Producer: Willems Family (Macroom, Ireland)
Milk: Pasteurized Cow's Milk
Age: 6 months+
Better late than never, right? Despite the fact the St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, I felt that I couldn't let it pass by without hitting upon an Irish cheese to review. In a country where the livestock outnumber the people, it's no wonder that there are some amazing cheeses being produced. Among them is Coolea, Ireland's answer to Gouda (fitting as it's made by a Dutch family living in Country Cork).
Let me be honest here, Coolea is not a great cheese. It is probably never going to get its own entry in a cheese book, make anyone's top 10, or be the feature cheese on a plate. Coolea is a cheese that gets by with its accommodating and steady demeanor. It is everything a young Gouda should be: mild, sweet, with a little hint of brandy and a heavy dose of caramel flavors in there. The difference is that unlike the one-dimensional wax rind stuff that passes for cheese in your supermarket isle, the producers of Coolea are not some nameless corporation. In fact, the Willems family, who started making this cheese in the 80s, are the sole producers, with the business recently transferring from Dick and Helene to their son, Dickie.
I can not taste Coolea without thinking of one thing: mac 'n cheese. It almost screams for you to cook with it. And not just pasta; serve it over potatoes or in a grilled cheese sandwich There is even an excellent recipe for leek & Coolea fritters I found, available here. It's not haute cuisine, but it is comforting, and, as we experience this last breath of winter in New York, I think it is just what's needed.
Though Coolea is not commonly carried at most cheese shops, it is the season for it, and most places should still be working through their St. Patrick's Day stock. Over at my counter, Cobblestone Foods, we still have some left at $17.00/lb. Online, iGourmet carries it for $16.99/lb. Check with your local cheese shop soon, before holiday stock runs out!