Ardrahan is a semi-firm, washed-rind cheese.
Inside the cheese is butter-coloured, with a texture something like a firm camembert. As the cheese ages, it takes on a smokey, tangy flavour.
The thin, crusy rind is slightly sticky, and has a salty, nutty-taste.
Ardrahan Cheese is a bit smelly. The smell comes from Brevibacterium linens bacteria on the rind, the same bacteria that is on Limburger Cheese.
Ardrahan is made by Mary Burns and her son Gerald in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland using pasteurized milk from Friesian cows on her farm, curdled with vegetarian rennet.
The cheese is pressed into its moulds, then as it ages is washed several times with brine.
Ardrahan Cheese is sold in small (10 ½ / 300 g) and large (50 oz / 1.4 kg) rounds. The larger rounds are aged about 2 months.
You eat the rind of Ardrahan Cheese. When the cheese gets too old, though, the rind will take on a bit of a bitter taste, and then you may wish to cut it off.
Mary Burns started her cheese business with her husband, Eugene (died 2000), in 1983. Eugene’s father had established their cow herd in 1925.
Mary Burns is one of those who switched over from raw milk cheese to pasteurised. She and her late husband Eugene started making Ardrahan at their eighteenth-century farmhouse in the rolling hills of North Cork in 1983 with milk from their own herd. ‘When we started it was very strong – we’ve modified the flavour since,’ Mary says, ‘and we couldn’t sell it in Ireland. But we realised that tourists were buying it, so Eugene took some to market in France.’ Eugene, who, she says fondly, ‘was as big as this room’, took his first consignment to Paris in November 1984, speaking no French. After that, he took a tonne every five weeks for the next three-and-a-half years. ‘It was the easiest money we ever made.’ But one of their cows contracted TB and they had to shut down production. ‘The French couldn’t even understand why we’d shut down. It cost us a fortune. Eugene said, if we go back, we’re only doing it one way.’ So they started pasteurising and, overnight, lost their entire French market.
Fortunately, British consumers also appreciated the tangy, earthy taste of golden-rinded Ardrahan, and Mary still takes 500 gallons of milk a day from her 130 cows and neighbouring herds, and sells 80 per cent of her cheeses in Britain. She also makes a smoked cheese, ‘which is for a completely different market’. Ardrahan can be eaten at five weeks, although it has a richer, more complex flavour at eight, and when Eugene Burns first started taking it to France, it was selling at 14. ‘He took some samples to London once and he noticed that people were moving away from him in the Tube. By the time he reached Piccadilly Circus, there wasn’t a single other person in the carriage.’ — Bedell, Geraldine. An Irish Round. Manchester: The Observer. 9 March 2003.