I remember the very first day I tried blue cheese. One remembers those things I guess or maybe I am one of those people who remember everything? Elephant Man my blue eyed girl calls me… It was one of this family Sunday lunches, maybe it was a roast, or paupiettes or even my mother’s legendary ragout… To be honest, I can’t recall. The main course was always followed with cheese, raw milk camembert for Mum, with a little bit of mustard on the side (don’t ask), and my father had a piece of Roquefort that he kindly shared with me. He even explained the mould that makes the blue, the penicillium, the fungus… What honesty! Not even scared…
As I was driving up the M1, Belfast bound, I was reminiscing about this fond memory. Blue is the colour of the sea, the colour of the Earth, the colour of the sky. It triggers honesty, wisdom and peace; it is used as a dress code to impose authority but also trust. I smiled as I was approaching the Boyne Valley suspended bridge, knowing all this now, how could I have refused then a piece of mould to eat? Knowing how fussy I was when it came to food, it is nothing short of a miracle that I unquestionably took the piece off my father’s hand and ate it with the end of a baguette. Talking about proving a point here!
“Welcome to County Louth”… Just visiting a friend. Do I have time for a little detour? I’ll chance it, take east for Clogher Head, the name that comes up on the radio’s sea forecast, Port Oriel, lovely little Harbour . Here is the Breton talking again, I need salt and marine air, I find the smell of rotting fish comforting. Cooley Peninsula is in the distance and the mountains of Mourne are not so far from here. All is so peaceful, all is so blue and I am going to be late.
I first met Peter in 2003 when I was selling his cheese for a Meath Delicatessen I used to run. But as we were talking around a mug of tea and local honey, we realised that we probably met in Donegal Town in the early 90’s where he is originally from. “Small world”… “Small world” I replied. His wife Anita and daughter Lucy were in Castlebellingham but Peter showed me the cheese room; here they were, peacefully maturing on wooden shelves. Bellingham Blue behind the scene, at last we meet.
It takes four months for a Bellingham Blue to be ready. When the mould appears outside, the young cheese is hand pierced to let a bit of air for the fungus to develop, for that growth to grow. Its paste is firm and the taste is well balanced, not too strong, earthy and gently salted. It gives away the proximity of the Irish Sea in so many ways. Bellingham Blue is honest and its texture leaves the door open to a lot of cooking ideas. My Dad, who a year ago was generously given ½ a wheel to bring back to Brittany shared it with friends and family around an aperitif. I like it with honey and it makes a beautiful blue cheese sauce.
“Right, I’m off” I told Peter as he was catching up with an episode of “Cheese Slices” documentary ( I know, it’s hilarious). “ Slán, see you, thanks for dropping by, don’t forget your honey!”. “I’ll send you the pictures!”. We shook hands and I left Glyde Farm, with probably some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted and a big lump of Blue cheese. As I pressed play on the CD player, and drove toward the east coast, the Louth sky once blue was turning slate dark grey. And Bob and I sang: “And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”.