Irish cheesemakers are a funny, gnarled breed of fighters. Those who’ve made West Cork their home have chosen an area of undeniable beauty; rolling green hills that tumble into a lapping, tender sea. The rough-cut landscape of westernmost West Cork carves peninsulas that stretch out of Ireland like fingers, and these cheesemakers live on the green and rocky tassels of what is already the fringe, making cheeses that taste incontestably of the sea. They have banded together to fight any adversity that dares head their way: funky bacteria, unreasonable laws, ignorant auditors. Over the thirty years of their struggle, they have become some of the most well-informed, highly organized, voluble, eloquent and compelling of the cheesemakers in the British Isles.
Because West Cork is wet, most of them make washed-rind cheeses. Washed-rinds are generally recognizable as pinky-brown, sticky, squidgy, stinky wheels covered more in moist bacteria than dry, powdery mold (like a Camembert or Brie might), although if it’s been a while since its last washing, the cheese might feel dry to the touch and look brown, like an Appenzeller or Comte (both of which are technically washed-rind cheeses that just don’t get washed very often—towards the end of their maturation they are dry-salted instead, so the outside gets crusty and hard). The bacteria known as B. linens (the name we’ve given to the sticky pink stuff) thrives in humid environments and by the sea, which explains the prevalence—and excellence—of the many West Cork washed-rinds. Indeed, Veronica Steele of Milleens, one of the first cheesemakers in this area of then-undiscovered terroir, tried at first to make a hard, cheddar-style cheese, but as it kept being colonized by B. linens, she eventually gave in to the stuff and ever since has been proud to make some of the loveliest, pinkest, stinkiest literalizations of West Cork’s terrain and sea air.