March Features

by Matt Hart in Cheese

This month we’ll have a split focus in cheese featuring our favorite local cow’s milk farm as well as some internationally-known Irish cheeses in honor of the one, the only, the deceased: Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Let’s begin with our local feature, shall we? 

We’ll be featuring three fabulous cheeses made by Flo, Portia and their devoted crew at North Carolina’s own Chapel Hill Creamery.

Chapel Hill Creamery

Flo and Portia of Chapel Hill Creamery

The Chapel Hill Creamery, located just a few miles from the Southern Season mother ship, is positioned on a rural patch of ground just outside of downtown Carrboro. The farm is currently home to 24 milking Jersey cows who graze rotationally on 37 lush, green acres of land. Portia and Flo specifically chose Jersey cows for their rich, delicious milk and prolific output. For those of you who live in the area, I highly recommend visiting their farm during farm tour season, as it is a beautiful, tranquil environment full of happy animals cared for by happy farmhands.

Chapel Hill Creamery Calf

A new Chapel Hill Creamery calf. Eleven calves were born this season. Soon their milking herd will total 35.

The three Chapel Hill Creamery cheeses we’ll be featuring are as follows:

Easily one of my favorite cheeses made in North Carolina. Calvander, named after a small junction near the border of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, is crafted in the spirit of an aged Asiago using a traditional Asiago recipe. Calling Calvander an Asiago, however, sells it short in my opinion, as this cheese has a unique taste all its own. Spicy, buttery and complex, this raw milk cheese commands your attention upon first introduction, and as you get to know Calvander better, I guarantee you’ll be a fan for life!Calvandar from Chapel Hill Creamery

Carolina Moon
Carolina Moon is Chapel Hill Creamery’s Camembert style cheese. It’s grassy, creamy, delicate and mushroom-y! This mold-ripened beaut took Best in State as well as Best in Show at the North Carolina State Fair International Cheese Competition last summer and most recently received a shout out in the Wall Street Journal. 

Hickory Grove
Ever changing, ever evolving, Hickory Grove is the Creamery’s self-proclaimed “Trappist-style cheese” named for the Hickory Grove Baptist Church that lurks just outside the edge of the farm property. Treated with brevibacterium linens, washed in a salt brine and aged for at least 90 days, this cheese is by far their most unpredictable offering. Hickory Grove is always flavorful, always raw, always interesting!
Come by for a taste of our favorite locally produced cow’s milk cheeses!!! You’ll not regret it!

Now, on to St. Paddy’s Day:

March 17 is right around the corner. So strap on your riot gear and part the sea of drunken amateurs to make way for a Southern Season Cheese Counter near you!

I ranted an awful lot about the Valentine’s Day holiday phenomenon last month, so I’ll keep this strain of holiday bashing to a bare minimum… however, a cheese maker friend of mine at Capriole Farm and I were talking about the mess that is St. Patrick’s Day in the United States and how neither of us knew what that holiday was actually about. As a result, I did a little research and unearthed a few factoids I found interesting enough to share with you good people (I’m assuming you’re as ignorant as I am regarding St. Patrick’s Day… if so, I think you’ll find them interesting too):

1) Patrick of Ireland, although born of priestly stock, (both his father and grandfather were men of the cloth) was originally a nonbeliever and had no intention of becoming devout.
2) At age 16 he was captured by Irish pirates (Aaaargh!), taken from his homeland of Roman Britain and made a slave for 6 long years on the green island known as Ireland. It was during this trying period that Patrick pledged his allegiance to “the guy in the sky” and began his clerical studies.
3) Like so many other revered religious figureheads, Patrick had regular communications with the almighty in which he heard voices. One of these communications told Patrick that his time as a slave was almost over and that a ship was waiting to take him home.
4) Patrick finally made his way back to his family in England (via said ship) by his mid-twenties, but eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary.
5) St. Paddy’s Day falls on the patron Saint of Ireland’s date of departure from Earth and in Ireland is more a day of reflection than it is a mad, somewhat horrendous, drunken celebration.

ArdrahanSo what does this information have to do with cheese? Man, I wish I knew! What I do know is that there will be several people accosting us at the counter throughout the month of March, demanding that we lead them to whatever special Irish cheeses we’ve brought in specifically to honor the deceased Patrick of Ireland. So here it goes:

In honor of the pirates who stole young Patrick from his home, we give you one of our favorite Irish washed-rind cheeses: the mighty Ardrahan (but you have to say it like an Irish pirate “Arrrrrdrahan!”). Thanks to our South Carolina cheesemonger Elliot Jenrette for the Arrrrrdrahan/pirate idea, as Elliot featured this cheese last year on “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” and I’m simply stealing (or pirating, if you will) his perfect pirate pun. This farmstead cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk hails from Duhallow in County Cork, Ireland, a region renowned for its grasses as well as its clean, pristine environment. Ardrahan, hand crafted by Mary Burns since the 1980s, is aromatic, buttery, complex and earthy. Although each batch is unique, they all taste amazing! Sometimes Ardrahan arrives semi-firm, sometimes soft, and at times, completely falling apart. Regardless of its physical appearance, Ardrahan ALWAYS impresses folks who prefer their cheeses to showcase a little more than a little funk.

Cashel Blue

Another farmstead washed-rind cheese from County Cork, Ireland you’ll spot at the counter this month is Gubbeen. Made by the Ferguson family and, like Ardrahan, aged at the arches at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, Gubbeen is much more subtle and mild than the aforementioned stinker Ardrahan. We call Gubbeen a “gateway cheese,” as it’ll persuade those who straddle the fence of funk and peer over the edge wondering how any human being can derive pleasure from eating cheeses that smell so pungent. Gubbeen is just the sort of cheese that’ll knock said straddler over the fence to the funky side. Bring on the funk!

Last, but not least, in the coffin case this month you’ll find Ireland’s Cashel Blue. This ultra-creamy blue is rich and earthy, spreadable and delicious! It’ll be $2 off per pound all month long! Enjoy!

On a table we’re featuring Irish Dubliner. Most Americans are already familiar with Dubliner’s grainy texture, tangy flavor and sharp bite! We’ll have Dubliner at $1 off per pound while supplies last and we’ll be passively sampling this cheese all month long.

Whether you’ve tried these Irish cheeses or not, please do come by for a taste!