Cheese Pairings from Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the food world’s best kept secrets, with artisan cheese makers and passionate producers providing an array of different types of cheese and an abundance of gastronomic delights. Through a combination of age-old traditions, local connections and diverse natural landscapes, this little corner of the world hosts a whole legion of diverse, award-winning producers. From velvety triple-cream bries and complex ale-washed cheddars to smoky whiskeys and rich, aged balsamics. This interconnectedness is not only a regional characteristic; the symbiotic nature of these lovingly crafted products is such that when paired together on a plate, an explosion of taste is enjoyed.
Top Five Cheese Pairings from Northern Ireland
Cheese pairings have come a long way from the retro marriages of cheddar and pineapple. They are now more sophisticated, more inventive, and certainly more flavoursome. Here, we have taken five of our favourite cheese varieties from Northern Ireland and paired them with some of the region’s best accompaniments.
1. Kearney Blue with a tot of Mourne Dew Distillery Pooka Hazelnut Poitin
The first ever Kearney Blue was made by hand in a kitchen pot near Kearney village on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, using pasteurised milk fresh from cows grazing on the Castlereagh Hills just outside of Belfast. It has a real depth of flavour: squidgy, rich and creamy, yet sharp and salty, with a subtle spiciness.
The Hazelnut Poitín liqueur is infused and distilled with roast hazelnuts to give a strong, rich nutty flavour which complements the flavour of the poitín spirit and the oaky notes arising from the storage of the spirit. The rich notes of fruit and nut chocolate cream fit seamlessly with the subtle spiciness and salty blue cheese.
2. Meeny Hill Goats Cheese from Dart Mountain with Tempted Elderflower Cider and Forest Fruits Dark Chocolate Figs
A firm, lactic goat’s-milk cheese, made high in the Sperrin Mountains, Meeny Hill Goats is named after the landmark where the goats that produce the milk roam. It is the result of a collaboration between the Dart Mountain cheesemaking team, Julie and Kevin Hickey and the Mortimer Brothers’ dairy farm at Carraig Bán. Aged for at least two months, this semi-hard cheese was awarded Gold medals at the 2023 UK and Irish Artisan Cheese Awards in Melton Mowbray.
Tempted’s award-winning medium sweet cider has light, yet distinctive tones of elderflower that will compliment and not overpower this floral goat’s cheese. The bitterness of the dark chocolate pairs well with the mild lactic notes, whilst the sweetness of figs balances any tanginess.
3. Ballylisk Triple Rose on Burren Balsamic’s Proper Digestives with Craft Tea Brew Co. Hibitual Drinker Kombucha
The Wright family have been farming for over 200 years, on their 200-acre estate in Ballylisk, County Armargh. The Triple Rose is the Wright’s flagship Triple Crème, soft mould-ripened cheese, first launched in 2017. Double cream is added to the pasteurised milk, which gives it its luxurious, buttery texture.
Burren’s Proper digestives, made with Irish butter, act as the perfect wheaty-vehicle for this unctuous cheese, whilst the Kombucha’s palate-cleansing bubbles cut through the fatty richness. Sweet and tart from the hibiscus and rosehip, with a fizzy raspberry finish, this crisp, non-alcoholic beverage makes the perfect pairing, similar to a more traditional pink champagne or red-berry cider.
4. Dart Mountain’s Banagher Bold with No 26 Pale Ale from Northbound Brewery Co. and Erin Grove Fig & Thyme Fruits for Cheese
Another award-winning cheese made by Julie and Kevin Hickey, Banagher Bold is a washed-rind cheese made with pasteurised cow’s milk and washed with the locally produced No.26 Pale Ale from Northbound Brewery. After ageing for at least three months, the result is a beautiful, Alpine-Style cheese with malty, savoury flavours and nutty notes.
What better to pair an ale-washed cheese than with the very ale it is washed in! The unfiltered No26 Pale Ale adds a savoury dimension to the rind, which then harmoniously unites the cheese with the nicely balanced, yet bold hop character of the ale, leaving a tangy taste on the palate. Whilst the Fig & Thyme Fruits for Cheese, bursting with flavour, is a worthy match for this punchy cheese.
5. Mike’s Fancy Cheese Young Buck with Dunville’s Three Crown Peated Irish Whiskey & Gold & Brownes Double Choc Brownie
Michael Thomson is the visionary young cheesemaker behind Mike’s Fancy Cheese Company in Newtownards, Belfast and the creator of Northern Ireland’s only raw milk blue cheese. Multi-award winning Young Buck is a crumbly blue cheese that is hand crafted in very small batches. Whilst similar in appearance and texture to traditional Stilton, the raw milk gives it more savoury, farmyard notes that are perfectly balanced with sweet, salty flavours and notes of dried fruit and spice.
The Three Crowns, also the winner of many awards, is a peated vintage blend of selected aged malt and grain whiskeys with a subtle wisp of smoke. Incredibly accessible, it has a creamy bite finished with a kiss of heat that perfectly complements the savoury notes of the Young Buck. Whilst the indulgence of the handmade Double Chocolate Brownie from Gold & Brownes creates a fudgey match from heaven, reminiscent of a rich chocolate cheesecake.
What Grows Together
These unusual food marriages certainly break with the traditional cheese and wine pairings. That said, they do satisfy the common rule of matching ingredients from the same geographical region, and when that region has the mighty smallness of Northern Ireland, they are certain to delight you and your guests.