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Irish Soda Bread and a Fine Irish Cheese

Irish Soda Bread is a great recipe to bring a little of the Irish to your table on St. Patrick’s Day. It is a humble bread that asks for just a few ingredients and is economical to prepare. Even better, it is a quick bread so you don’t need to hang around the kitchen all day waiting for it to rise. You can make it for breakfast or add it to fill out a modest dinner or even toast it for a late night snack. It is also great for picnics or for a St. Patrick’s Day appetizer, served with a fine Irish cheese.

A few days ago I picked up a wedge of Cahill’s Irish Porter Cheese at Whole Foods. In contrast to the soda bread it is safe to say there is nothing humble about this cheese. It is both pricey and showy. The brown wax rind, though it must be removed before eating, adds a sultry note of dark chocolate to the cheese's visual appeal and lends to an elegant presentation. In fact this cheese is gorgeous straight out of the wrapper!

What’s more, the flavor of this cheddar does not disappoint. Richly marbled with the bittersweet malt of a good porter this cheese has a distinct and interesting taste. It makes a notable appetizer featured on a cheeseboard, with crackers or slices of earthy bread.

Ever curious, I wanted to see what else I could do with it. I thought it might make an exceptionally good grilled cheese sandwich. Of course, hidden between two slices of bread I thought this cheese would be a bit of an aesthetic waste for anyone but the cook, so I made the sandwiches open faced on thick slices of the soda bread. I also checked my garden for some new green shoots of fresh herbs to add on top. I found some chives pushing up into the sunshine, sprigs of parsley still nestled down in the leaves and some new shoots of sage to add a touch of spring to the sandwiches.

Open faced they looked great going into the oven. The cheese is crumbly but looked pretty with the fresh herbs laid on top.

Melted and bubbly fresh from the oven they left much to be desired. My photos look even worse than the real thing but the pleasing appearance of the cheese was lost under the broiler and the soda bread slices looked as if they were coated in brown goo rather than topped with a beautiful slice of cheese. Still I sprinkled more fresh herbs on top and tried them. Though they were certainly nothing to look at they did taste nice! The bittersweet of the porter veins in the cheese contrasted nicely with the hearty rustic flavor of the bread. Served with a beer these would be a treat but would definitely profit in looks from a slice of tomato on top.

Persuaded not to worry about covering this pretty cheese as it melted, I made a closed grilled cheese sandwich on the stovetop as demonstrated by my son last year, in his brilliant recipe for a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich. This sandwich looked more impressive. I added a few strands of grated parmesan to the top of the bread before grilling to pattern the bread and add some interest. Grilled slowly over a low heat it browned nicely and had a great flavor.

However you serve it, fresh, toasted, or as a sandwich with a handsome Irish cheese, try this simple Irish Soda Bread. You'll be glad you did!

Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from a recipe for Mary Loughran's Irish Wheaten Bread I clipped from The Oregonian some years ago…

2 cups all-purpose four
3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together the flours, baking soda, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the buttermilk. Blend with a fork until the mixture begins to hold together and form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead it five or ten times to form a smooth dough.

Shape the dough into a circle approximately 1 1/2 inches thick and place it on a greased baking sheet. Cut a cross on the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and let rest on a wire rack to cool.


Note: Add 1/4 cup wheat germ, bran or oats to the flour, if you like, to add texture.


Mary Bergfeld said...

I love the ease with which soda bread can be put together. I also learned a lot about cheese tonight. I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

Oh my it looks way more than humble. It's outstanding.

Anonymous said...

That looks wonderful! I even like the melted version--that cheese is spectacular (not brown goo at all) ;) ! I'm sure it was heavenly on that bread.

grace said...

it's undeniably a beautiful cheese in its solid form, but i don't mind the melty version either. melty cheese is good. happy st patty's day, lisa!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

First of all I love the name of your blog. Secondly the cheese does draw you in with its good looks as well. Happy St. Paddy's Day.

Michelle said...

WOW...look at that cheese! I had to look closely. At first I thought it was a tye-dyed fabric. I'll have to try it!

Donna-FFW said...

It looks amazing and so simple to make. I am printing it out and saving it till next year.. I may make it sooner though, it looks so delicious!! ESPECIALLY with that gorgeous cheese!

Lisa said...

Thanks for your comments and encouragements. Soda bread is quite easy to make and provides a nice rustic staple to fill out the day's meals. I seem to only make it around St. Patrick's Day but I'm not sure why. It is really a nice bread for any day of the year.

You're right, the melted Porter cheese was very tasty, and I guess it didn't really look that bad, just not as good as I expected it to.

Thank you all for stopping by!

Elyse said...

Wow, what a fabulous looking sandwich. Your bread looks delicious, and that cheese looks sharp and divine! Put the two together, and I can't imagine how heavenly the taste must be!

Puneet said...

I know this recipe of yours is over two years old, but I will be attempting my own version of this today. Thanks for the inspiration. I will be using the recipe from the book "How To Bake" by Nick Malgieri

Lisa said...

Puneet - I'm glad to be an inspiration at any time. Good luck with the your Irish Soda Bread. A loaf of home baked bread is a wonderful treat!