It wasn’t exactly a Road to Damascus moment, but I do remember trying Epoisses on my first day working in a cheese shop and thinking, “Hmmm, now there’s something.” Still, I’d never have imagined that 8 or 9 years later, I’d still be working with bad milk: that’s what cheese is essentially – milk which has been spoiled on purpose and allowed to develop into something else. I suppose that’s what happened with me too – what started out as a passing interest in an area of food that I didn’t know much about beyond the fact that I liked it (I was working as a chef part-time when I wandered into Sheridan’s on Pembroke Lane looking for more hours to fill out the week), has become a whole lot more.
Cheese is very much a community, the most important part of which is the farmers and cheesemakers who are at the coal-face every day working hard to make the incredible cheeses which people like me then get to select and try to share with others – spread the message as it were. Working in Fallon and Byrne as the manager of cheese and charcuterie has been a lot of fun in that respect, in that the focus is always on trying to have the very best of everything and I’ve been afforded almost complete autonomy in selecting the range of cheese we sell. That has meant consolidating what was already an incredible selection of cheeses from Ireland and across the rest of Europe and adding a few more unusual ones which hadn’t been seen here before. Of the over 100 cheeses that we now stock at the counter, almost 20 are unique to Fallon and Byrne in Ireland. It’s hardly a glamorous life at either end of the scale but it runs on passion and that’s evident every step along the way, whether it’s the farmer getting out of bed at half four in the morning every single day of the year or the brimming enthusiasm of someone who’s just discovered a new taste they never knew existed before – all because somebody let the milk go bad.
Comté Grand Cru: If I were to pick one cheese to recommend this year, it would be this one. It’s just hard to beat Comté – it has the perfect balance of sweetness and nuttiness whilst still retaining a backbone of lactic integrity. We do 3 different ages, this being the oldest at a minimum of 24 months, (though we’ve had some wheels up to 38 months). These specially selected wheels represent less than 1% of total Comté production, so are pretty rare. It’s packed full of crystallised calcium, giving a wonderful crunchiness to the texture with the sort flavour complexity you’d be more likely to expect from a dish at a Michelin Star restaurant. The finish goes on forever, with notes of cooked apple, hazelnut and confited onion. Without question, one of the best things there is to eat anywhere. €42/kg
Current Favourite: Something of a moveable feast really. Right now, I’m enjoying a blue buffalo milk cheese from Italy called Blu di Bufala. All things being equal though, Roquefort in peak condition is untouchable I think.
Best-Seller: If the 3 Comte were counted as one, then Comte by a million miles. Other than that, Parmesan.
Donal Flynn @astrofact9