From the west of Ireland, Coolea is a rich and creamy cheese made to an old Dutch Gouda recipe by the Willems family on their mountain farm. Matured for twelve months it is beginning to develop buttery flavours with notes of caramel. Coolea has a smooth, close texture which firms with age as it also deepens in colour. It is covered in a thick yellow wax rind which must be removed before eating.
• Pasteurised cow's milk
• Traditional rennet
What's special about Coolea?Dick and Helene Willems moved from Holland to Ireland in the 1970s. They began making cheese as a hobby in the early 1980s on their farm near Macroom on the Cork / Kerry border in the west of Ireland. Naming their cheese after the nearby Coolea Mountains, they started their cheese business in 1986 and were soon joined by their son Dick Jnr who continues making Coolea today.
With a nod to the Willems' Dutch heritage, Coolea is a Gouda-style cheese. Gouda is one of The Netherlands best-known cheeses, accounting for around 60% of total domestic cheese production. Its name comes from the town of Gouda in Southern Holland which is home to one of Europe's largest cheese markets: Goudse Kassmart.
Similar to the techniques used to make English Cheddar, key stages in making Gouda are "scalding" and "pressing". Both drive out more moisture from the curd and make a very durable cheese. The milk-sweet fruity taste of Gouda comes from scalding and washing of the curd when some whey is drained off, removing with it some of the lactose. This lowers acidity since the activity of lactic bacteria is reduced, leaving behind a sweeter, more elastic curd.
Coolea is handmade from the full cream pasteurised milk of two local herds of Holstein Friesian cows. These herds graze different pastures in terms of wet and dry conditions, giving seasonal variation in the quality and flavour of their milk.
After the milk has been heated and starter culture and rennet added, the curd sets in around thirty minutes. Once cut into small pieces, whey is drained away and the curd washed to produce the characteristic sweeter, denser flavour of Coolea. Each cheese is pressed in moulds for six hours before the large wheels (each weighing between four and eight kilograms), are brushed by hand with bright yellow wax. This inedible rind protects the cheese and allows it to breath whilst it ripens, contributing to its flavour and texture.
Coolea is a multi-award winning cheese which is sold at three different ages of maturity: 'young' (around three months); 'mature' (twelve months) and 'extra mature' (over eighteen months). A flavoured variation is also made with cumin seeds. With age, Coolea becomes sweeter, reaching toffee flavours at the higher end of its age profile. The cheese also becomes drier as it matures and crunchy protein crystals are visible at around eighteen months maturity.
The extremely buttery flavour of mature Coolea pairs well with a Pinot Gris from Alsace or a chunky Chardonnay. It can also work with heavier reds or a dark beer.