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The Irish Cheese Revolutionaries Are Coming to Turin

The Slow Food Presidium for Tanag, Grus, Tath and other raw-milk Irish cheeses is coming to the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre…

Cheese has a long tradition in Ireland, with cheesemaking on the island documented back to the 8th century. Tanag and Grus, pressed skimmed-milk cheeses, the fresh cheese Faiscre Grotha and acid-curdled Tath are just a few examples of the extraordinary diversity of traditional Irish cheeses. Yet since the 1960s, this variety of flavors has been gradually supplanted by standardized industrial production.

The Irish Raw Milk Cheese Presidium was founded in 2005 to protect artisanal production, and involves a dozen producers around the country. “The Presidium has had a strong impact on Irish cheese production,” says one of the Presidium cheesemakers, Peter Thomas. “It protects by-now rare cheeses, helping producers with all their efforts. Raw-milk cheeses give cheesemakers a chance to concentrate on the essentials, on ingredients, on artisanal knowledge. The project’s cheeses, by the way, don’t require the expensive equipment needed to make industrial cheeses.”

Irish raw-milk cheeses are the silent witnesses to incredible stories, like that of Jeffa Gill, who makes Durrus, a semi-soft washed-rind cheese from Cork. Jeffa was one of the first figures to lead the revolution that shook Ireland’s cheesemaking world from the 1970s on. Jeffa has not moved far from the kitchen where she started making Durrus in 1979: Now she works in a small adjacent building, converted into a workshop. Durrus is one of the most highly esteemed artisanal Irish cheeses, offering complex and fruity flavors and reaching its peak after five to eight weeks of aging.

“Since the Presidium was started in 2005, the production of raw-milk cheeses has gone up 50 percent and thanks to the project, some industrial producers have converted to small-scale production,” said Peter. “The project has highlighted the passion the cheesemakers share and allowed us to promote our hard work. How? Most of all through educational initiatives.” According to Peter, education and awareness-raising for producers and consumers are key to guaranteeing a future for raw-milk cheeses in Ireland.

In October, Peter will be in Turin for the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2012 with his Bellingham Blue, along with other Presidium producers and their cheeses. “The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre will be a chance to meet other producers working in the same spirit,” said Peter. “We can’t wait to present the rich diversity of Irish raw-milk cheeses to the visitors.”

Slow Food Ireland has been supporting a campaign for raw milk (www.rawmilkireland.com). While the sale of cheese is allowed, unpasteurized milk is at risk. The government has long threatened to ban its distribution, though it still hasn’t made a final decision.

Peter remembers going around to nearby farms during the holidays when he was a child and “borrowing” freshly milked milk. “People should be able to choose: If the right measures are taken, there is no reason to ban the sale of raw milk. I grew up drinking it and it never did me any harm.”

Find out more:
Slow Cheese
Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2012

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