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Say Cheese: Two beauties from Neal's Yard

Coolea, an Irish gouda. (Domenica Marchetti)

I am notoriously indecisive, a less-than-enviable quality in most circumstances, to be sure, but good in this case. Since I couldn’t decide which of two fine cheeses to feature in today’s post, I’m featuring both. They’re vastly different, but have one thing in common: they are both distributed by the knowledgeable folks at Neal’s Yard Dairy. The London-based company buys and sells cheeses from all over the British Isles and Ireland, and many of those cheeses spend time in Neal’s Yard own maturing rooms.

First, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we have Coolea, a lovely golden-hued, award-winning Irish ... gouda? That’s right, and actually it makes perfect sense. Coolea is the creation of Dick and Helene Willems, one-time Amsterdam restaurateurs who in the late 1970s left city life behind and moved to a remote part of Cork County, Ireland. They began making cheese as a hobby, using an old Dutch recipe for gouda.

Coolea, named for the area of Cork where the farm is located, proved to be so popular among friends and family that it quickly flourished. The Willems retired in 1999 and the cheese is now made by their son, Dickie, and his wife, Sinead. Coolea (say coo-LAY) has been winning awards since 1983, and in 2008 was named best mature gouda in the World Cheese Awards.

The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. The curd is pressed into large wheels, brined, and then brushed with a wax-like coating (plasticote). The wheels aged by Neal’s Yard are matured for a year, and the aging gives the cheese a rich, mellow flavor and a creamy-firm texture. The interior of the cheese is a glowing gold, smooth but for a few small holes here and there. It’s as good as a good aged Dutch gouda, savory and nutty, like salty butterscotch.

Immediately upon tasting it I thought of pasta, so one night I grated it over spaghetti that I had tossed with butter and baby spinach leaves. Believe it or not, I didn’t even miss the parm.

The other Neal’s Yard cheese that tickled my fancy is Ticklemore goat cheese, made by Sharpham Creamery, in Devon.

Ticklemore may bring up thoughts of a certain ex-congressman, but don't let that stop you from trying it. (Domenica Marchetti)

I admit it was the name that first caught my attention while I was browsing the display case at Cheesetique. How could you not want to know more about a cheese called Ticklemore? Turns out the name refers to the dairy that first started making the cheese about 20 years ago. A few years ago, Ticklemore decided to focus exclusively on three blue cheeses it was producing, and turned its goat cheese recipe over to Debbie Mumford at Sharpham.

Ticklemore is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest cheeses I’ve seen; saucer-shaped, with pronounced ridges from the basket in which it’s drained, and a bloomy white coating over a pale buff-colored rind. Whole, it looks like a large, bleached seashell. But when you cut into it, it’s pure cheesecake. Beneath the rind is a thin, supple brie-like layer that gives way to a dense, flaky off-white center. Sarah Mason, the manager at Cheesetique who turned me on to Ticklemore, described the cheese perfectly: “It’s goat cheese masquerading as cow’s milk cheese.” The rind is firm but chewy and edible, with a slightly bitter finish. The interior is first creamy and slightly mushroomy, then crumbly, herby, and almost sweet. My favorite way to enjoy it? Slightly cooler than room temperature, thickly sliced and spread on a slice of good crusty bread.

-- Domenica Marchetti
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  March 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese  
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