Gubbeen: a family farm - David Kennedy and Sarah Sheehan

Gubbeen: a family farm

The story of Gubbeen cheese began when Tom Ferguson was joined on the dairy farm that had been in his family for six generations by his new wife. Giana had learnt to make soft cheese from the milk from her father's goats, and so it seemed natural to experiment with making cheese on the kitchen Aga in an old ham pot. Xxx from nearby Durrus was a good friend who would come over and share her knowledge. Initially the cheese was just made for their young family, but word spread and a single cautious round was put behind the counter in O'Keefe's general store in Schull. 15 minutes later the phone rang - it had already sold!

The cheese is named after the family farm where it was first created, and is now distributed internationally and enjoyed by far more people than just the Ferguson family. The early years of investing in the necessary kit and complying with legal requirements were tough, but Giana always believed in her cheese and took encouragement from the support of other local cheese producers and characters such as xx from Neal's Yard. In those early years when the public were waking up to the value of artisan food, they were part of the xx cheese network, and recognised the value of working together with fellow artisans.

This is a common theme with the skilled foodies that we meet: they have a passion for what they do, and are generous in sharing their experience and support with their food community.* There have been variations of Gubbeen over the years, but they have settled on two cheeses, both with washed rinds, one natural and one smoked. During production both types are washed in milk and wine, to develop the distinct character of the rind, and the smoked cheese is dipped in wax to preserve xxxxx.

This is a common theme with the skilled foodies that we meet: they have a passion for what they do, and are generous in sharing their experience and support with their food community.* There have been variations of Gubbeen over the years, but they have settled on two cheeses, both with washed rinds, one natural and one smoked. During production both types are washed in milk and wine, to develop the distinct character of the rind, and the smoked cheese is dipped in wax to preserve xxxxx.

When Giana first arrived at the farm, tankers would arrive daily to take the milk away to be made into cheddar, but Gubbeen is proud that today all milk produced by the farm's herd of around 130 dairy cows is made into cheese right there on the property. Increasing cheese production by buying in milk is not an option - like a fine wine, the character and flavour of an artisan cheese reflects its terroire, so bringing in ingredients from elsewhere, however expertly produced, can upset the delicate balance that creates a well-defined product.

Deals with two major distributors mean that Gubbeen cheese can now be found in major retailers and specialist cheese shops, but to really get the flavour of this cheese, why not find them at one of the farmer’s markets that they attend, such as on Saturday mornings in Skibbereen. You’ll find not only Gubbeen cheeses on their stall, but other Irish and European cheeses, with an array of other products from the farm: son Fingal’s cured meats made from animals reared and butchered by him on the farm, fresh greens grown in the kitchen garden by daughter Clovisse, and maybe some cheese biscuits or honey.

Giana's eyes light up when she talks about her cheese, and is delighted that Gubbeen is a farm that supports not just herself and Tom and their traditional dairy herd, but also an environment in which both their children have found their own unique ways of living with and off this land, that has already sustained generations of Fergusons.

Follow the links at the foot of the page to read more about the other family enterprises and the Skibbereen Farmer’s Market - the stories of Fergal and Clovis demonstrate the innovative nature of this fascinating family. And what does the future hold? There is another generation waiting in the wings, and we are told that the oldest grandchild - very sensibly! - is a fan of cheese, so we can't wait to see what other fabulous foodieness might come out of this beautiful wild Atlantic corner of Ireland.