Aillwee is an experience located on the rugged Aillwee Mountain in the heart of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, it is a Show Cave, a Birds of Prey Centre, a Farm Shop, a Woodland Walk and an official UNESCO Global Geopark Geosite. It is a family run business which started operating in 1976 and is an important contributor to the local economy and community, Aillwee employs over 30 local people full-time, increasing to 60 during the summer tourism season, and sponsors a number of local community groups.
In 1985, Aillwee opened their Farm shop and started their journey into Cheese production by developing Burren Gold Cheese. Strengthening local livelihoods is at the heart of their business model. They devote 25% of their Farm shop produce to local restaurants, hotels and other local food enterprises, to ensure that these businesses can encourage consumer demand for exclusive Burren offerings.
Over the years, Aillwee has built a vibrant, co-dependent partnership with Caherconnel Farm, which is located just 5km away from their Farm shop. Their Cheesemaker, Damien starts each day by milking 700 litres of milk from a herd of 65 cows at the farm which he brings back to the Farm shop at Aillwee and turns into 70 kilos of our Burren Gold Gouda! Milking the cows just once a day (instead of the usual twice a day) is a healthy practice for the cows and it adds a creamier texture to the cheese. One of their cheeses is smoked naturally using oak shavings Traditional farmhouse cheese smoking is not widely practiced, which adds another unique element to Burren Gold Cheese.
Aillwee has exciting plans to develop a cheese experience in the future, where visitors can see and learn about the process of cheesemaking and taste the produce in the Farmshop. Much like GEOfood, the experience will aim to tell the story of farm to fork.
The Holstein Friesian cows that produce the milk for Burren Gold Cheese graze grass that grows on soil developed on glacial till, a chaotic mixture of glacially ground rocks and clay that were deposited on top of the Burren limestone by ice sheets that flowed south/southeast from Galway around 20,000 years ago during the peak of the last Ice Age. The ice sheets scraped the surface and incorporated and transported rocks from the land they flowed over. While most of the rocks in the glacial till are limestone derived from the Burren there are small amounts of rocks such as sandstones, granite and quartzite from Galway that give each deposit in the Burren its own unique geological flavour. There is an ancient tradition of farming at Caherconnell Fort, evidence of which is currently being uncovered by the Caherconnell Archaeological Field School. Cattle and sheep would have been protected from predators and rivals within the stone fort at night and grazed the local grasslands under supervision during the day. The art of using sheepdogs to move and protect cattle and sheep in the open expanse of the Burren is still practised there today.
For more information on Burren Gold Cheese, visit www.aillweeburrenexperience.ie/
All Photographs by Eamon Ward Photography