Marisa Renwald: Irish cheddar, a delightfully mild cheese
March 12, 2012 3:24PM
Updated: April 15, 2012 8:04AM
As much as we love St. Paddy’s Day, it’s hard to break away from the gimmickry and frippery of the holiday. Novelty hats and vibrant green hair spray bedeck the honorary Irish as they imbibe in typical celebratory fare.
It’s true. Irish food reinvented by Americans just doesn’t have much everyday appeal. A plate full of corned beef and cabbage. Green beer. All downed with a few sips of saccharine-sweet Irish cream.
But recent food movements in St. Patrick’s Day fare have moved beyond the kitsch. Irish food is celebrated as it should be — with classic Irish ingredients.
Irish cheddar, a delightfully mild cheese was at one time a struggling ethnic ingredient struggling with its fervent hoist into foodie fame. As it went on to become a staple in grocery store cheese aisles, many critics became convinced that the cheese lost some of its original purity with mass production.
Yet today’s Irish cheeses are held to a different standard. Much of the same original homespun simplicity has returned and brought the classic flavor and bite with it.
This recipe for a smoked ham and leek casserole, or as the Irish call it — a “bake” — features the Knockanore white cheese. The cheese, although not overwhelming, does offer the dish just a bit of rich creaminess with pure cheddar flavoring. Spun together with a dab of strong Irish mustard and parsley, the casserole’s flavors develop beautifully in the oven. In a strange trio of flavors, the ham, leeks and cheese mingle together quite well.
Maybe there isn’t really any way to avoid the gaudiness of this particular holiday, but you can certainly avoid it on your table. A perfectly Irish feast for a perfectly Irish holiday will suit your guests and their palates.
Like something out of a an old Irish legend with rainy days and white stone cottages, this recipe makes the perfect main course for an early spring get-together, or in this case, an early spring holiday.
KNOCKANORE CHEESE BAKE
4 medium leeks, trimmed and washed
4 large slices of smoked ham
3 ounces butter
2 ounces plain flour
2 cups milk
4 ounces Knockanore cheese, finely grated
Extra grated cheese for the topping
1 teaspoon strong Irish mustard
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Lightly poach the leeks until tender. Remove the leeks from the pan, reserve the liquid.
Cut each leek and each slice of ham into two pieces. Wrap each piece of leek with ham and place in an ovenproof dish.
Meanwhile make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously, add 7 tablespoons of the reserved leek liquid. Cook an additional 5 minutes, then add the cheese, the mustard and half the parsley, stir and remove from heat.
Spoon the sauce over the leeks and ham and sprinkle with a little extra grated cheese. Cook at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Source: Adapted from Knockanore Cheese www.knockanorecheese.com