The 1980s pioneer in Irish artisan cheese – a visit to Corleggy Cheeses
Hidden amongst the forest and lakes on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland is an idyllic small cottage. Here lies a truly inspirational cheese-maker; one of the pioneers of farmhouse cheese-making in Ireland – Silke Cropp.
Arriving from Germany in 1985, Silke was looking to start the good life. So she and her husband bought a derelict old cottage and smallholding, and set about restoring the cottage to its former glory.
Children soon arrived, and, as part of her plan, Silke bought a goat to provide the household with milk. Not a pure-breed milking goat, this semi-wild beast produced just enough milk for the three healthy boys, with a little surplus.
Silke began using this surplus goat milk to make cheese. Using the stovetop in her kitchen, with space to mature cheeses in the larder next door, Corleggy cheeses came into existence. These were the days before health authorities and inspections and all the cheese was made on the stove, based on recipes from one old book (“I made a lot of bad cheese in the beginning!” she laughs), using a drainpipe in which to drain the curd, and a homemade cheese press constructed by following a drawing of a Dutch version. Cheeses were consumed by family, friends and locals…
Not long after starting to make cheese, a group of French tourists came down from the local B&B to have a look. After tasting the cheese they proclaimed they wanted to buy it all!
Little did Silke know as she set up her cheese-making business, so the same was happening down in Cork to the eminent Veronica Steele (of Milleens fame). Both ladies were to become the two people who restarted traditional cheese-making in Ireland. But in the days before social media and cheese-making associations, they had no way of knowing that in different parts of their country they were both carving out a legacy of farmhouse and traditional cheese-making – a legacy that has led to 40 small cheese-makers now producing in the country.
Silke’s son, Tom Cropp, has since joined the business, and the two of them still make all their cheese by hand, and sell it themselves… with pretty much it all disappearing at two farmers’ markets in Dublin (Dun Laoghaire and Temple Bar), with the few spare cheeses sent to select retailers in Northern Ireland, and, occasionally, The Courtyard Dairy.
Seek it out!
Buy one of their cheeses: Cavanbert, here.