Ardrahan: An Irish Beauty

If ever there were a “sensuous” category for cheese, Ardrahan just might rock top placement. It is, in a word, plush. Picture a round cushion of a cheese, give it a satiny gold finish and a rich texture, then meditate on this: peanuts, wild mushrooms, a whiff of pasture. It’s cheese nirvana.

Ardrahan hails from county Cork, Ireland, where it’s made by reknowned cheesemaker Mary Burns. Mary began making cheese at her family’s eighteenth century farmhouse back in the early ‘80s. She is known for the quality milk she draws from her stock, a herd of about 130 Friesians that have grazed this hilly countryside for generations.

This cheese reminds me of Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a stellar washed rind from California, but Ardrahan is lighter because it’s made with whole milk, not cream. It contains only 25% fat, but it’s got the mouthfeel of a buttery Brie. When you cut into it, Ardrahan clings to the knife, like frosting. Yeahhh.

Surprisingly, this is a pasteurized cheese, and it’s made with vegetable rennet rather than animal rennet (the traditional method). Still, Ardrahan is full of the complexity one typically finds in raw-milk cheeses. The rind is especially tasty, in my opinion – slightly sticky, as if glazed, and full of nutty notes.

I like to eat Ardrahan unadulterated, preferably on a chaise lounge, with a snifter of Scotch in hand, or a pint of Guinness. On her website, Mary Burns suggests a quick supper of baked mushrooms and Ardrahan on buttered toast. Why not? The cheese melts beautifully, and the earthy flavors in the vegetables are a lovely accompaniment.