A stellar family history of food production, awards galore for his chorizo and other cured meats and a waiting list for his handmade knives that became so long he had to close it……such are the manifold blessings and challenges in the life of the irrepressible Fingal Ferguson, of the famous Gubeen Farm in West Cork.
The Gubeen name has long been synonymous with quality produce, starting with the now-famous Gubeen cheese that Fingal’s parents, Giana and Tom, started to make around the time of his birth, in 1979, and which today remains one of the doyennes of Irish farmhouse cheese. Today the farm, near the sea outside Schull, has grown beyond anything the family could have imagined, employing around 25 people and producing everything from salad greens and organic vegetables to bronze turkeys, oatcakes and of course Fingal’s superb charcuterie.
Among the 50 or so cured meats he makes is the smoked bacon we use regularly here in Chapter One, much loved by another Irish chef, Richard Corrigan, who once described it as ‘love at first taste.’ It is a key component of a signature dish that for a long time featured on our tasting menu: Pig’s Tail stuffed with Fingal Ferguson’s bacon and razor clams, basil puree, with land cress and mustard lime fruit.
Products of this quality – and Ireland is fortunate to have many – are the essence of our cooking. As Ross puts it: “If I were to nominate one dish to tell the story of Chapter One, this would be it. This is my cooking at its most heartfelt: making use of the tail of the pig. Nothing beats the flavour of pork and pork fat. There is almost a sweet flavour to it so we added a very rich, smoked bacon farce from Fingal Ferguson’s smoked bacon …….. A simple, earthy, sweet dish from our tasting menu, yet it sums up what our kitchen is all about.”
And like the food that comes out of the Chapter One kitchen, Fingal’s charcuterie is very much a collaborative affair, as the herbs he uses in his chorizo and salamis are grown, using biodynamic principles, by his sister, Clovis; while the ‘piggies’ (as he calls them) are raised on the family farm or chosen carefully from local producers who, like the Fergusons, raise their animals at least partly outdoors.
In dishes where we use his charcuterie, it is done in a similarly collaborative spirit. Rather than devise a dish that focuses solely on the meat itself – wonderful as it is – Chapter One chefs tend to use it in places where its appearance is more understated and, like all the best power couples, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Chorizo, like all charcuterie, offers a hit of that elusive ‘fifth taste,’ umami. Now, the science of umami is fairly impenetrable – it’s all about amino acids, particularly glutamate – but in essence it lends dishes a savoury, meaty flavour that is incredibly moreish. That characteristic is exploited liberally in our current dish of Halibut, Gubeen chorizo, squid, sea buckshorn, where the smoky richness of the chorizo comes through in the potato dumplings, its salty savouriness highlighting the sweetness of the fish, particularly the squid.
Who knows what varieties of charcuterie Fingal will come up with next, because there’s no doubt that the ideas keep coming. Whatever they are, they’re sure to be delicious, and we can’t wait to see what they are and how they taste. And to experiment with the myriad ways they can end up on the plate.
Step inside any Sheridans’s cheese store (Dublin, Galway, Waterford or Meath), and you are instantly transported. For lovers of dairy and all things cheese-related, Sheridan’s is nothing short of heaven.
Spoilt for Choice
Everywhere are shelves laden with wheels, boxes and blocks of cheeses of every variety and pungency, from milk-mild, almost floral goats’ cheese to full-on, brace-yourself cheddars and rich, veiny blues. There are just so many to choose from, but choosemust, because Chapter One is changing its cheese menu.
The ‘terroir’ of cheese
On hand to help us is the charming John, whose knowledge of cheese and cheese-making is mind-boggling. In just a half hour we hear about everything from the sugars in milk and the microbiota of cows (like a terroir in wine, cheese reflects its environment perfectly, including gut flora), to textures, flavours and, of course, the variable, myriad outcomes of ‘affinage’, the near-alchemical process of ‘cheese maturing.’
How to Choose?
Today, as on every other occasion we’ve visited, Sheridan’s stock includes the best currently available, and John has handpicked a few for us to try. Our cheese menu here at Chapter One has to be the perfect balance of variety and flavour, texture and finish. Blues need to avoid being too harsh, goat’s cheeses shouldn’t be overly redolent of the farmyard, and fresh, delicate young cheeses need to find their counterpart in something a bit more mature. A plate of cheese here, offered as an alternative to dessert, features three cheeses of the guest’s choice. But we also offer an assiette of all six cheeses, so there needs to be enough variety for both.
Making the shortlist
After an hour of tastings and much discussion, a shortlist is starting to take shape, and a week later, our head pastry chef, Darren (who looks after the cheese menu) and Ross visit once more to finalise things. It’s decided that the distinctive, earthy Hegarty’s cheddar will be the one cheese we simply cannot do without, so it stays on the menu, but every other cheese is making its debut.
The Chosen Ones
So without further fanfare, here is the final selection. Thanks to John and Darren for their input. We hope that when you visit, you will enjoy tasting them as much as we did!
Produced by John and Bernie Hempenstall on their farm at Curranstown in Co Wicklow.
Wicklow Bán is a double cream cheese with a fat content 65-70%, meaning that additional cream is added to the milk, thus ensuring a fuller flavour. This open-textured, bloomy rind cheese has a wonderfully full, creamy flavour with a mild, rich finish.
St Tola Ash Goat’s Log
Produced at Inagh Goat Farm, just south of the beautiful Burren area in Co. Clare.
A newbie to the stable, introduced in late 2012, this fresh, mild cheese is made with unpasteurised, organic goat’s milk from the St Tola herd of Saanen and Toggenburg goats.
This ash version of St Tola Log is encased in an edible charcoal, a method common in Loire Valley in France, which prevents some of the yeast and mould development on the rind.
Produced in the Jura Massif, France.
Made, like all comte, from unpasteurised cow’s milk, this one has been aged for three years, so all those classic notes of brown-butter and roasted nut aromas, and that famous sweet finish, are all the more pronounced. A rare treat to have one aged for this long. Smooth, creamy and simply sensational.
Produced by Dan & John Hegarty, Whitechurch, Co. Cork
Traditional cheddar with a distinct earthy flavour and crumbly texture.
Produced in the Netherlands.
This is a waxed-rind, hard goat’s cheese. The paste is smooth and moist, growing more crystalline with age. On the palate it is round, caramelized and smooth, albeit not overly complex.
Mature Cashel Blue
Produced by Jane & Louis Grubb, Fethard, Co. Tipperary
Pasteurised blue, natural-rind, creamy paste and rounded blue flavour. Cashel has none of the mouth-stinging harshness of certain blues, relying far more on finesse than sheer raw power