(Kerrygold cheese and butter - tasting and giveaway in post)
Disclaimer: It is my promise never to push something I don't actually like, or say nice things purely for the sake of being paid or otherwise compensated. Even when that compensation is cheese.
I've been a fan of Kerrygold's cheese and butter for the better part of a year, now. I'm not a cheese fanatic, and can't truly call myself a connoisseur, but I know what I like... and I like what I know! In addition to the incredible taste, which was clearly the first thing to catch my eye... or tongue... I've learned that Kerrygold uses pasture fed cattle from local Irish farmers, has a strict no growth-hormone policy, and strives to act more like a smaller business in spite its growing size and over fifty years' experience. As someone who likes to buy local whenever possible, and cares a great deal about where food comes from, that means a lot.
On a whim I decided to contact the company, to thank them for doing what they do, and before I knew it there was an overnight box sitting on my front step. I felt like a kid on Christmas with a big present I couldn't wait to open!
(An assortment of Kerrygold's fare, from left to right, top to bottom: Butter (salted/unsalted), Garlic Herb Butter, Blarney Castle (gouda), Swiss, Dubliner, Red Leicester, Reduced Fat Cheddar, Aged Cheddar, and Cheddar Reserve.)
I paused to take it all in, then got to work. And by work I mean, devouring!
All of Kerrygold's cheeses are fairly easy on the tongue, not too pungent or overpowering, and therefore great for eating out of hand. First and foremost I wanted to sample everything solo, with bread and palate cleansers in between. This was serious business.
(The cheeses, lined up and ready for blind sampling.)
Although I already knew which was which, I decided to set up a blind tasting with friends to see what they thought.
I assigned a number to each cheese, and served everything at room temperature (for the best flavor) with grapes, bread, crackers, wine, preserves, nuts, and dried fruit for sampling. I even made small tasting slips for taking notes.
I began with the mildest, progressing towards the sharper end of the spectrum.
Blarney Castle cheese - gouda
It may seem silly, but I've become so accustomed to gouda's being smoked that the delicate sweetness of this cheese actually surprised me. I found it to be very mild with a light and pleasant milkiness. Smooth and a little nutty, this cheese would be great for every day eating or as part of a platter, but would be especially good as a melting cheese.
At first taste this is exactly what you'd expect of a Swiss - the texture is middle of the pack firm, the eyes not too deep, and the flavor not overly strong - but then it begins to sink into the taste buds, and there's a nutty sweetness that plays with the usual Swiss piquant, adding nuance and depth you don't normally find in other such cheeses. The delicate flavors reminded me almost of a baby, or young, Swiss, although not as mild.
This was definitely one of my favorites, and had me craving reubens and cheesesteaks, tuna melts on rye bread, and just about any other sandwich I could think of. From deli to meatball, this Swiss would hold up well with nearly anything between two slices of bread.
I realize that Red Leicester is not a particularly rare form of cheese, but it's one that I'm not very familiar with. The limited knowledge I do have would have told me it would be crumblier and stronger than the average cheddar, but slicing into this I found it to be quite tender. The smell was rich (though not pungent) so I braced myself a little. Within seconds it had begun to melt on my tongue, so creamy it filled my whole mouth with flavor. Not overwhelming, but a soft, mild, cheddar taste. Rich, and a little tangy - but not as strong as the color would have led me to believe.
I can see this cheese being fairly versatile in the kitchen. Mild enough to eat out of hand, but strong enough to hold its own alongside meats or other flavors.
This cheese was my personal favorite of the bunch. Sweet, nutty, a little sharp, and very distinct. A cheddar-style cheese, but of its own standing.
This is my go-to cheese - I want to put it in my mac, I want to slice it with fruit, I want to melt it on bread... but I'm happy standing in the kitchen eating it right off my knife. I truly do think the bright green pastures of Ireland make a difference in the quality of Kerrygold's dairy, and this cheese really shows off that depth of flavor.
Among those tasting the cheese with me, consensus was an overwhelming fondness for this Dubliner.
Aged Cheddar: regular, reserve, and low-fat
My first impression of this cheese was that it may be too salty for my taste, but as it spread across my palate the creaminess washed over me, and I found it to in fact have a very clean taste. Although aged, the quality of the sharpness shows itself in the smoothness of flavor. It won't knock you over, but it's got enough punch to stand strong in any dish.
This would be ideal for most any application, from crackers and summer sausage to macaroni and cheese, or with a hunk of bread and a nice wine.
Rather than slicing, I decided to break into this cheese, finding its texture to be firm and beautifully crystalled. Aged more than twice as long as their regular cheddar, the Reserve definitely shines as Kerrygold's sharpest. Still, with all its strength, it features a smooth and creamy finish that leaves you wanting more.
For me, this was a close second to the Dubliner. The level of sharpness is personal preference, of course, but this is the right level for me. Sharp enough to distinguish in even the busiest dish, but again - it won't knock you off your seat. And, following the theme I've found through all of Kerrygold's products, it has the same unique sweetness I can only think to attribute to the quality of the dairy.
