St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in America rely on corned beef and green beer to set the culinary tone, but Irish cuisine is no longer small potatoes. In recent years, it’s become easy to find Irish products in local grocery stores, especially in the dairy case.

Those rolling green fields in Ireland aren’t just beautiful to look at; that lush green grass is great for grazing. Irish cows and goats produce sumptuous cheese and butter, and some of it is imported to American markets, often under the brand name Kerrygold.

Kerrygold is actually a cooperative of more than 2,000 Irish dairy farmers who pledge to produce milk from grass-fed cows. Grass-fed milk and beef is becoming popular because it contains more omega-3s and fewer trace elements than feedlot products, but the co-op uses the milk to produce butter and cheese with a pronounced flavor.

The taste of Irish cheese is memorable enough that a Michigan woman used it as the basis of a recipe that just won the Pillsbury Bake-Off. “Dublin Cheeseboard-Stuffed Appetizer Bread” won Melissa Jollands $50,000, the Bake-Off’s top prize, for re-creating the taste of her favorite meal from a vacation in Ireland.

Jollands used a sharp white Irish cheddar and a creamy goat cheese to evoke the offerings at a Dublin pub. Irish cheddar is always white; actually, all cheddar cheeses start out white, but many American cheese makers add annatto to give the cheese a yellow or orange hue. (The exception is Vermont, where white cheddar is the standard.)

The Bake-Off winner also incorporates the accompaniments to the cheeses, including salami, nuts, and dried fruit, just as Jollands experienced on the first day of her visit to Dublin. “After seven hours of seeing the beautiful and historical churches and landmarks, we headed to our hotel. We were tired and ready to rest, but we wanted a small bite to eat before we called it a day,” she recalled in her contest entry. “At our hotel, we ordered a cheeseboard that was adorned with meats, different types of cheese, crackers, bread, fruit, nuts and preserves. The cheese and meats of Ireland became one of our favorite things to try when we went to other cities within the country.”

Although Jollands limited her Bake-Off bread to two cheeses, it’s likely that she encountered others. She’s also likely to find them at home as well. Ireland’s Cashel Blue is considered one of the best blue cheeses in the world, and is readily available in the U.S., and Dubliner, a mild-aged cheese, is also easy to find here. The Aldi supermarket chain sells an Irish cheese platter with four varieties, and also sells a seasonal green basil cheddar in early March.

Beyond starring on cheese boards and winning baking contests, Irish cheeses’ grass-fed flavor can be used in other dishes. It’s a natural for beer cheese soup, and as a topping for vegetables, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Bernice Torregrossa: bernice92@aol.com.

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