Irish cheese board

The Art of the Irish Cheese Board: A Guide by Johnny MacDole

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Updated on April 19, 2024

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Founded seven years ago in the Ormeau Road, Belfast, by Johnny, an ever-enthusiastic cheesemonger, and his business partner Laura Bradley, Indie Fude specialises in Irish food, sourcing delectable treats from the island’s bounty. With over 60 cheeses from across Ireland, Indie Fude is a haven for cheese enthusiasts seeking a taste of the Emerald Isle’s finest.

Today, Johnny takes centre stage and invites cheese aficionados to unveil his vision for the perfect Irish cheese board, a symphony of textures and flavours that celebrates the rich cheesemaking tradition of the Emerald Isle.

Building the Irish Cheese Board

The journey begins with a foundation of strength and character. The Kulatin Chitter, a raw milk cheddar crafted by Tom Burgess in Wicklow, lays the groundwork. Johnny describes its beautiful, brothy, and strong character, a perfect introduction to the board’s diverse flavours.

Next comes a sheep milk cheese, the intriguingly named Cauchetier. This wonderful hard caramel cheese, made by Barry Callahan in Tipperary, adds a touch of sweetness and complexity, creating a delightful contrast to the cheddar.

Variety is key to a well-rounded cheese board. To ensure a creamy presence, Johnny introduces the Ballylist from Armagh. Available in single and triple cream versions, this cheese offers a luxurious indulgence for those who appreciate a richer texture.

For those seeking a more robust experience, the washed-rind Durrus from West Cork provides a delightful contrast. “The salty brine wash adds a depth of flavour that truly elevates the cheese,” Johnny explains, highlighting the unique characteristics developed through this traditional technique.

Indispensibles 

Irish cheese board

No cheese board is complete without the tangy allure of goat cheese. Here, Johnny presents two contrasting options, showcasing the versatility of goat milk. A soft and zesty pyramid from Larry Maguire Galway offers a burst of freshness, while a harder, aged Tom style cheese by Corleggy in County Cavan delivers a nutty sweetness. This selection allows guests to explore the range of flavours and textures that goat cheese can offer.

The grand finale arrives with a flourish—Youngbok, a blue cheese lauded by Johnny as the finest in Ireland. Made with raw milk by his friend Mike Thompson, Youngbok boasts a young stilton style with subtle sweetness and tropical notes. It’s a cheese that adds a touch of drama and undeniable character to the board, providing a sharp contrast to the milder cheeses.

A Secret Weapon

Irish cheese board

But Johnny has a secret weapon up his sleeve—smoked cheese! “We Irish love our smoked cheese,” he declares, introducing the Corleggy Smoked Gubbeen.

This cheese, naturally smoked over beechwood, is best enjoyed as an appetiser, its smoky intensity a perfect way to awaken the palate before diving into the other flavours. While some may consider smoked cheese outside the realm of a traditional cheese board, Johnny emphasises its role in setting the stage for the sensory experience to come.

Choosing the Right Portion Size

Irish cheese board

With the perfect cheese board assembled, the focus now shifts to portion control.

Choosing the right amount of cheese ensures a delightful and balanced experience for everyone. A helpful rule of thumb is to consider the number of guests. For an intimate gathering of two, aiming for around 100 grams of cheese per person allows for a luxurious and flavorful exploration.

As the party size expands, so too can the cheese bounty. For a larger group of six, adjusting the portion to 200 grams per person provides a satisfying selection without overwhelming palates.

This strategy ensures there is enough cheese for everyone to savour the variety while preventing unwanted leftovers. Yet, these are just starting points. Factors like the richness of the cheeses, the inclusion of accompaniments like crackers and fruit, and the overall meal composition can influence portion sizes. By considering these elements, you can ensure your cheeseboard is the perfect centrepiece for any gathering.

