As I said when I started this the Sheep’s Head Food Company was to be the name of the deli I was going to open in Oxton dedicated to the selling of good food drawn from the producers of West Cork. A large part of what it was going to sell was cheese and I thought that here would be a useful point to dwell on some of those cheeses and what was inspiring about them.
Next month we will be in Ahakista and I will be going to the farmers markets and some of the farms where the cheese is made and on the ferry back to Holyhead I will hopefully have a boot-full of cheese stuffed into cool bags amongst the luggage to pass on from a stall I am going to set up in the garden. So this will be a small taster of what there will be. There will be a few more teasers to come and some hints at the music that will be burbling away in the background.
It was Durrus cheese that first alerted me to the possibilities of good food in West Cork. When the family first talked about holidays in Ireland I could only think of Spain, the endless intense sun, platefuls of tapas and a relationship with food that struck all the chords in me I could hope for. Ireland was fine but that was more for the Guinness and the endless plates of chips. But it was Ireland we went for and I was hesitant at first, unsure of what its attractions would be. A lot of these became apparent on our first visit to the Cottage one Easter, as the sun edged its way out and we found ourselves doing nothing more but sit on the wall leading down to the sea watching the view, clouds moving up Dunmannus Bay and the sea washing over the black rocks and the covering of kelp and seaweed, the weather coming in. There were platefuls of chips but for lunch in the Cottage we would have rolls from Cashman’s in Durrus with freshly cooked ham and cheese. The cheeses were Carrigbyrne and Durrus.
The Carrigbyrne was delicious – a soft cheese with a pale white rind, not dissimilar to brie.
The Durrus was proper cheese in 400gr rounds wrapped in greaseproof paper, with a distinctive yellow label and a picture of a cow. It was the sort of cheese you would be pleased to pick up in a good French market. As it suggested on the label it looked as if it had come from the farm. Under its puckered pale orange rind still marked with the metal racks on which it had been sitting whilst it matured there was a creamy pale cheese, slightly pockmarked with an acidic bite in its taste. There was an intense pleasure to be had periodically taking a thick quarter of the cheese, cutting away its rind and eating it as the lunch slowly dissolved into the afternoon and someone had to make their way up to the pub for a couple more pints to see us through.
The surprise in it all was that the cheese was made only a few miles away. Durrus village was down the road and suddenly there was this great connection between the food that I was eating and the landscape it had come from. Over the years since then we have skirted past the farmhouse where Jeffa Gill makes the cheese. It is up in the hills, up on the road past the church almost to the top where spine of the peninsula starts to take shape and body on its long reach out into the Atlantic.
The milk for the cheese comes from two Friesian herds and the taste and texture is continually varied by the seasons, the amount of rain that has fallen and the quality of the green grass. It is as you realise that proper cheese relies so much on that connection, the rain and the grass that feeds the cows that the name of the book about amongst other things food in West cork Eating the Scenery starts to make sense.
These are pictures of the hills just up from the farmhouse in the townland of Coomkeen where the on the ridge of peninsula. The view takes in the bulk of both Bantry and Dunmannus Bays. Somewhere along the way we also met a couple of cows. Pictures of the cheese will follow in August after it has been bought fresh from the market.
If you need more information on the cheese go to