This indigenous landrace breed exudes character and is celebrated in Irish folklore and song, yet, despite its revered place in history, it is poised on the brink extinction. This incredibly hardy creature evolved over time to become adapted to the harsher elements of the Irish landscape. For centuries it was the sole goat breed available to the Irish cottager, and referred to as the ‘poor man’s cow’.
This short, stocky little goat with the extremely long outer coat and cashmere undercoat required to survive in such a rainy climate provided a dependable source of milk, meat, hide, and fiber on meager and marginal land. This beautiful little animal with the adorable ‘coif’ (pronounced quiff) of fur on its forehead is making a comeback, largely due to the selfless efforts of a group of passionate supporters, located mainly in the stunning seaside town of Mulranny in County Mayo. Captive breeding, DNA testing, YouTube campaigns and a new environmental center all help to spread the word and provide the infrastructure needed to ensure the survival of this ancient breed.
As a member of the board of the Old Irish Goat Society, I encourage all travelers to visit Mulranny, take a guided goat walk in the spectacular Nephin Beg Mountains that overlook Clew Bay and visit the environmental center. The wonderfully restored Mulranny Park Hotel offers luxury for the weary and access to the Great Western Greenway, offering miles of hiking and biking for those tired of sitting in a car. Also, during the summer months tourists to the area interested in both the goats and the unique and endangered coastal ecology of the Machair.
Information about the Old Irish Goat can be had at:
In this Youtube video featuring the boys and girls (bucks and does) of the captive breeding project and my good friends Padraic Brown and Cheryl Coburn Brown gives a better idea of the appearance and behavior of this breed than a photo or two can express.
For lodgings….The Mulranny Park Hotel: https://www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie/
The Great Western Greenway: http://www.greenway.ie/
Although there are no cheesemaking facilities or creameries in Mulranny (yet), a personal foodie favorite of mine is St. Tola Goat Dairy in lovely County Clare to the south of Mayo. Award-winning cheeses, wonderful and friendly folks ready with famed Irish hospitality and informational tours of the facility are available (by appointment). Their product is produced from more conventional goat dairy breeds, but the facilities, goats, and tour are wonderful never the less.
Owner Siobhan and longtime staffer Grainne sent these recipes along to me as personal and family favorites. Siobhan says….
“Our 2 legged kids Caoilte and Luisne love the pancake recipe as they really enjoy making pancakes and experimenting, especially to the rhyme “Mix a pancake, stir a pancake, pop it in a pan, fry a pancake, toss a pancake, catch it if you can“, which has been a family favourite for 3 generations.
My Dad, Flan , the kids Grandad, took a lot of persuading to eat our St. Tola cheese, but he particularly likes black pudding so has been tempted by the 1streceipe.To be honest we are all gluttons for the chocolate St.Tola cheesecake especially when Grainne makes it, as she has the flair!”
The pancake treatments include:
- Dot each pancake with 30g St Tola, 4 caramelised apple slices, a few walnuts and thyme leaves
- Spread some red onion marmalade over each pancake, dot with 30g St Tola and some peppery rocket (arugula) leaves
- Spread each pancake with 30g St Tola, some light Irish honey and a sprinkle of dried nuts and fruit.
Although I’m personally not a fan of arugula, I’m mad about red onion marmalade so I’m with the kids on this one. Here is my recipe:
Red Onion Marmalade
2 large red onions (about 6.5 cups), thinly sliced
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Simmer everything lovingly on medium-low until it reaches the desired consistency. Goes well with goat cheese and strips of tri-tip roast on crostini as well.
The other favourite St. Tola family recipes are:
St Tola with Black Pudding and Chutney
4 slices of good quality black pudding
2 large slices of sourdough bread
60g of St Tola soft cheese (either the Divine or Original)
Blackberry or other chutney
- Grill black pudding and keep warm
- Toast bread on one side only on hot grill.
- Spread St Tola equally over the untoasted sides of bread and put back under the grill
- Top with black pudding and chutney and serve with salad on the side.
- The St Tola family and friends often enjoy this as dish along with a hot cup of tea for a late night snack.
800 g St Tola curd cheese
190 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
142 ml pot of sour cream
100ml of double cream
200 g dark chocolate, (70%) roughly chopped
Instructions below, with all Irishisms retained!
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
For the base: Blitz the biscuits in a blender with the cocoa powder and process until finely ground. Slowly pour the melted butter into the processor while the motor is running. Press this mixture into the base of a 23-cm springform cake tin greased and base lined with greaseproof paper. Refrigerate while you make the cheesecake bit.
1. For the cake: Put the cream cheese, sugar, cream and sour cream and vanilla extract in an electric mixer or use a handheld electric whisk and beat on slow speed until you get a very smooth, thick mixture.
2. Add one egg at a time while still mixing. Scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl after adding the second and last eggs.
3. Mix till smooth and creamy, the mixer can be turned up to a higher speed at the end to make the mix a little lighter and fluffier. Be careful not to overmix or the cheese will split!
4. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t allow the base of the bowl to touch the water).
5. Spoon a little of the cream cheese mixture into the melted chocolate, stir to mix then add a little more. This will even out the temperatures of the two mixtures. Eventually you can stir all the cream cheese mixture into the chocolate mixture until combined.
6. Spoon the mixture onto the cold base.
Cook for 50 mins to 1hr. The cake should still be wobbly in the middle if you tap it. Turn off the oven, let the cake cool in the oven with the oven door open for 2 hours if you can. Then let the cake cool for at least 2 hours on the counter in the kitchen. Refrigerate overnight before serving with fresh Burren raspberries. (The nearby Burren district of County Clare is noted for its farm to table ‘food trail’).
If you choose to indulge in the Burren Food Trail (and its well worth devoting a full day to), the crew at St. Tola recommends the following local accommodations:
Siobhan says that if a visitor to the area “had to choose accommodation, and budget wasn’t an issue, I’m sure it would be Gregans Castle, as it is pure luxury in all aspects both dining, location, and accommodation. We (the staff and interns at St. Tola) are a good crowd for camping, so the Burren Glamping would be tried out too. We don’t have Woofers but do have students on internships here and helpers so Seaview House or Doolin Hotel would be popular as in Doolin which is great for nightlife, music and all kinds of entertainment.” Her comments on glamping and students was in response to my inquiry about the kinds of seasonal help they employ and where folks on a limited travle budget might stay. I have engaged a couple of dozen Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms (Wwoofers) over the years, who reside with me during their stay, but not every farm operation is set up that way.
To stop by the farm, sample the wares and possibly even arrange a tour, St. Tola can be reached via the info below.
St. Tola Irish Goat Cheese, Inagh Farmhouse Cheese Ltd
Maurices Mills, Ennistymon, Co Clare
Tel 00 353 (0)65 683 66 33
Ithe Breá – Eat Hearty!