Presenting Your Masterpiece

Irish cheese board

The cheese board transforms into a culinary artist’s canvas, with the cheeses themselves acting as vibrant paints. To create a visually stunning masterpiece, Johnny has a few artistic tips:

  1. Play with Shapes and Sizes: Achieve balance by contrasting wedges of hard cheese, like cheddar or manchego, with crumbles of soft cheese, such as goat cheese, and artistic slices of blue cheese. This variety in form adds visual interest and caters to different serving preferences.
  1. Guide the Palate: Just as a painter guides the viewer’s eye, strategically arrange the cheeses to lead guests on a flavourful adventure. Consider starting with milder options like brie and moving towards stronger cheeses like gorgonzola. This allows palates to gradually adjust and appreciate the full range of flavours.
  1. Leave Room for Supporting Acts: The cheese may be the star, but it does not have to perform a solo act. Do not overcrowd the board—reserve designated areas for the supporting players. This creates a sense of order and allows each element to shine. 

When it comes to the number of cheeses, there is room for both minimalist and expansive approaches. While the French may favour a classic three-cheese board, featuring a representation from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk, cheese enthusiast Johnny believes in a more adventurous spread. “For a special occasion, five cheeses is ideal,” he advises. This allows for a wider play on textures and flavours.

From the sharp bite of an aged cheddar to the creamy indulgence of a triple-crème brie, a five-cheese selection ensures a delightful journey for every cheese lover, regardless of their preference. The additional cheeses provide more opportunities for exploration and discovery, encouraging guests to experiment with pairings and find their own perfect bites.

Ultimately, the ideal number of cheeses depends on your personal preference and the occasion. Whether you choose three or five, remember to select high-quality cheeses with distinct personalities to create a truly memorable cheese board experience.

The Art of Pairing

Irish cheese board

Cheese boards are all about creating a harmonious interplay of flavours and textures. To truly elevate your Irish cheese board and showcase the unique character of Irish cheeses, Johnny recommends incorporating these accompaniments:

Crackers

  1. Oatcakes: No Irish cheese board is complete without classic Irish oatcakes. These hearty, crumbly oatcakes provide a neutral base that won’t overpower the cheese.
  1. Brown Bread: Slices of Guinness brown bread, with its subtle sweetness and hint of malt flavour, pair beautifully with creamy Irish cheeses like smoked Gubbeen or a tangy Cashel Blue.
  1. Water Crackers and Rye Bread: For a more versatile option, include a selection of water crackers and rye bread slices. These offer a neutral canvas for stronger cheeses while still adding a satisfying crunch.

Chutneys and Pickles

  1. Irish Whiskey chutney: This unique chutney, infused with the warmth of Irish whiskey, complements a variety of Irish cheeses. Its sweet and tangy notes pair particularly well with sharp cheddars like Coolea or a creamy Kerrygold cheddar.
  1. Onion Marmalade: A classic chutney option, onion marmalade adds a touch of sweetness and savoury depth. It’s a great partner for robust cheeses like smoked Gubbeen or a mature cheddar.
  1. Pickles: Tangy cornichons or pickled shallots add a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of cheese. They also help cleanse the palate between bites, allowing guests to fully appreciate the range of flavours.

Jams and Preserves

  1. Irish Fruit Jams: Showcase the bounty of Irish fruits with a selection of locally-made jams or preserves. Options like tart gooseberry jam or sweet blackberry compote pair beautifully with creamy cheeses like brie or a mild cheddar.
  1. Honey: A drizzle of local honey adds a touch of floral sweetness and complements a variety of cheeses, from mild to strong.

By incorporating these accompaniments alongside your selection of Irish cheeses, you create a delightful tasting experience that celebrates the unique flavours of the Emerald Isle.

Conclusion

With a final flourish, Johnny arranges a sprig of fresh rosemary beside the creamy goat cheese, completing his masterpiece. A wide smile spreads across his face as he takes a step back to admire his creation.

This cheese board transcends a mere platter of food; it’s a celebration of Irish cheesemaking artistry. Each selection, carefully chosen, tells a story—the tangy Cashel Blue whispers of salty sea breezes, the rich and smoky Gubbeen speaks of age-old traditions, and the creamy Kerrygold whispers of lush green pastures.

