On Tuesday 9th, the cream of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers gathered at Killruddery House in Bray, Co. Wicklow for the sector’s prestigious gala, the Irish Cheese Awards 2021. Organised by Cáis, the Association of Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers, the bi-annual event celebrates Ireland’s vibrant and thriving farmhouse cheese sector. Now in its ninth year, the all-island event — the only dedicated competition for the sector — received entries from over 50 companies with a total of 220 cheeses, the largest number ever recorded for the event.
The keynote address at this year’s awards ceremony was delivered by Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, TD. Speaking at the event, he said, “The CAIS Irish cheese awards showcase all that is great and good in our sector. I offer my congratulations to all those who have been nominated as well as those who receive awards. An astonishing 220 cheeses, from mature to mild, which have been entered by 50 cheesemakers, have been judged, which shows just the depth and breadth of talent in the sector.
“The wide range of cheese that is produced in Ireland is incredibly important in terms of increasing added value to our cheese sector. The quality of Irish milk produced from our sustainable grass-based production system contributes enormously to the success of the Irish cheese industry.”
Award winning cheeses
The Irish Cheese Awards is comprised of 16 classes including softs, blues, semi-hard and hard cheeses. In addition, there are also awards for Best New Cheese, Best Raw Milk Cheese and the highly coveted Supreme Champion, a title awarded to the producer of the most outstanding cheese entered at the awards.
The cheeses entered were judged by a team of 15 experts with products assessed under the following criteria: aroma, flavour, body and texture, and overall appearance. Judging is ‘blind,’ with all packaging and labelling removed, allowing each cheese to speak for itself.
32 Irish cheesemakers received awards at this year’s event. Among the winners were:
- Supreme Champion: Templegall by Hegarty Cheese from Cork was announced as the best cheese at the Irish Cheese Awards 2021. This impressive cow’s milk cheese also scooped gold in the Mature Hard Cheese Over Six Months category.
- Best New Cheese: In this category celebrating innovation, there was no Gold winner. Silver was awarded to Galway Sinan for its ‘Galway Cheese’, while Bronze was awarded to two cheesemakers: Macroom Buffalo Cheese for its ‘Buffaloumi’ and Tullahay Farm for its Farm Fresh Soft Cheese.
- Appreciation Awards were presented to Eugene Carr of Traditional Cheese Co. and Michael Horgan of Horgan’s Delicatessen Supplies for their enormous support of Irish farmhouse cheese down through the years.
The Irish Farmhouse Cheese sector is valued at €27 million at farmgate value according to Bord Bia. The sector employs some 300 people and 46% of the Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the market have set up business in the past 10 years. Each cheese is unique to its producer and farm and the majority of Irish farmhouse cheese businesses are family-based with strong links into the rural community and economy. They are a product of unique interactions between people, place and pasture.
The Irish Cheese Awards aims to celebrate the achievements of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers and to promote the abundance of quality Irish cheeses available domestically and abroad. It is the only such event dedicated to Irish cheese. Since 2015, the awards are a biennial event and entries are open to all cheese producers from the 32 counties of the island of Ireland. The event is generously sponsored by Sysco, Bord Bia, Horgan’s Delicatessen Supplies, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and Traditional Cheese.
For the full list of award winners, visit the Cáis website at www.irishcheese.ie.