While not as texturally rich as the regular or reserve, the flavor is definitely still present. Boasting less than half the fat of the average, I was quick to question its meltability - but, after pressing it into a grilled cheese and watching it drip down the sides, sizzle on the pan, and then stretch as I bit into it... I was thoroughly impressed.
Not my favorite of their products, but if fat is a concern in your diet this is a great option.
(Name-brand butter on the left, Kerrygold butter on the right.)
While the Dubliner and Swiss were my favorites of the cheeses, my all-time favorite product has got to be the butter. In fact, it's probably what the company is best known for. That may sound strange, being such a simple thing, but this has literally altered the way I think about butter. I'm not usually the type to just lather a pat on some bread, but with something as rich and sweet as this... well, it changes everything.
The first thing you'll notice is the yellow coloring, due to the amount of beta-carotene that comes from grass feeding the cows. Next you'll see how much softer and more spreadable the butter is as compared to the average store-bought stick. Even straight out of the fridge the texture is not so firm as to tear the surface of the bread you spread it on.
(Regular butter on the left, Kerrygold on the right.)
Then - and here's the best part - you'll bite into it and discover the flavor.
Flavor, you ask? Butter hardly has a flavor of its own. Oh, but it does!
Prepare to discover the sweetest, creamiest, richest butter you've ever had. Whether salted or unsalted, I promise you won't be disappointed. A hunk of baguette smeared with this butter? Yes, please!
Although a little pricier than most of the brands on the shelf, I highly recommend having a block on hand for any occasion when you really want a dish to shine. For adding that special touch to flaky croissants; when a cream sauce needs a little extra something; or just for treating yourself with your morning toast!
I always say that quality ingredients are what make any meal its best, and when it comes to butter I consider this the gold standard. Better than hand-churned Amish butters I've found at local markets, and better than homemade.
After reminding myself just how in love I am with fresh Irish butter, I moved on to the Garlic Herb blend, which I'd never tried before.
Packed with an impressive array of herbs, including garlic, chives, parsley, and dill, this butter is definitely not shy on flavor. Crackers or sourdough were the perfect canvas for sampling, but be for-warned that a little goes a long way. Featuring the same underlying sweetness as the regular, and even softer in consistency, I can just imagine melting it into steaming hot rolls at the dinner table, or adding a burst of flavor to sauces, soups, or steamed vegetables.
There are very few things I enjoy more than taking the time to really experience and savor food - and cheese and butter lend themselves nicely to just such an occasion. Spending the entire day eating cheeses with bread, grapes, wine, nuts, fruit... certainly made me feel like royalty - but I couldn't stop there. After tasting it all, I would be amiss to recommend a product I hadn't cooked with. After playing around with a few ideas, I came up with my very own Kerrygold macaroni recipe.
Macaroni and Cheese
16 oz. Pasta of choice (I used rigatoni, here)
14 oz. Kerrygold Dubliner or cheddar cheese, shredded
2 TBSP Kerrygold unsalted butter
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, plain
1/4 cup white wine (I used a sweet table wine, Vouvray)
1 tsp. mustard powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Optional: corn, peas, green olives
Optional: hot sauce or paprika to garnish
Bring to a boil a large pot of salted water, and cook noodles until al-dente. Drain and set aside.
Return pot to low heat and add butter. As the butter melts, add mustard powder, cayenne, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Add the yogurt and wine, stir to combine.
Add the cheese one handful at a time, stirring until melted between handfuls.
Once all of the cheese is melted and the sauce becomes smooth and creamy, add the pasta and any corn, peas, or olives if using. Taste and adjust seasoning, and serve with a dash of hot sauce or sprinkling of paprika.
(For more Kerrygold recipes, check out the recipe index of their website: http://www.kerrygoldusa.com/recipes/)
I love discovering a product that's worthy of this much praise, and the more I find out about Kerrygold the more I like them.
Since they're still a growing company, though, I know their products can be a little harder to find - that's why I thought I'd share some with you!
One lucky reader will receive some of my favorite Kerrygold items, along with a very special bonus gift from me!
In the basket:
The Dubliner - my favorite of their cheddar-style cheeses.
The Butter - the creme-de-la-creme, salted and non, plus the garlic-herb blend.
The Swiss - easily one of my favorite Swiss cheeses of all time.
The Surprise - top secret bonus gift!
To enter for a chance to win this delicious bounty, all you have to do is:
A. Leave a comment telling me your favorite way to eat/use/enjoy cheese, making sure your name/URL links back to a way for me to contact you, and
B. Like, Pin, Tweet, E-mail, or otherwise spread the word!
And that's it! Submit your comments by midnight (EST) on Friday, February 17th, and I will choose and contact the lucky winner within 48 hours after that. The loot will be expedited to you (anywhere within the United States) as soon as I know where to send it.
Update: 2/28 2012 -
The giveaway has ended - thank you all for your comments! All of the entries have been run through a randomizer, and the one lucky winner has been contacted and notified. Congratulations, Jen! To those who didn't win, don't be discouraged - I hope to have many more giveaways in the future.