It’s a journey of textures and flavours, a testament to the passion and dedication poured into every step of production by Irish cheesemakers.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:02)
Hi, everyone. My name is Johnny MacDole. I’m the Chief Taster and Cheesemonger here at Indy Food in Cumber and also on the Ormo Road. Indy Food was established seven years ago by myself and my business partner, Laura Bradley, where we specialise, particularly in Irish food, fruit from our wonderful island. Whether that’s these wonderful cheeses in front of me here, some lovely short cooterry, ice cream, relishes, balsamic vinegar, and oils. Everything is available from the island of Ireland in IndieFood, and also on our website, indiefood. Com. As you know, here at Indie Food, cheese is our speciality. We have a range of over 60 cheeses from all around the island of Ireland. I’m often asked, how do you make the perfect cheese board? Today, I’m going to give you a little example of what I think is the perfect cheese board made up of traditional Irish cheeses. The first one I’m going to start today was with the hard cheese, Kulatin Chitter. It’s a raw milk Chetter made by Tom Burgess in Wicklow. It’s beautiful, brothy, strong, and excellent start to any cheeseboard. The second cheese I’m going to show you is a sheep’s cheese, and it’s a Pecorino Manchego style called Cauchetier, Cheese of the Land, made by Barry Callahan in Tipperere, in Tully Glass.

Speaker 1 (01:44)
It’s a wonderful hard caramele cheese. It’s wonderful on any cheese board. Another perfect addition to cheese board, of course, is a soft cheese. We have a couple of options here in Indie Food. We have the lovely Ballylist from Armaa, which comes in a single and triple cream version. That’s your Burry style or your mole-grind style. We also have a washed-grind cheese. Instead of letting that mole go, we wash it in a salty brown. That’s done by Jeff Aguil, Endurus and West Cork. Also, I think you need to have a little bit of goat cheese. Today, I’ve got a couple in front of me. Here’s a wonderful little ash pyramid. Here’s by Larry Maguire Galway. Lovely and soft and creamy and zesty goat cheese. But you can also have a hard Goach Cheese. This one’s a Tom style, and it’s made by Corleggy in County Caven. Tom and Silka Crop make this aged traditionally, about three months old. That’s lovely and nutty and sweet. A lovely hard raw milk Goach Cheese. Finally, you got to finish with the blue, and the best blue in Ireland, in my opinion, is Youngbok. Youngbok is made by a good friend of mine, Mike Thompson in Newtonards.

Speaker 1 (02:47)
It’s a young stilton in style, raw milk, and slight sweet notes, and I would say tropical notes to it. But again, you need to have a blue on your cheese board. But one final addition and one secret, I always I like to have a little bit of smoked cheese. In Ireland, we love our smoked cheese. Often, maybe you just don’t put that on your cheese board. You have to maybe serve it with your… Maybe your aperitif at the start of the meal because it can be that slight stronger taste. This one I have in front of me is smoked drumming. Again, this is made by Corlegghi Cheeses in County Cavan, smoked naturally over Beach. It’s a wonderful aperitif cheese. I think all these together make a wonderful cheese board. If you go to France, they can often say three cheeses. It has to be a cow, a sheep, and a goat. I would agree with that. I like to have one of each on the board. But for a special occasion, especially that evening supper or soirée that you’re holding, five cheeses is always ideal. A hard, a soft, a cows, a blues, and a goats always line up for me for the perfect cheeseboard.

Speaker 1 (03:57)
I’m just in the middle of cutting some of our cheeses for our perfect cheese board. And today I’m going to show you one of our chief tools, the Dutch knife. The Cauchetier, which I showed you a little bit earlier, which is our Sheeps Manchego from Tally Glass, needs the Dutch knife. It’s firm, it’s hard, and it takes a little bit of extra cutting. So now we’ve got the cheese. It’s time to set up that perfect cheese board. Typically, for, say, a couple, I would advise a nice 100-gram portion. I’ve got that Snook cheese for 100 grammes. Maybe if you’re having a party of six, I’ve got 200-gram piece here of the chatter. I’m also adding on the Cauchet here. You saw me cut with the Dutch knife. That lovely knock-dub Goats Cheese Pyramid from Galway, the Durace from West Cork, and finally, my favourite, and always at the end of the cheese board, the Young Buck from Ute Nard. I’d always add some crackers and chutney as well. Today I’ve chose, I love these, app and rye, little crisp breads, little soda bread toast with some cranberry seeds in them. They go lovely in any cheese board.

Speaker 1 (05:09)
Come in that delicious box. Also from Corleggi, a lovely little port jelly. Again, lovely local produce and the perfect accompaniment to any really good cheeseboard..

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