The Darina Allen Column

Blessed are the cheese makers! Let’s all do our bit to support small Irish producers, many of whom are still experiencing real hardship. The farmhouse cheese makers as just one example so let’s make a conscious effort to buy a piece, or better still several pieces, of Irish farmhouse cheese each weekend. I’m fantastically proud of the range of handmade farmhouse cheeses we have here in Ireland. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk. Toonsbridge and Macroom Mozzarella make tender milky cheese to rival the very best Italian Mozzarella. No wonder it’s so good, it’s made from the rich milk of the buffalos that range freely in the lovely mixed pastures of West Cork.

Toby Simmonds and his team of Italian and Irish cheesemakers also make straw smoked scarmoza Caciocavallo, Ricotta, Halloumi and Cultured Butter. They’re all easily available from local Farmers Markets or online and he’s recently opened a shop on South Great Georges Street in Dublin – how gutsy and deserving of support is that in the midst of Covid-19…

For many of the cheesemakers who were also supplying the service industry, the lockdown closure of restaurants, hotels and cafés meant the loss of over 75% of their business overnight, yet the cows kept having to be milk and the cheese kept ageing, needing to turned and matured to bring them to the peak of perfection. But how or where could they sell their produce? They too had the heartbreak of laying off many of their skilled cheesemakers who were often neighbours from their own parish.

The reopening of the local Farmers Markets has been a significant help to some producers. Local customers are flocking back while observing social distancing. In Midleton and Mahon Point, for example, look out for Jane Murphy’s Ardsallagh goat’s cheese and you’ll find the beautiful Ballinrostig Gouda type cheese there too, and also a whole display of cheese to choose from at Christian and Fiona Burke’s stall. And a trip to the English Market in Cork will make your heart sing – bring an empty basket and fill it up.

Over 60 beautiful farmhouse cheeses are made around the country and on the islands. A high proportion are made in Cork county - we have soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese to rival anything anywhere and I’m not saying that just because I’m an adopted Cork woman….
In Co Clare, Siobhán Ni Ghairbhith employs 7 people on her farm on the edge of the Burren, where she makes the legendary St. Tola goat’s cheese from raw milk and she also makes pasteurised milk cheese for the multiples.

When lockdown was introduced overnight, every cheesemaker in the country scrambled to cope with the gallons and gallons of milk in peak season. Siobhán set up an online artisan cheese box which also includes some other artisan products, as did Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Cooleeney and several others. Siobhán is a multi-skilled cheesemaker so she decided to make less soft cheese which has a shorter shelf-life and more hard cheese which will continue to improve with age – look out for it later in the year.
Can you imagine how lovely it would be to get a hamper like that by courier or to send a present to a friend or care worker, or as a comforting gift to absent family members. There’s a list of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Cáis site (

The reason why Irish cheeses are so good is the quality of the milk. Here in Ireland we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so cows that are out on grass, particularly in summer, produce beautiful milk that makes gorgeous cheese. Irish farmhouse cheeses have been awarded prizes in the World Cheese Awards many times and, as a sector, the artisans are incredibly resilient and resourceful.

These feisty cheesemakers up and down the country have led the food revolution and helped in no small way to change the image of Irish food both at home and abroad. In 1984, when milk quotas has just been introduced, the late Veronica Steele, started to experiment in her kitchen on the Beara Penninsula. She couldn’t bear to waste a drop of milk of her favourite – a one horned cow named Brisket. The end result was Milleens, the beautiful washed rind cheese that inspired several generations, mostly women, to make cheese. Such a joy to see her son Quinlan continue to make superb cheese. The second generation also continues to build on their parents’ legacy at other pioneering cheese making businesses, including Durrus, Gubbeen, and Cashel Blue…how fortunate are we to have access to so many exceptional delicious cheeses - and now, more than ever, is the time is to show our appreciation with our support.


