Ancient texts naming and describing the cheeses once made in Ireland’s lush green pastures date back to the 8th century but the descriptions and names are tantalizingly vague. However we know that Irish cheesemakers once produced a wide variety of cheeses: Tanag and Grus were hard pressed skim milk cheeses, Faiscre Grotha was a fresh type of pressed curd cheese and Tath was made from sour milk curds. The diversity of the products can also be gauged by the coagulants referred to in old texts: animal rennet, both calf and lamb, was used, but also Irish moss (carraigin) and bog violet (mothan).
In the 1970s a loose association of artisan producers reintroduced cheese-making on a small scale in rural Ireland and this soon grew to thirty small dairies. Driven by a mixture of idealism and the need to make a living from their farms, this new generation of cheese-makers drew upon skills and knowledge from all over the world. Using the same raw materials that served the ancient cheese-makers of Ireland so well, they made a diverse array of new cheeses from local, fresh raw milk. Each cheese-maker developed products that reflected their own personalities, experiences and interests, and today these cheeses are not only associated with a particular place but with an individual cheese-maker.
Irish specialist cheeses have won international acclaim, but only a handful of the “new traditionalists” still use raw milk in the production of their unique cheeses. The Presidium will celebrate the distinctive merits of these cheeses and, by working to protect them for future enjoyment, continue the revival of this island’s cheese-making traditions.
Unlike many Presidia that concentrate on one particular product with distinctive properties from a specific geographical area, this project covers many different types of cheeses from across the island of Ireland.The Presidium is made up of eight artisan producers each with their own distinctive style of cheese-making but who share a common commitment to producing a safe, high quality product using raw milk sourced from their own or nearby herds.
In 2005 the first draft of the production protocol was written, including herd management, origin of milk and cheese making process. Amongst the criteria included in this protocol are that dairy herds feed principally on pasture for eight or nine months of the year; that each batch of milk for cheese making should comprise no more than three milkings; and that the distance between milking parlor and dairy should be kept to a minimum.
The Presidium is represented by a number of cheeses that are considered ‘ambassadors’ for Irish raw cow’s milk cheese: these are selected on the basis of their taste qualities. Only one cheese from each producer can be a representative at any one time.
The purpose of the project is to encourage and support raw cow’s milk cheese producers throughout Ireland and to widen appreciation for this product. It seeks to celebrate the distinctive merits of Irish raw milk cheese, the environment from which it springs, its artisans and its varied styles of production. The objectives are to raise awareness among consumers, retailers and food policy experts of the quality of raw milk cheeses, and to defend the right of small producers to make raw milk cheese in Ireland.
The entire Island of Ireland