Everyone who knows me more than 5 minutes will know that I love cheese – no, that I am mad about cheese. So much so that I started to make cheese myself at home. I started with Labneh (Lebanese cheese made from yoghurt) and lately with the help of my wonderful farming neighbour, I started to make ‘proper’ cheese. Cheesemaking is easier than most people think but harder than most people hope. It is chemistry after all.
I was looking for courses on cheesemaking – Teagasc is offering Farmhouse Cheesemaking courses with a certificate at the end (did it 2 years ago and it was great) – but I wanted a more hands-on approach. Luckily I came across Knockdrinna Cheesemakers who have monthly cheesemaking courses at their premises (great opportunity to ‘spy’ a bit as well in case we are going into production ourselves). Located in Stoneyfort in Kilkenny, Helen Finnegan has come a long way since she started 2004 in her kitchen. She was very lucky as she had great support from the local authority who approved her kitchen for food production and after that, there was no stopping her.
Helen is a great demonstrator and very generous with advice, ideas and tips. We met all in the demonstration room where we introduced ourselves and Helen told us her background and the beginnings of Knockdrinna Cheese. She then went on to heat milk while explaining the use of starter culture and rennet. We saw the milk turning into cheese before our eyes and Helen shared with us the different uses of the curd (making cream cheese from the same batch as the hard cheese) and showed us how easy it is to make butter.
Lunch was a relaxed affair with tasters of all Knockdrinna Cheeses – most which won awards here and abroad – and homemade brown bread. We all sat around the table as if we known each other for years. It proves again that a good meal makes people simply happy.
After lunch we pressed the curds and checked on ‘our’ cream cheese which turned out nicely. We then went into the cheese room and we saw the heart of the operation. It is a medium sized business that concentrates more on quality than quantity. Cheese are turned and washed by hand (a new addition of cheese is washed with craft beer) – something that is becoming quite rare with cheesemakers.
Knockdrinna has an online store but in case you are in Stoneyfort, make sure to pop into their artisan farm shop where you can buy not only Knockdrinna products but also local artisan produce. A great gift idea (apart from the course) are the hampers that have been lovingly assembled with cheese, chutney and crackers.
The cheese course is €80 all included and takes place on a monthly basis. Check out their website for updates.
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