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Spud Sunday: A Farmer And A Gentleman

I was very sad to hear of the untimely passing, the other day, of David Tiernan, one of life’s true gentlemen, and the maker of Glebe Brethan [1], one of Ireland’s finest farmhouse cheeses.

I interviewed David, who was in his mid 50s, a few months ago for a piece on Irish farmhouse cheese which appeared in the Sunday Times last December. He was warm, helpful and generous with his time, a dairy farmer first and foremost, whose life, for the last 38 years he said, had been, simply, ‘wake up and milk the cows.’ He had a real connection to the land and the food that came from it and, for three or so months during the summer, would, in addition to milking his Montbéliarde cows and working in the yard, make two 45kg wheels of glorious Comté-style raw milk cheese a day. He loved the pleasure that his cheese gave to others and – never short of an opinion on the issues facing farmers and small scale food producers – he was familiar to many in Irish food circles, not least when it came to opposing the proposed ban on the sale of raw milk [2] here.

When asked in an interview published in the Irish Times last April [3] to describe himself in six words, David said simply “just very happy to be alive.” Sadly, that is no longer the case and the Irish food landscape is all the poorer for it.

Potato and Celeriac w/ Glebe Brethan Cheese

Potato Celeriac Gratin with Glebe Brethan

It so happened that, when I heard about David Tiernan’s passing, I had just come from the Honest To Goodness [4] market in Glasnevin, where, among other things, I had bought some of his Glebe Brethan cheese. It seemed only right and proper to put it to good use.

As I had also bought celeriac and am never without potatoes, this is what I made. You could call it a kind of gratin – the vegetables are sliced thinly, brushed with oil and minced garlic, baked and sprinkled with grated cheese. Unlike most gratin-style potato dishes that I’ve made, though, the slices here are not laid flat but, rather, stand on end, so that the edge of each slice has a chance to get crispy, then the cheese is added and gets all melty, and you really want for nothing more.

The Summary:

  • Makes 3-4 side-dish servings (but is easily doubled if you so wish) & takes approx. 20 min to prep + 1 hour to bake

You’ll need:

  • approx. 450g potatoes, preferably a waxy variety (I used Maris Pipers, which worked well)
  • approx. 450g celeriac (abt. ½ a large head)
  • 2 tblsp rapeseed or olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • large pinch of salt
  • 50g Glebe Brethan cheese, grated (or use another flavoursome hard cheese, such as a mature cheddar or a Gruyère)

You’ll also need:

  • An ovenproof dish which will fit the sliced vegetables snugly – mine was around 20cm x 20cm and about 4cm deep.

The Steps:

  • Preheat your oven to 200C.
  • Scrub the potatoes and leave them unpeeled. Slice each potato in half width-ways, then slice each half thinly (slices about 3mm thick).
  • Cut away the knobbly outer skin of the celeriac and slice thinly into pieces around the same size and thickness as the sliced potato.
  • Combine the rapeseed or olive oil with the minced garlic and a good pinch of salt. Brush the base and sides of your ovenproof dish with some of this mixture.
  • Stand alternating slices of potato and celeriac in rows in your ovenprooof dish. Brush with the remainder of the oil and garlic mixture. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the vegetables can be pierced easily with a knife (if the tips of the vegetables are getting too dark and crispy, cover with foil). Scatter with the grated Glebe Brethan or other cheese and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. Serve hot with, say, a pork chop or some roast chicken and greens, or simply serve a larger portion along with some salad leaves.

The Variations:

  • You can jazz things up by adding herbs, such as dill or tarragon, or perhaps a little warm spice, such as allspice. You could also make the same dish using just potatoes if you like, replacing the celeriac with an equal weight of spuds.