus mild and strong are the traditional components of a cheese board, though you might have a difficult time finding soft Irish cheeses locally. Whole Foods in Tampa (1548 N Dale Mabry Highway, (813) 874-9435) carries many Kerrygold products including a soft tomme and even an Irish Parmesan-like cheese. Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg (2909 22nd Ave. N, (727) 321-2400) stocks Irish cheeses including the tri-colored Fiddler's Green (think Irish flag) and Cashel blue from Tipperary. Cashel is creamy and more mild than many blue cheeses. Sage Derby, a mild, green-mottled cheese with a sage flavor, is also easily found.

Many grocery stores stock Kerrygold cheeses, especially Dubliner, a mild cow's milk cheese that's aged about a year. (The longer a cheese is aged, the more bite it has.) We found Kerrygold's semisoft Blarney Castle at a Sweetbay in St. Petersburg.

Johnson says tomato chutney goes well with most aged cheeses, including Blarney Castle. Her fig compote is a good accompaniment with blue.

For a quick party tonight, you might want to add Irish cheese to a ploughman's platter of ham, pickled onions, soda bread with European butter, chutney or fig preserves, and fresh berries. (Buy Plant City strawberries and just imagine they were grown in Ireland, where the annual berry crop brings in about $29 million.) Or, if you want something different to serve with corned beef, consider Irish Cheese Pudding, a baked dish laced with tangy cheddar.

Finish the meal with Cashel Blue Cheesecake With Apricots. And, if you must, a green beer.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

IF YOU GO

Emerald Isle cheeses

Sample an array of Irish cheeses in celebration of St. Patrick's Day at 6:30 tonight at Whole Foods, 1548 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. The tasting is free, but registration is required in the store's lobby or by e-mailing sherell.white@
wholefoods.com. Information at (813) 874-9435.

>>Moderate

Tomato Chutney

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 pounds (6 to 7 medium) plum tomatoes, quartered

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup golden raisins

Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine first 7 ingredients. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the mixture thickens. (As the tomato skins separate from the pulp, remove with a fork and discard.) Spoon the chutney into a clean jar or bowl, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 2 cups.

Source: The Irish Pub Cookbook
by Margaret Johnson (Chronicle Books, 2005)

>>easy

Fig Compote

1 8-ounce package dried Calimyrna figs, stemmed and chopped

1 3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the figs, water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the figs are soft. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or ramekin and stir in the lemon juice.

Makes 1 1/4 cups.

Source: The Irish Pub Cookbook
by Margaret Johnson (Chronicle Books, 2005)

>>EASY

Irish Cheese Pudding

2 cups fresh white bread crumbs

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups grated white Irish cheese

1 to 2 tablespoons snipped chives or minced parsley

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 2-quart baking dish.

Put bread crumbs in a medium bowl. Heat the milk in a small pan over medium heat until it starts to simmer. Pour the warm milk over the bread crumbs. Add the cold butter and stir until it melts, then set the mixture aside to cool 10 minutes.

Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl. Stir in the cheese and herbs, then fold the mixture into the bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, then fold the whites into the pudding mixture.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden and set.

Serves 4 to 5.

Source: Adapted from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews (Chronicle Books, 2009)

>>moderate

Cashel Blue Cheesecake With Apricots

7 ounces Cashel blue cheese (or Cambozola or Stilton)

14 ounces mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)

3 cups sugar, divided use

1/4 cup water

6 eggs, separated

1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted

Pinch salt

16 dried apricots halves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform baking pan with waxed or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the blue cheese and the mascarpone together with a fork.

Put 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup water into a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then stir in the sugar water and cornstarch. Continue stirring until the mixture has cooled to room temperature; then fold in the cheese mixture. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk egg whites with salt until they form stiff peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into cheese mixture with a spatula until well mixed. Pour into baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, put dried apricots in a saucepan and add 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and let steep for about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool until ready to serve.

When the cheesecake is done, set aside to cool to room temperature. To serve, cut into 8 wedges and top each wedge with 2 apricot halves and a spoonful of the syrup.

Serves 8.

Source: Adapted from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews (Chronicle Books, 2009)

For St. Patrick's Day and every day: Irish cheeses 03/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:27pm]

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