Produced near Schull, in County Cork, Ireland by Giana and Tom Ferguson, Smoked Gubbeen is a semisoft, washed rind cow's milk cheese. Giana and the Gubbeen dairy team have produced Gubbeen since 1979.
Having spent some of her childhood in Spain where her family made goat's milk cheeses, Giana later found herself living in France and once again becoming inspired by small-scale cheese production.
After marrying into a farming family in Ireland, where some of the best milk in Europe is produced, Giana, with and her husband Tom started to experiment with their own cheeses and ultimately began to produce Gubbeen on a regular basis.
The West Cork Gulf Stream creates a warm and humid climate at Gubbeen, which is ideal for growing grass and making cheese. Giana's and Tom's farming methods strive to keep the land productive for grazing, and their herd of cows are kept outside on pasture for at least eight months of the year.
Milk is sourced from their own mixed breed herd, which consists of British Friesian, Simmental, Jersey and Shorthorn breeds, together with Ireland's only native breed, the Kerry Cow.
After production, wheels of Gubbeen are regularly washed with a solution of the natural Gubbeen flora which has been isolated and made up as a rind wash, together with white wine, salt and water. The wash stimulates the growth of the Bacterium Linens mold (the culture that gives the cheeses their sticky orange-pink rind and pungent aroma) and creates the unique Gubbeen rind.
Cheeses are selected for smoking at 5 days old. Wheels are first brined and then dried to promote a dry surface before going into the smoker for four days. The smoking process takes place over locally gathered beech and oak wood that is stored for a season before use. Giana uses the Pinney method of smoking, which means that any tar given off by the smoke is diverted away from the cheeses allowing for a very gentle process and delicate flavor.
Cheeses are closely monitored during smoking and adjustments made for heavy or wet weather which slows everything down. When the wheels emerge, they are virtually the same color as when they went in. Each cheese is checked to ensure no ash has fallen onto the rind.
After drying for a day in the creamery, the newly smoked wheels have three thin coats of wax applied to each side, before being transferred to a humidity controlled maturing room. There, they are held at a temperature of between 41-46 F (5-8 C) for a period of about 5 months, at which point they are given one last coating of wax before release.
The interior paste of Smoked Gubbeen is semi-soft, pliable and a golden, straw-like color, dotted with small "eyes" or holes.
As far as flavors, Giana is looking for "Cheese with smoke, not smoke with cheese". To that end, flavors are delicate and lasting, with light notes of smoke, butter, mushrooms, bog and a fudgy sweetness on the finish.