Ireland - Day 4: From the dairy farm to the Irish cheddar in County Cork
JJ welcomes and with a firm handshake. His smile is nice, his eyes are bright and his face looks like work outdoors. The fresh sea air colors his cheeks red. In contrast to this is his workmanship: In Blaumann and with huge rubber boots he stomps us across his yard and calls Come over! . He proudly presents his 70 dairy cows that have just started to milk in the morning. JJ, actually John Joe, is one of thousands of small dairy farmers in Ireland who work for Kerrygold. His cows are balanced, friendly animals. Twice a day he and his son bring them from the pasture to the milking parlor - the rest of the time the animals can move freely. Compared to the other high-performance cows in the dairy industry, JJ's animals only consume about 25-27 liters of milk per day. That's why other farmers only milk once a day. However, the cows of JJ come to the milking parlor by themselves before marching leisurely up the mountain again.
The 45-acre cow pastures above Dairy Farm are lush green , spacious and lined with stone walls. Although many farmers are removing these walls because they are too much work, they provide natural protection for the cows in wind and weather and stay with the O'Sullivans because of this, explains Andrew, JJ's son. The other four children live scattered in Canada, London or Dublin. Andrew helps out on the farm during peak season, otherwise he lives in Cork as a technical architect, about an hour away from his family's farm.
After seeing the cows after the first Milking back to the wide meadows, JJ explains the typical Irish grazing and proudly shows us the Ringfort, Ráth or Erdwerk called circular piece of meadow with moat, which dates back to the Iron Age and perched on top of his land. An old white pony lives there and if I did not know better, I would say that it is a unicorn, so mystical is the place.
JJ shows us on a map his sophisticated grazing system with numerous plots. In constant change, the cows graze the areas here. This keeps the sward intact, the meadows grow faster and muddy areas are avoided. Thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream, constant temperatures without much heat and frost and the abundant rainfall, the grass grows here almost all year round. Depending on the weather, number of animals and season, JJ chooses the right pasture to graze. For example, his cows can feed on pasture over 300 days of the year and feed themselves on 90% of fresh grass.
After a few hours in the fresh air, JJ's wife Theresa invites us to the kitchen of the farmhouse. She took the day off especially for our visit and baked fresh scones and typical Irish brown bread.We sit in the kitchen, strengthen ourselves after the stay in the fresh sea breeze and taste JJ's home-made honey. He discovered beekeeping as a hobby and produces clear, golden honey for the family. The beehives are in the orchard and the bees love the fresh apple blossoms and the blooming broom bushes.
There's an award hanging in the entrance of the farmhouse. In a solemn ceremony, the O'Sullivans won the Origin Green Sustainable Producer Award 2016 last year. Origin Green is a sustainability initiative from the Bord Bia Irish Food Board. The mission of the campaign is primarily to protect the country's natural resources and reduce its environmental impact, making it a Sustainability Seal.
Next Station: The next JJ greets us with a firm handshake. He wears elegant slippers for his midnight blue suit. He proudly shows us the Carbery factory in Ballineen as Sales & Marketing Manager for Cheese. This is where the milk of farmers from the region lands. For example, the Irish cheddar for Kerrygold is produced locally.
After numerous hand washes, hairnets, smocks and with chunky shoes on our feet, we are allowed to enter production. Here, the daily freshly delivered milk is processed in a complex process to cheese. For example, cheddar does not consist of a smooth mass, but of individual soft pieces of cheese, curds, which only combine to form a solid block of cheese when pressed together with subsequent ripening. Grass feeding gives the Irish cheese, just like the butter, the typical yellow color and the creamy texture.
Rory is Cheese Grader for Kerrygold. I understand first Cheese Grater and I'm a little confused: Does he rub the cheddar in the factory? But actually a Cheese Grader is an important part in cheese making. He checks the maturity level of each batch, evaluating smell, taste, appearance and firmness. To do this, he travels all over the country from factory to factory, checking the cheese on behalf of Kerrygold, using a tool of his own to stick a piece of cheese out of the center. What a dream job! Rory enthusiastically explains the peculiarity of Irish cheese, which mainly consists of the use of pasture milk and long ripening.
After our visit, JJ presents us another bag of Cheese specialties from the Region made here at Carbery. Now, with completely different eyes, I look at the ripened cheddar, check it for Rory's explanations and am thrilled with the sustainable and transparent process of milk production through to the manufacture of traditional cheese.The experiences and experiences are my own impressions.