With the faint promise of spring hanging in the air, it seemed only right that the first cheese out of the Pong Cheese Irish Selection Box should be the goat’s cheese. It’s at this time of year that fresh goat and ewe’s milk cheeses start to proliferate after a winter break when the animals tend not to give milk. As with the other cheeses in the box, St Tola is not shy and retiring, in appearance or taste:
St Tola Ash Log is a soft, pasteurised (in this case, although they also make a raw milk version) goat’s milk cheese produced by Siobhan ni Ghairbhith of Inagh Farmhouse Cheeses near Ennistymon in County Clare. Their farm lies just ten miles from the wild Atlantic coast, with lush meadows fed by reliable rainfall and a boggy peat soil. The cheese was originally developed in the late 1970s by neighbours Meg and Derrick Gordon. Having schooled Siobhan in the art of cheesemaking, when they decided to retire in 1999 Siobhan and her partner John were the natural successors to the business.
The milk comes from a herd of 300 goats – a mix of Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine – which graze on 65 acres of herb and flower-speckled pastures. They are milked twice a day and the milk is warmed and pumped into muslin bags. Animal rennet is used to help separate the curds from the whey, a process which takes 24 hours. On the following day, the bags are winched up to allow the whey to drain away. On day three the curd is mixed with salt and gently ladled into moulds to drain further.
The next stage is to cover the cheese in a thin layer of food-grade charcoal. Many soft goat’s cheeses are traditionally rolled in ash like this as its alkalinity helps to neutralize the natural acicidity of the cheese which slows down ripening. It also apparently attracts a more even spread of mould which adds a creaminess to the cheese, as well as creating the perfect environment for a ‘brainy’ Geotrichum rind to grow. As you can see from the photo above, my cheese was oozing out from under its rind, which itself had started to slip away from the paste within.
The centre of the cheese has the texture of firm ice-cream and a light, herbal taste whereas, towards the rind, the cheese is almost runny and has complex, spicier notes. The flavour of goat is definitely there but not overpoweringly so. All round, a great goaty addition to a cheeseboard.
With additional research from Celtic Life International.
Disclosure: I was sent an Irish Selection Box by Pong Cheese for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.