The Willems family have been making Coolea, on their farm near Macroom in Cork since 1979. The Willems belong to the very first generation of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers, whose cheesemaking began as part of an overall vision of agricultural self-sufficiency. Dick Snr and his wife Helen had moved from the Netherlands to the rural Ireland of the 1970s in pursuit of ‘the good life’. Helen actually began cheesemaking as a way of using up excess milk. Gouda was impossible to get locally at the time so Helen wrote home for a recipe and the rest is history.
Nowadays Dicky Jnr has taken over, but Coolea is still made using that same recipe. Over the years the demands of dairying and cheesemaking proved too much and Dicky Jnr now buys in milk from two local herds of Holsteins and Friesians. Dicky only uses milk from grass-fed cattle as milk from silage can taint the cheese as it ages. Similarly only traditional rennet is used as it makes far more age-worthy cheeses.
Dicky’s own preference is for wheels of 14-18 months. At this age the cheeses have developed complex secondary flavours, yet maintain sufficient moisture to keep them lively and refreshing. The quality of Coolea is testament to Dicky’s attention to detail, and the quality of milk produced in Ireland. The cheese is made using a standard gouda recipe, yet the result is better than most dutch gouda. The secret is simple. Dicky ensures that the high
quality of the milk is not lost in production. The result is high quality cheese.
Young Coolea is mild, semi-firm and buttery, a very pleasant everyday cheese. By contrast Mature Coolea is intensely full flavoured, deep and meaty, notes of toffee and caramel abound and the cheese has a long finish.