Monday, November 19, 2007

Green Cheese

Earlier this month, it was a gift to return to bell'Italia, even if only for a quick trip of thesis presentations, graduation, packing up the apartment, and -- the sweetest part -- visits with friends. Jackie and Cyndi cheered me on during the UNISG graduation ceremony (grazie, amiche!), and we laughed our way around Parma's winding streets, crumbling castle, and best gelato shop. With entirely unfair timing, a nasty stomach plague stole a couple precious days and cut short a trip to Le Marche. So for only one delightful afternoon, I met Jackie and Antonello for a seafood (and chickpea soup) lunch in Ancona.

Between the boot and the Hoosier state, though, I enjoyed another short trip. A day and a half in Dublin meant more than the chance to lug too heavy bags on more buses and planes. It felt so good to be a tourist between there and here, a cushy transition between Italian studenthood and the new job search that awaited me back home.

The sun was shining on my chilly day in Dublin, and I set out to make the most of it, crossing al the outdoor sites off my list before finally giving in to the inside spots when the sun was going down. One door I couldn't resist stepping inside, though, was the entrance to Sheridans Cheesemongers. The shop is small but manageable and well-stocked. After glancing around at some pretty standard European cheese selections, my eye caught the Irish cheese offerings. A kind staff member noticed my focused attention and generously offered samples of nearly every island cheese on display.

Between nibbles and mouthfuls, she told me that most Irish cheeses use vegetable rennets and chatted about particular producers and areas. It was a difficult decision, but I ended up walking back out into the sunshine with my own thick medallion of mature Saint Tola. It's an organic, aged, raw goat's milk cheese with a thin, wormy rind and a compact but creamy interior that's not nearly as barn-yardy as some other aged goat cheeses I've almost not been able to swallow.

Deciding on where and how to devour my cheese treasure was nearly as difficult as the decision I'd had to make in the cheesemonger's shop. (With more time on the old sod, I'd have gone back to take away a chunk of one of the delicate Irish blue cheeses like Cashel or Bellingham.) Luckily, I found the rainbow's end in the food court of Avoca. This almost too-trendy shop seemed like what would happen if Martha Stewert combined a Pier One with a Sur La Table. But the food court in the basement offered a cozy stool at the bright bar and freshly baked treats. I ordered a warm raisin scone and a cup of coffee (already too much tea in my system) then unwrapped the now tempered cheese round.

I have to admit that there was an, um, pungent smell when I lifted the last fold of the wax paper around it, but the cheese mellowed quickly, keeping its pleasant punch but loosing all offensiveness. First a bite alone, then with the warm scone, then with tart raspberry jam, then with the warm scone and jam, then all alone again. The Saint Tola was delicious in every combination and solo. The subtle animal scent of the creamy center lined up nicely with other, slightly sweeter flavors, but the deliciously wrinkled and evenly gooey rind gave it just the right zing to stand alone.

I'll miss Saint Tola and the many other native Irish cheeses, but luckily--here at the other end of the rainbow--there are lots of cheese treasures to attract and distract. More next week!


At 8:31 AM, Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

yay! thanks for doing a cheese of the week! this one sounds really good! i really like avoca by the way, even if it is kind of a sugary shop. :) do you mind if i put the photo of the cheese over on the sidebar?


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