Monday, July 15, 2024

How a Master Cheesemaker Perfected An Irish Smoked Cheese

Stepping onto Gubbeen in West Cork, Ireland, feels like visiting the storybook definition of a farm: it’s lush, emerald green, and full of happily moo-ing cows. “The farm is the backbone of everything,” reflects Fingal Ferguson. Now a 250-acre dairy farm, the Fergusons started making cheese in the 1970s when matriarch Giana started experimenting with the process in her kitchen. “I remember my mom having these bits of plastic piping and cheese cloth and wooden disks that would be used to press the curd,” Fingal recalls. “It all started there, from this one big pot, being able to make one or two cheeses.”

Word quickly spread about the creamy, rind-washed cheese coming from Gubbeen. “I remember mom walking through town one day and somebody grabbed her [and said], ‘Where did you buy that cheese? Where did you get that?’ And she said, ‘I made it.’ And they said, ‘Could you make me some more? I’d love some.’” When Fingal was a teenager, he and dad Tom built the first smoker at Gubbeen, which was later used to create a smoked version of Giana’s signature cheese — as well as a number of smoked meat products, from chorizo to salami. “People kind of turned to me and said like, who’s going to eat salami? We’re Irish. We just want bacon and cabbage and ham and those things. But the Irish are quite adventurous,” says Ferguson. Gubbeen’s meats are now flavored by sister Clovis’s on-site, biodynamic garden produce. Seasonal herbs and vegetables are added to limited batches of product, making each batch unique.

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Enter Lee Tiernan, a London-based chef who first started using Gubbeen during his time at legendary London restaurant St. John’s. “I liked Gubbeen before I even knew the Fergusons. I was confident in its flavor, and knew people were going to enjoy it with the cheese plate. And then I started putting it on potatoes, and I had all this rind left over.” Tiernan created a signature cream sauce using the rinds as a base, which he poured over potatoes. He posted about it online, catching the attention of Giana Ferguson. The two struck up a virtual friendship, and Giana quickly invited Lee and his wife Kate to Gubbeen. Although they planned for a day trip, their journey turned into a two-night stay. “We’ve been rolling along nicely since that day,” recalls Tiernan fondly.

Tiernan now owns his own restaurant, Formerly Known As Black Axe Mangal, in London’s Islington neighborhood. Known for serving bold, inventive dishes, Tiernan relishes the opportunity to use Gubbeen ingredients every chance he gets. “I don’t know any other vendors the way I know the Fergusons,” Tiernan muses. Watch the full video to learn more about how the cheese (and sausage) are made at Gubbeen — and prized by chefs like Lee Tiernan.

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