Georgina Campbell's Book Reviews

Counter Culture - The Sheridans Guide to Cheese, by Kevin and Seamus Sheridan, with Catherine Cleary (Transworld; hardback, £16.99)Counter Culture - The Sheridans Guide to Cheese, by Kevin and Seamus Sheridan, with Catherine Cleary (Transworld; hardback, £16.99)
How to buy, store, age, taste and appreciate the great cheeses of the world and create a perfect cheese plate for any occasion...

Although only in their prime, Kevin and Seamus Sheridan are already a part of Irish food lore. Everyone with even a passing interest in good food knows a bit about the Dublin brothers, and how they started selling farmhouse cheese at Galway market in the 1990s. And how they next opened Sheridans Cheesemongers, first in Galway and then in Dublin, Waterford (at Ardkeen Quality Food Store) and in Meath.

Here their wonderful headquarters - warehouse, shop, office - is in restored buildings at Virginia Road railway station near Kells, where they also hold markets and their famous annual Food Festival. Today, their skill as affineurs and purveyors of the best cheeses from Ireland and abroad has earned widespread recognition - also their close relationship with local producers and championship of the family farm, which has been a profound force for good in the development of the vibrant food culture that we are once again enjoying.

Kevin & Seamus Sheridan, Catherine ClearyEven at its simplest, it’s an inspiring story and many of the small dairy farmers and artisan producers who are at the heart of this book would not have found a market for their quality foods without the Sheridans. But, while their Slow Food philosophy of respect for the land and its custodians may be simple, and their insistence on quality has become a byword underpinning everything they do (including production of their own range of crackers and other accompaniments for cheese), their love and care and nurturing of cheese and the people who make it is fascinatingly complex - and this is their story as much as a handbook to appreciating great cheeses.

The Sheridans Guide to Cheese is as multi-layered as any of the great cheeses that they love so much. Along with all the practical information that their unique expertise allows them to share, this is a family story about the people they grew up with, their lives and their values, also the story of the many cheesemakers who have filled the shelves of their warehouse and the other cheese lovers who have tended them, sold them and educated people about them. Food writer and journalist, Catherine Cleary, helps to tell their wonderful stories, but this is Kevin and Seamus’s book, and her presence is discreet.

It’s as much a book to read as a reference, with interesting diversions at every turn, yet also with the practical contents divided up very logically into two major sections - the first covering the history and science of cheese, and the second (the main part of the book) devoted to six sections on the main types: Fresh Cheese; Bloomy Rinds; Washed Rinds; Pressed Uncooked; Pressed Cooked; and Blues.

In each category, Kevin and Seamus introduce key cheese makers, explain production methods and what gives cheeses their individuality, and give practical advice on selecting, buying, aging and storing each variety. Then there are the food and drink pairings that they enjoy with their favourite cheeses, and recipes too - all of which will inspire readers to be more adventurous shoppers, to care for cheese with confidence - and enjoy it to the full.

Jeffa Gill & Veronica SteeleThe book itself is also interesting in many respects. It has a rustic, slightly higgledy piggledy tone to it that feels just right, as it’s homely and organic. The design is pleasantly old fashioned, with most of the many photographs in black and white, making it feel as if it’s made for the local market, almost like a parish magazine - yet it’s priced in sterling and, when you turn to the front, you see that Transworld Ireland are part of the massive Penguin Random House group.

So, thankfully, this artfully retro publication is destined find a place on the bookshelf of many an international reader who will become one of the new food tourists, visiting Ireland specifically to experience the culture so evocatively described by the Sheridan brothers - who already export to customers around the world.

With all the warmth and the individuality of any of their beloved cheeses, this is a book to have and to give - enjoy it.



Cooleeney, Cranberry and Port Toasties

This is the perfect marriage of leftover seasonal treats. You can use cranberry sauce from a jar if you don't want to make it yourself


150g fresh cranberries
50g sugar
50ml Port
200g Cooleeney cheese
1 loaf sourdough or brioche, cut into 12 slices
3 large eggs
50ml milk
olive oil, for frying

Put the cranberries, sugar and Port into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have begun to burst. Set aside to cool.

Cut the Cooleeney into bite-sized pieces leaving the rind on. In a bowl, gently mix together the cheese and the cooled cranberry sauce.

Take a slice of bread or brioche and slather it generously with the cheese and cranberry mixture. Top with a second slice of bread and press them together well.

Beat the eggs and milk together. Dip the cranberry and Cooleeney sandwich into the egg wash - carefully pressing to keep it together. Make sure both sides are covered.

Depending on the size of your pan, fry one, two or three toasties at a time in a hot pan greased with olive oil. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture and bread.

Keep the toasties warm in the oven as you cook the rest and slice each one into fingers to serve.


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