Durrus Cheese from Ireland

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Super delicious semi-soft washed rind cheese from West Cork

Somewhere, somehow, in the late 17th century, around the time the story of the Convulsionairres (see Trevor Dunn’s new album below) was unfolding in all its amazing strangeness, traditional Irish cheese essentially disappeared. Why? Best I can tell, no one knows. Or if they do, it’s a bit like that story from the Sahel: they don’t or won’t tell it because then it will have been heard. I suppose the mystery of it is appropriate, since, as Manchán Magan writes, Ireland is a place where “the superiority of history over legend was never established, nor was there a clear line drawn between them.”

Two centuries or so later, in the late 1970s, artisan cheese made a nearly miraculous return to the Irish food scene. I hope it’s not too sacrilegious to think of it as something akin to the “Resurrection of Cheeses.” By the time I went to Ireland for the first time in 1989 (I loved it so much, I’ve been back about 20 times), a dozen or so Irish artisan cheesemakers had started up again. There were also of course some big factories making “block” cheese, but it was the artisans I was interested in. Out on the West Coast, there was a trio of terrific washed rind cheeses all made by amazing women who led the work to revive Irish traditional cheese. Amazingly, impressively and inspiringly, all three cheeses are still being made in marvelous form nearly 40 years down the river of Irish culinary history. Giana Ferguson’s family’s Gubbeen down in Schull, the Steele family making Milleens in Eyeries, and Jeffa Gill and daughter crafting Durrus in the town of the same name.

Like my friend Natalie Chanin (she’ll be here at the Roadhouse on Tuesday, April 11 doing an event around her new book Embroidery), Jeffa Gill originally went to design school in Dublin and London. In the early 70s, she came back to West Cork and bought a small farm on a hill in the valley of Coomkeen close to Durrus, at the head of the Mizen Head and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of the world, one of the elements of the Irish landscape that led me to fall in love with the island. Inspired by the cheese work of her friend Veronica Steele at Milleens, Jeffa started making small washed rind wheels of cheese as well. By 1984, Durrus was winning awards.

The Durrus cheese itself is always delicious and the wheels that arrived at the end of last week are particularly lovely. Selected and matured for us by our friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy (a magical and coincidental connection that happened while I was visiting Gubbeen on that same first trip!), Durrus is soft, creamy, and smooth with a texture that’s both typical and terrific in washed rind cheeses of this sort. Think Reblochon or Muenster from France—or in the U.S. now, Harbison from the folks at Jasper Hill in Vermont. It’s meaty and marvelously substantial! Eat it as-is with a bit of Bakehouse baguette! In the spirit of Muenster, the Durrus is crazy good sprinkled with some of that Uzbek wild cumin seed we get from the Épices de Cru folks! You can also melt it on potatoes, or in a nod to my friends at Fumbally Café in Dublin, add slices of soft Durrus to your scrambled eggs.

Order a copy of Manchán Magan’s Listen to the Landscape, bring home some Durrus and a Bakehouse baguette, drink a glass of wine, and consider going to Ireland with the Zingerman’s Food Tour crew in September! It will change your life!