Use any of the mild blue Irish cheeses for this delicious salad Cashel Blue from Co. Tipperary or its sister cheese, Crozier Blue, which is made with ewes milk, or perhaps Bellingham Blue from Co Louth. Serves 8

Salad leaves - assemble a selection. If possible it should include curly endive, dandelion and watercress which taste great in this combination - and bitter leaves are brilliant for the gut microbiome...
Spiced Candied Walnuts
75g (3oz) sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
a pinch of freshly ground star anise
100g (3½oz) walnut halves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, we use Mani or extra virgin organic olive oil from Greece
salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 ripe pears depending on size (eg Conference, Concord and Doyenne du Comice are all grown at The Apple Farm, Co Tipperary
Ripe blue cheese, eg Cashel Blue, Crozier Blue, Bellingham Blue
Garnish: chervil sprigs

Gently wash and carefully dry the salad leave. Put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

For the candied walnuts, spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast them for 4 or 5 minutes just until they smell rich and nutty. Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the spices. Spread over the base of a frying pan in an even layer. Scatter the walnut halves on top. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and stars to colour. Carefully rotate the pan until the walnuts are completely coated with the amber coloured spicy caramel. Turn out onto a silpat mat or silicone paper or an oiled baking tray. Allow to cool and harden. (Store in an airtight container until later if necessary).

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, pour into a jam jar, cover and store until needed.

Heat a grill-pan on a high flame. Peel, quarter and core the pears. Toss in a little sunflower oil, grill on the flat side first and then on the rounded side.

To Serve: Cut the cheese into cubes or small wedges. Sprinkle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss gently until the leaves glisten. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. 

Divide the salad between the plates making a little mound in the centre. Slice each chargrilled pear in half lengthwise and tuck 3 pieces in between the leaves. Scatter with a few cubes of blue cheese and some spice candied walnuts. Sprinkle with a few sprigs of chervil and serve.

This salad is only worth doing if you have access to tender buffalo mozzarella and gorgeous ripe tomatoes, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil. Irish tomatoes are now in season.

Serves 4

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we have two options in Ireland: Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella ( and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (
4 very ripe ‘beef’ tomatoes or large tomatoes
fresh basil leaves
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds (or tear apart). Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate. Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices. Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil (I use Capezzana, Fontodi or Selvapiana). Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.

We were served this delicious little morsel with a ripe Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm. It's become a favourite nibble to have with a drink. Makes 20
20 Medjool dates
Ripe blue cheese – eg Cashel or Crozier Blue – or try other ripe farmhouse cheeses, such as Milleens

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse gueule.

So many traditional Irish Cheddars to choose from, Hegarty’s,15 Fields, Imokilly Cheddar, Coolattin Cheddar, Derg…. Everyone loves these cheese croquettes, crunchy on the outside, soft and melting in the centre.
Makes 25 - 30, depending on size

450ml (15fl oz) milk
few slices of carrot and onion
1 small bay leaf
sprig of thyme
4 parsley stalks
200g (7oz) roux (see recipe below)
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese
a pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached
beaten egg
fine dried white breadcrumbs

Accompaniment: Ballymaloe Country Relish

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time. Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go. Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux (see below) bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere. (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spread out on a wide plate to cool.
When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx. Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and then in fine breadcrumbs. Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst. Just before serving, heat a deep fryer to 170°C/325°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.
110g (4oz) butter
110g (4oz) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Note: Cooked Cheese Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.

Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides)
Sea Purslane is at the peak of perfection along out coasts at present. It is a sprawling, clumpy perennial undershrub which spreads its way across the dry, upper reaches of salt-marshes mainly along East, West and South coasts. The leaves of sea purslane are a delicious, slightly salty nibble, with a crunchy texture; however they need to be washed in several changes of water to remove the sand completely. In bloom from July to October, it is rich in vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids and is an antioxidant. Add to salads or make into a pesto, also delicious pickled.

Ballymaloe Cookery School reopened on Monday, 29th June with a whole series of short and longer courses, hands-on and demonstration, plus a one week Introductory Course 27th – 31st July 2020. Also Summer Foraging on Saturday 25th July. Check out for more details.

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