There is at least one legend which holds that would-be assassins tried (but failed) to kill St. Patrick with poisoned cheese. There are a number of conclusions which we may draw from this, to wit:
– St. Patrick was fond of cheese.
– He knew a dodgy cheese when he tasted one.
Therefore, what better way to celebrate the feast day of our patron saint than to include a platter of Irish cheese as part of the Paddy’s Day Food Parade. And not just any cheese, but a selection of fine Irish raw milk cheeses, because I can guarantee, given that Louis Pasteur was far from born at the time, that St. Patrick’s cheese board would have been filled with nothing but cheeses made from raw milk.
What you see above is the cheesy selection served at a recent Slow Food Ireland raw milk cheese tasting. It was a fascinating evening, presented by Kevin Sheridan of local cheese mecca, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, and included expert guidance on smelling and savouring your cheese from Cristiano De Riccardis, an organoleptic taste expert with Slow Food Italy. Dr. Prannie Rhatigan, Slow Food Presidia Manager for Ireland, was on hand to explain the idea of presidia as a mechanism for nurturing, protecting and promoting traditionally produced foods. The raw milk cheese presidium is the only one active in Ireland at present.
So what is the deal with raw milk cheeses, anyway?
Not having been exposed to the heat treatment required for full pasteurisation, raw milk cheeses retain more of the natural flavours and nutrients present in the milk used to make them. Cristiano explained that raw cheeses, as a consequence, are generally more complex and have aromas that linger longer in the mouth. And yes, they are safe to eat (unless doctored by some assassin type). From what I can gather, a maker of raw milk cheese in this country can expect health and safety inspections aplenty, so have no worries about seeking these cheeses out:
- Durrus made by Jeffa Gill in West Cork, a semi-soft cheese with a wonderful oniony smell that made me want to grab the nearest potatoes and put them together in a gratin.
- Glebe Brethan, made at the Tiernan family farm in Dunleer, Co. Louth, from their own herd of Montbeliarde cows. A hard, dark yellow, gruyère-type cheese, similar to French comté and made only with summer milk. I swear you can taste the sweetness of summer meadows in there.
- Cooleeney, a camembert-type cheese made on the Maher farm in the heart of Co. Tipperary. The sample we had was nicely ripe and fairly runny, with a buttery smell and savoury flavour.
- Bellingham Blue – what a bruiser of a cheese. Made by Peter and Anita Thomas from Glyde Farm in Castlebellingham, Co. Louth. It’s a strong-tasting creamy blue stilton-like cheese that should appeal to stinky cheese afficionados everywhere.
- Last, but by no means least, was my favourite of the night, St. Gall made by Frank and Gudrun Shinnick in Fermoy, Co. Cork. It reminded me of an emmental, with a full, sweet flavour and a very pleasing tang in the mouth. The cheese is named for Irish Benedictine monk St. Gall, who, legend has it, not only brought christianity to Switzerland but also taught the Swiss how to make cheese. So there.
In fact, inspired by the saintly Swiss-cheesy connection, I thought it appropriate to use St. Gall, which melts beautifully, for some Paddy’s Day raclette (and, yes, I was looking for any and all excuses to use my newly acquired straight-from-Switzerland raclette grill set). Grill some green vegetables on the hot stone above, melt some killer Irish cheese on spuds under the grilling element below and away you go.
Paddy’s Day Raclette with Irish Cheese & Green Veg
Raclette – which is really just an excuse to eat liberal amounts of melted cheese – might just be the perfect thing to serve if you’re entertaining guests. There’s minimal preparation involved, just chopping mostly, and the invitees cook their own food. You just need to keep them supplied with cheese, chopped vegetables and other grillable tidbits, and, of course, plenty of wine.
Small, waxy potatoes are a very standard part of any raclette-style meal – there’s even a variety of potato called raclette – though any waxy potatoes will do nicely. For a Paddy’s day twist, just supply plenty of green vegetables, along with an Irish cheese, and let everyone else do the work.
The amounts here are up to you, depending on how many you want to feed, what they like to eat and how many different types of vegetable etc. that you want to serve. As you can see, this is pretty free-form as recipes go.
- waxy potatoes
- a nice melty cheese – I used St. Gall
- selection of green fruit and veg e.g. asparagus, courgette, romanesco cauliflower, broccoli, spring onions, green apple
- olive oil
You’ll also need:
- Ideally, a table-top raclette grill, which makes it easier for everyone to do their own grilling – though you could grill the vegetables separately using your grill/broiler and then top with the cheese and serve. More work for you, though.
- Scrub the potatoes and boil them in salted water until fork-tender – this may take around 15 minutes for baby potatoes, longer if you’re using larger spuds. Drain, cover with a tea-towel and allow to dry off for 5 minutes or more.
- Wash and pat dry any other vegetables you’re using. Chop broccoli or romanesco into bite-sized pieces. Slice courgette in pieces around 0.5 cm thick. Slice the spring onions. Chop the apple into small chunks. Leave asparagus spears whole.
- Most of the vegetables for grilling can be placed directly on the heated grill stone. You can toss them in the barest amount of olive oil beforehand if you like.
- Guest fill their little grill pans with their choice of potato, spring onions, apple and grilled vegetables, top it all with cheese, let it melt under the grill, then eat and repeat.
- The variations on raclette are only limited by your imagination. If it goes well, grilled or otherwise, with cheese, then it’s a candidate for raclette.
- Raclette-style meal for as many people as you care to feed.