The four leaf clover exists only in one in 10,000 clovers — each of its four leaves symbolizing faith, hope, love and luck. It's a lucky Irish find that brings to mind a pot of gold sitting in a field of clover, but according to the Irish Dairy Board the luck is related to another golden-hued item — butter.
In Ireland, cows roam free in fresh air and graze in lush pastures of tender grass. From this benign environment and extraordinary diet come luscious milk so rich in beta-carotene, it can turn butter and cheese into a natural gold.
Dairy cows, milk and butter have been part of Irish society for thousands of years, according to the Cork Butter Museum in Cork City, Ireland. Much of the milk from dairy cows was turned into butter. The Cork Butter Exchange, a market created by the merchants of Cork City in 1770, was in its time, the largest butter market in the world, exporting butter as far away as Europe and America.
Today, most of the milk from Ireland's small dairy farms goes to local co-ops, where milk is collected, then sent on to be made into butter and cheeses using age-old processes. The supplier cooperatives have formed the Irish Dairy Board.
The board exports the dairy products on behalf of its member farmers and processors and ensures the viability of Ireland's small family farms.
The resulting dairy products are all-natural. Cows are not given growth hormones that can find their way into the milk, while the butter and cheeses are made without additives or preservatives. Irish Dairy Board products are exported to more than 80 countries and in the United States, they are sold under the Kerrygold brand.
Kerrygold butter is the most purchased imported butter in the United States and is one of the fastest growing butters among the top 20 brands purchased by Americans.
The butter is so golden that it looks as though it has been colored, although the color is natural, coming from the beta-carotene in the intense green Irish grass consumed by the cows. Made in the style of all premium European butters, Kerrygold's higher fat content gives its butter a distinctive richness.
Peter Foynes is the director of the Cork Butter Museum, in Cork City, Ireland. The museum traces the history of Irish butter through remarkable artifacts, from the 56-pound keg of 1,000 year-old butter, to butter-making tools, from ancient to modern.
“Irish butter is special,” Foynes said. “First, the flavor is a consequence of the cows being grass-fed and the type of grass in Ireland. The trace elements in the soil that get into the grass are unique. The benign climate ensures that cows are pasture-fed, to take advantage of the quality of the grass.”
Then there is the quality of herd management and the care cows are given, he added. “Irish farms have very small herds. The average size is 40 cows and the cows have a decent life. They are well cared for by farmers – the cows even have names. This impacts the quality of the product.”
He goes on to say that we should think of happy cows in green Irish pastures when cooking with any of the Kerrygold products.
Kerrygold also makes a variety of cheeses, including cheeses that are exclusive to the cooperative, such as Dubliner, Ivernia, Blarney Castle and Cashel Blue.
Developed in 1984, Cashel Blue is the creation of the husband and wife team of Jane and Louis Grubb. The cheese is made entirely by hand on the Grubb family farm near Cashel in County Tipperary, Ireland. This acclaimed cheese won gold at the World Cheese Awards in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Like all Kerrygold dairy products, only milk from cows that graze on Ireland's pastures is used, and no growth hormones are allowed. The majority of the milk used to make Cashel Blue comes from the pedigreed Friesian dairy herd on the farm.
Cashel Blue is semi-soft and a voluptuously creamy cheese. It has a round, full flavor and slight blue tang. The cheese is a buttery color, threaded with characteristic blue veining, and large blue flecks from Penicilliumroqueforti, the fungus used in Roquefort, Stilton and other blue cheeses. As this cheese ages the flavors become more pronounced over time.
Buttery Irish Potato and Apple Bake
3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds tart cooking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
6 slices thick cut bacon, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter
Chopped chives for garnish, optional
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water for about 8 minutes or until almost cooked through. Add apples and cook for 5 minutes more or until potatoes and apples are tender; drain well. While potatoes are cooking, heat oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter an 117-inch baking dish. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, stirring frequently. Remove with a slotted spoon, then remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; add butter to skillet. When butter has melted, add potatoes and apples. Toss well to coat with butter; cook and stir for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat to lightly brown. Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with cooked bacon. Bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with chives, if desired. Makes 8 servings.
Recipe by Peter Foynes, Director of the Cork Butter Museum
Ploughman's Sandwich with Mustard Dill Dressing
For the sandwich:
6 (3/4-inch thick) slices rustic brown or whole grain bread
8 ounces thinly sliced ham
12 tomato slices
1 package (7 ounces) Kerrygold Dubliner or Blarney Castle Cheese, thinly sliced
4 cups mixed baby greens
6 tablespoons marinated, pitted olive wedges (black and green)
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespooon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon spipcy brown or Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
salt, pepper, sugar, to taste
To make the dressing, in a small food processor combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt, sugar and freshly ground pepper. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and top with ham, tomatoes and cheese, dividing equally. Bake for 5 minutes to warm ham and lightly melt cheese. Place dressing in a medium bowl; add greens and toss well to coat. Arrange sandwiches on 6 plates. Pile greens on top and sprinkle with olives, dividing ingredients equally. Makes 6 servings.
Recipe by Enda Howley, Irish Dairy Board Cheese Grader
Blue Cheese Potato Cakes
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup crumbled Cashel Blue cheese
1 egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs beaten with 1/2 cup milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1 to 1 1/2 cups canola oil
Sour cream or crème fraîche for topping
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and mash. In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Sauté the chives and garlic for 1-2 minutes, or until soft. Stir into the mashed potatoes. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, dill, and parsley. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Stir in the blue cheese and egg yolk. The cheese should remain in lumps scattered through the potatoes. Shape the potato mixture into 12 cakes and refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm. Lightly dredge each cake in the flour, then coat with the egg-milk mixture, and dredge in the bread crumbs. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Working in batches, add the potato cakes and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until browned. The cakes can be prepared ahead up to this point. To serve, preheat the oven to 250° F. Place the cakes on a baking sheet and reheat them in the oven for about 5 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche. Makes 12 cakes.
Recipe by Margaret Johnson, Irish food expert and author. Recipe originally from “The Irish Spirit Cookbook”