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The Silke road

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of their appearance in the Demo Kitchen, chef Paula McIntyre explains how a German woman, Silke Cropp, came to change the face of Irish cheesemaking

Artisan cheese making in Ireland is a relatively new occurrence. Traditionally, milk was preserved by churning it into butter. The Romans were said not to have invaded Ireland due to it being a nation of barbarous butter makers. Pliny the Elder referred to it as “the choicest food among barbarian tribes”.

Thirty years ago, Silke Cropp and her husband moved to Ireland from Germany and bought a smallholding and old derelict cottage in County Cavan. When their children arrived, they bought a goat to supply the household with milk, and Silke began to make cheese with the excess milk. With only an old recipe book as guidance, she made cheese on the stove, using a drain pipe to draw off the curd. A press was constructed using inspiration from a Dutch drawing. And with this ancient, simple process of preservation, Silke Cropp became a pioneer farmhouse cheese maker in Ireland.

A group of French tourists visited from a nearby bed and breakfast, tasted and bought all her cheese. Her reputation, in the pre-social media age, was established by selling at farmers’ markets and select cheese shops. She christened her cheeses with the name Corleggy after the townland her smallholding sits upon. The name means ‘little windy hill’, and the area is also blessed with lush, rain-kissed pasture.

Leading the charge
These days not much has changed for the family business. Silke still hand-produces cheese using the morning milk from three neighbouring farms and caps production at 10 tonnes a year. There are now over 50 globally recognised farmhouse cheesemakers in Ireland but it took a German woman, with limited resources, to lead the charge.

Silke will be in the demo kitchen at Borough Market on Friday and I’ll be cooking with her iconic Irish cheeses, which are available from the Market’s Heritage Cheese stall. Her cleverly named Cavanbert will be baked in brioche with wild mushrooms, garlic and tarragon. Soft, rich cheese enveloped in buttery bread and fungi—perfect for a decadent festive treat.

I’m matching Silke’s sheep’s milk cheese, Creeny, with grilled lamb, smoked candied celery and carlin peas. This is a 12-month matured cheese that’s sharp and also salty from the minerals the sheep pick up from the grass.

Salty, nutty notes
Silke’s farm is located on drumlin pastures along the river Erne in Cavan and she calls her raw cow’s milk cheese Drumlin after the landscape. I’ll be using her regular Drumlin, with salty, nutty notes, in a velouté sauce to accompany pumpkin gnocchi, and the smoked version in a rich fonduta, with grissini to dip, made using her goat’s cheese.

Finishing off where Silke started, I’m matching her Corleggy kid goat cheese with a sweet walnut cake, grilled pear and chestnut honey. The cheese is young, only a week old, and is subtle, creamy and zingy. Perfect with ripe, fragrant pear, floral honey and a warm nutty cake.

Silke’s cheeses are like her: creative, vibrant and of the place. She is a gentle font of a massive amount of cheesemaking knowledge, and a natural teacher.

Join Paula and Silke for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 23rd November in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm