International Rules: Ireland vs Australia

What do Ireland and Australia have in common? Well, besides being English-speaking islands with small populations, they also have similar sports. So similar, in fact, are Australian rules football and Gaelic football, that since 1967 the two countries have occasionally played each other in a hybrid version of their games which they call International Rules.

It’s a different kind of international rules we’re concerned with today though, namely the rules regarding the production of cheese using raw milk, and here again the two countries have something in common. Government pressure to use pasteurized milk in Ireland means farmhouse producers making cheese the traditional way are a dying breed, while in Australia the mountain of red tape required for raw milk cheese production would put the Old World bureaucracies to shame.

Nonetheless, there are cheesemakers defending raw milk in both countries, and we’re bringing them together for a Taste Workshop: Ireland and Australia: raw milk and cheesemakers who resist on Saturday, September 21 at 7 p.m.

BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW!

IRISH RAW MILK CHEESES

There’s been a Slow Food Presidium in place for Irish Raw Milk Cheeses whose history stretches back to 2005, uniting producers on both sides of the border. One of those is James Gannon of Cloonconra Moiley in County Roscommon, central Ireland.

“It’s called Moiley because all the milk comes from our herd of pedigree Irish Moiled cattle. Moiled comes from the Gaelic word maol, meaning polled—without horns. Though we’ve also added a Droimeann cow to the herd; they’re another ancient Irish endangered breed, recently proven to be genetically distinct and recognized as such by the Department of Agriculture.”

Raw milk cheese from Irish Moiled cows. Photo: Cloonconra Cheese Facebook page

“This is a small 14-hectare organic farm with old pastures. Part is on an EU Special Area of Conservation because of the unusual juxtaposition of alkaline hills and acid peat soils. The rare breed cows do not have a long lactation and dry out when the grass disappears in autumn. The flavor and texture of the cheese changes through the season and even from field to field as we rotate them.”

“Without the support of the Presidium I would have no possibility of survival. The Department of Agriculture has forced most producers to pasteurize; there’s not many left making cheese with their own milk on their farms.”

NORTHERN INNOVATION

In Northern Ireland, another member of the Presidium, Mike Thomson, has forged his own little piece of dairy history by resurrecting a tradition that had been lost: making cheese with raw milk! After working at a deli in Belfast and developing a taste for cheese Mike went to study cheesemaking at the School of Artisan Food in England. He went on to become the head cheesemaker at Sparkenhoe (the only artisan producers of raw milk Red Leicester) and finally returned home with a single ambition: to make a raw milk cheese of his own.

Mike Thomson in his shop, Mike’s Fancy Cheese. Photo: Cathedralquarterbelfast.com

“It’s called Young Buck. The biggest challenge was finding a farmer who wanted to sell us raw milk. We finally convinced a young farmer who’d recently taken over his dad’s place. His cows graze outside from May to October and eat some wholegrain wheat in the winter. We started out making cheese with batches of 300 or 400 liters of milk once or twice a week. Now we’re making cheese three times a week with batches of 1000 liters. We might go up to four or five times a week in order to satisfy the Christmas demand. Obviously, Brexit is a huge worry for us, as right now we can sell to restaurants and shops in the Republic and send cheese in the post no problem. In the future we might have to go through a wholesaler. Then there’s our shop in Belfast where we sell a lot of Presidium cheeses from the Republic. All that would be at risk.”

Tomme de Chévre. Photo: Cupitt.com.au

THE STRUGGLE DOWN UNDER

On the other side of the world, 17,000 km in New South Wales, Australia, Rosie Cupitt is at the vanguard of a nascent raw milk cheesemaking movement which is having to fight for every inch of progress.

“I only make a hard alpine-style cheese with raw milk—Tomme de Chévre. The rules stipulate that the milk must be from a single herd and cooked to at least 48 degrees Celsius and aged for at least 120 days, then micro-testing must be done on five batches before you can sell the product.”

“I’d like to be able to make my whole range of cheeses with raw milk, which would include lactics and soft-rennet cheeses. I don’t disagree with micro-testing if you say “raw milk” to the Food Authority their reaction is disproportionately vigilant, and that comes from ignorance. We need more taste education among the general public of what cheese should be, as well as the legal right to make whatever raw milk cheeses we want. The dairy industry and the Food Authority need to recognize us and support us instead of treating us like a novelty that don’t belong in the industry.”

CREATING NEW, NATIVE AUSTRALIAN CHEESE

A mere 1300 kilometers from Rosie’s house in Ulladulla there’s another woman cheesemaker creating entirely new cheeses using native Australian ingredients: Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese Wrights in Adelaide, South Australia. And she’s bringing them to Cheese!

“I started making cheese by accident 20 years ago. It just so happened that milk was being delivered that day and there was no-one else around to work it so I had a go myself. I spent a year just playing around, experimenting, and at the time raw milk cheese was illegal so it was all just for private consumption.”

Picasso, by Kris Lloyd, a native Australian cheese. Photo: Woodside Cheese Instagram

“We’ve been making  for three years now, and it’s a unique product in that it contains native Australian ingredients including saltbush and wild flowers. The milk comes from a single small herd of buffalo, just 50 animals, raised by a single farmer. Even the starter is made in-house using yoghurt and Geotrichum candium mold we grow ourselves, so it’s about as natural a cheese as you can get. That’s a real challenge for a lot of Australian cheesemakers: there’s so few selected starter cultures available, it really homogenizes the taste of the pasteurized cheeses.”

TENACITY AND PRECARITY

As should be obvious, the will and ambition of these cheesemakers is strong enough to confront the regulatory difficulties and persevere, thereby maintaining and expanding a more natural cheesemaking culture for the future. But at the same time, the situation is highly precarious. We’re depending on a truly tiny group of people to continue in their hard work and keep artisanal cheese alive. In the spirit of the International Rules football game, at Cheese we bring these Irish and Australian champions together to share how much they have in common, and that these are traditions worth defending!

Come and taste the best of artisanal Irish and Australian cheese at he Taste Workshop: Ireland and Australia: raw milk and cheesemakers who resist will be held on Saturday, September 21 at 7 p.m.

BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW!

Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Popular tags: