Living for the Weekend Cheese: Bath Blue

Cheese of the Week, Living for the Weekend Cheese, Uncategorized

IMG_7111 In November of last year, Bath Blue cheese was named champion at the World Cheese Awards (held within the BBC Good Food Show at Olympia, London).

How is such a mighty honour bestowed? Wheels within wheels.

To achieve its crown, Bath Blue had to beat over 2,700 other international contenders. The process is one of elimination: first a longlist is arrived at (these are usually referred to as Gold-winning cheeses (silver, bronze and “no award” designations are also applied)). The worthy Gold are then whittled down to an illustrious Super Gold shortlist (at the BBC event there were 50 of these blinged-out top notch cheeses).

Up to this point, 250 judges & cheese-perts have been sniffing, tasting and calling the shots. They wear white lab coats appropriate for the clinical ambiance dominating the great open rooms where these things take place, more airport hall than hearty deli. However, once the Super Golds have been lined up for inspection, cometh the supreme jury comprised (according to The Telegraph and in the case of the WCA) of “12 experts from the four corners of the globe”.

The magnificent 12 then, without X-Factor style showboating (could be interesting though), choose the king of IMG_7104kings. Beneath the champ, but above all the rest, are other major winners with attractive titles such as Best French Cheese (Matured Basque Heart, 2014); World’s Best Unpasteurised Cheese (Bayley Hazen Blue, 2014); and Exceptional Contribution to Cheese (Roland Barthelemy, 2014).

As for Bath Blue, made by The Bath Soft Cheese Co, well it’s a lovely organic blue. An eater. Very creamy, with a mild blue flavour running through its green veins (and with less metallic tang than Shropshire Blue of which it reminded me). A worthy winner.

Next week: nowt.

Week after next: Cheese.

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Oxford Isis

Cheese of the Week, Living for the Weekend Cheese, Not about cheese, Uncategorized

IMG_7082Ah, Isis. How could Oxford Cheese Co., naming this honey mead-washed triumph in 2003, have predicted that its lyrical associations of punts sliding over the placid waters of The Isis would become overshadowed by something so diametrically opposed?

Stemming from this has been a surprising trend of everything from TV shows to Ann Summers feeling it necessary to publish disclaimers that the Isis they’re referencing is not “that Isis”. Other companies have felt the backlash to such a degree that they’ve rebranded, jettisoning the increasingly toxic tag entirely.

I contacted Oxford Cheese Co, and they reported that, while “Sales have not gone down visibly, we have had some IMG_7085retailers and restaurants stop taking Isis cheese. Also we have had a couple of weird phone calls threatening us with violence unless we changed the name of our cheese.”

Woah. Don’t freak out, Isis terrorist group haters! You’re letting them win. Isis was an ancient Egyptian river goddess; The Isis is a river in Oxford; Isis is a thong, baby doll, and plunge bra by Ann Summers; most importantly it’s also a fantastic, award-winning cheese.

But it stinks. Oh yes, a triple bagger for the fridge and no mistake (probably a DEFCON 3 to Époisses’ or Stinking Bishop’s DEFCON 1). Washed in five-year old Oxfordshire Honey Mead, this creamy, pasteurised cow’s milk disc has a glittering golden rind extremely sticky to the touch, like a paper bag of sweets left too long in the car. It’s aged for six to eight weeks, and when it arrived at my door from those kind people at The Cheese Market it had a quite a springy semi-soft texture.

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As is often the case with washed rind cheese, the smell was by no way an indicator of the strength of flavour, which was fairly mild, tangy and meaty (those medieval monks what came up with this technique didn’t get their pious hands on a whole lot of filet mignon in those days, so these kinds of cheeses were intended to be a stand-in). Crusty bread helped to rein in the odour a touch, although the juxtaposition of relatively meek interior with virulent stench is all part of the magic and joy of a successful washed rind cheese.

We (imaginatively) drizzled over some orange blossom honey, and as the local Co-op aisle yoofs hadn’t even heard of mead, paired it with some tasty honey ale.

A friend tasting with me said that a mouthful of honey-drizzled Oxford Isis transported him back to a simpler time of robbing the rich to give to the poor. I’m not sure how helpful this comment is generally, but considered in the context of him as a lover of tradition, perhaps it can be seen as aligning Oxford Isis with some intrinsic idea of Englishness. Exactly like punting along The Isis.

So show your support: pick up an Oxford Isis, get your hair cut at Isis hair salon in Blackpool, buy an Ann Summers thong, or just start referring to the terrorist group by its toilet detergent Isil name instead. Or even just as IS. Or will we have to stop using the word is then?

Je suis Oxford Isis.

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Next week: non-political cheese

Double or Nothing

Cheese of the Week, Uncategorized

Happy Cheese Lovers Day, apparently. Good excuse to run out and pick up some cheese. But what is this, like a birthday for cheese fiends? If so, where’s my present? If someone is going to start up a national day of this kind – be it enthusiast, marketeer, or government – then they need to follow through. Those purporting to be Cheese Lovers should head to the local Office of Cheese once a year with receipts indicating regular cheese purchases. Perhaps also give a blood sample, demonstrating a Lover level of cholesterol (as opposed to just a flimflam “fancier”). Then, on Happy Cheese Lovers Day, those card-carrying cheese lovers receive the gift of a letterbox-suitable cheese… a St. Jude, perhaps, or go ahead and push through a cylinder of Stilton. Then I’ll really be a Happy Cheese Lover, and it will be my Day.

Appleby's Double Gloucester

Appleby’s Double Gloucester. Happy to say that they don’t sell it nibbled and gouged.

Let’s talk Double Gloucester. Some facts: differences between Single and Double Gloucester are the lower fat content in the former, and Double is aged longer (about 4 – 6 months compared to Single’s two); both historically made in the West Country county of Gloucestershire  from the milk of even-tempered (and endangered) Old Gloucester cattle; Double quickly develops a tough rind making it good for transport and for rolling down Coopers Hill; annatto gives it the orange hue.

Both types of Gloucester are extremely mild, cheddary-style cheeses, and because of this I’ve always preferred Double. It’s extra creaminess (it’s made from whole milk and the cream of two milkings whereas Single is produced with partially skimmed milk) elevates it above the galaxy of mild cheddars available. The Appleby’s made me happy, and Steven Jenkins recommends these dudes. It goes down easy with a glass of perry.

A special mention should be made of cheesemaker Charles Martell – he of Stinking Bishop fame – who in the 70s revived the traditional Double Gloucester after industry had debased the recipe for the demands of heartless mass production. Martell also stood up for the dwindling Old Gloucesters through the resurrection of the Gloucester Cattle Society. The Society has this charming webpage, advertising cattle as if they were lonely souls in the personals, with the recommendation that they make: “ideal house cows”.

Next week: Bath Blue…

 

Living for the Mid-Week Cheese: Appleby’s (part deux)

Cheese of the Week, Living for the Mid-Week Cheese, smoked cheese, Uncategorized

Back on the esteemed Appleby’s this week (click here for the all important Appleby’s part one).

Appleby’s is famous for its normal Cheshire, but sneak a look behind that cheese’s broad shoulders and you’ll discover, first with your nose, Appleby’s Smoked Cheshire.

Smoked CheshireThe rind is a deep meaty orange, almost resembling crackling. Otherwise its resemblance to its pure blood sibling is identical.

It has a powerful smoky whiff. Be sure to double bag it swiftly, and do not allow it to share a fridge compartment with milk in an open container unless you like smoked milk. The cheese itself is smoked for three to seven days using oak chips and a smokehouse – the olden traditional way – rather than going the newfangled liquid smoke route.

Now, the producers describe the flavour as “delicate”. I have a number of smoked cheeses in my time, and this rates as one of the more powerful. Certainly one of the more delicious as well – you can really tell the difference between a smokehouse-smoked cheese and one that’s been flavoured with the liquid smoke (although the latter does usually go hand in hand with a generally worse overall product; of course, this isn’t always the case as best exemplified by the Nantwich Intl. award-winning Smokey Redwood Cheddar which is flavoured by liquid smoke of cheesemaker David William’s own devising. Smokey Redwood Cheddar, from the adventurous Cheshire Cheese Co,  has won a gold medal for five straight years at Nantwich, plus multiple golds at the World Cheese Awards – very much the Michael Phelps of the cheese world. We’ll have to have a taste comparison here at some stage… but for now: stop pulling focus, digression cheese).

We quickly became addicted to this cheese. Smoked cheese is always very more-ish, but this one, with its extra depth and Cheshirey texture, certainly trumped our engagement with previous smoked cheddars we have enjoyed. Interestingly, when grated onto baked beans, the flavour did become more delicate. A changeling.

Next: Double or nothing

Photo Diary: Alba White Truffle Fair, Piedmont

Not about cheese, Photo Diary

Apologies once more for the irregularity of these posts. I think irregular may be the new regular.

This late post was partly because I had the good fortune to attend the Alba White Truffle Fair earlier this month. You can read about some of what I got up to at World Travel Guide.

From a cheese perspective, I spent one, glorious evening with some pancetta crudo, bread, and a slab of Castelmagno. My first time. It was wonderful, like a Caerphilly with attitude. GB cheesemakers: we need a domestic response.

I’m working on catching up with scheduled cheese posts, but until then here’re some images from the truffle fair:

Medieval shenanigans surround the fair, the highlight of which is a donkey version of the Palio di Siena.

Medieval shenanigans surround the fair, the highlight of which is a donkey version of the Palio di Siena.

The magical Alba White Truffle. Check out its current price per 20 grams at www.tuber.it. Click on the truffle stock market.

The magical Alba White Truffle. Check out its current price per 20 grams at http://www.tuber.it. Click on the truffle stock market.

Truffle Dundee makes a sale. All the truffle sellers are real characters.

Truffle Dundee makes a sale. All the truffle sellers are real characters.

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Professor Calculus says, “Just sniff it.”

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 Mandy Patinkin needs to up his truffle selling game

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Where do I get me one of those t-shirts?

The tshirt is only the beginning of how awesome this guy is.

No pigs used for truffle hunting in Italy, only dogs trained with truffle oil-doused tennis balls.

No pigs used for truffle hunting in Italy, only dogs trained with tennis balls doused with truffle oil. Training starts at 3 months, and the truffle dog is ready after three years. There is even a truffle dog university in Piedmont. 

Also for sale are a lot of mushrooms, salami, Piedmont's stellar cheeses, and artsy craftsy items.

Also for sale are a lot of mushrooms, salami, Piedmont’s stellar cheeses, and artsy craftsy items.

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"What do you mean 'no corkscrew'?"

“What do you mean ‘no corkscrew’?”

Next time: Appleby’s part deux

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Appleby’s Cheshire

Living for the Weekend Cheese
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The cheese arrived in traditional forms, so we proceeded to mouth carve the wedges into something more interesting.

Something of a three in one this week and next, where we’ll be looking at the annatto-tinted marvels produced by Cheshire-based Appleby’s.

(US readers: not to be mistaken with Appleby’s where you pay for someone to microwave your dinner.)

The Appleby family are a big name in Cheshire cheese, in the same way as Mrs. Kirkham’s is to traditional Lancashire cheese or Ed Miliband to uninspiring nasal speech-giving. In their sixty plus years of producing the goods, the Appleby family has been showered in praise and accolades and established themselves as the benchmark for traditionally-produced Cheshire cheese. With Cheshire cheese receiving a name drop in the Domesday Book, this is a great and heavy honour to bear.

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Now there are two types of Cheshire cheese: the Good Stuff, and the bloodless, sullen, acidic, wet, tasteless, mass-produced white blocks that puts one in mind of ticks and corpses too long in the river. Avoid the latter.

The Good Stuff comes from cattle grazed on the Cheshire plain which, with its high concentration of underlying bedrock salt, imparts a salty tang to the cheese. The salt content also slows the ripening process, and this retardation delivers the crumbliness for which Cheshire is known. A Cheshire is usually aged between two and six months.

The flavour is subtle and complex, and therefore not an easy one to pin down with a cold nose even after quietly eating about half a block over an entire afternoon. So I’m going to call in the assistance of American cheese legend, Steven Jenkins, who describes Farmhouse Cheshire (and he goes nuts for Appleby’s) as having “an essential cheesiness that is slightly salty, pleasurably savoury, and a bit like root beer or horehound candy with undertones of roast chicken”.

My feeling is that Jenkins’ tasting may have taken place after a hearty lunch of roast chicken and root beer followed by whatever the hell horehound candy is (hores?). However he is the legend and, as I have a cold nose, I shall defer to his deft palatechnics.

Next: More Appleby’s…

Photo Diary: Royal Bath & West Show

Photo Diary, Uncategorized

I had some cheese to review this week, but I unfortunately ate it all before I had a chance to photograph it. Therefore, here is some filler a photo diary from the recent Royal Bath & West Show – an agricultural show that, for the first time this year, incorporated the British Cheese Awards. I think they need to work on allowing the visiting public to try the competition cheese, rather than having them in a sort of plastic wrapped museum format, but I concede that I know nothing of the logistics that go into such an undertaking (1,000 + cheeses sent in for judging). That said, feels like there are tricks being missed. But it is only the first.

Mix of Somerset gentlefolk at Bath & West

Mix of Somerset gentlefolk at Bath & West

British Cider Championships held at Bath & West. Apparently, Bob Chaplin, of Doulting near Shepton Mallet, took the Fruiterers' Trophy for the Supreme Champion British Cider, for his Broadpool Cider dry. "This is the pinnacle", Bob said. "To have won the very first British Cider Championships is the high point of my cider-making career. There can't be any greater honour."

British Cider Championships held at Bath & West. Apparently, Bob Chaplin, of Doulting near Shepton Mallet, took the Fruiterers’ Trophy for the Supreme Champion British Cider, for his Broadpool Cider dry. “This is the pinnacle”, Bob said. “To have won the very first British Cider Championships is the high point of my cider-making career. There can’t be any greater honour.”

Bit of a rip off, if you ask me

Very nice, bit of a rip off

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Cider judging. I know a bloke what can knock you up one of those purple badges for a fiver.  Go to car park C, ask for Geoff.

Mighty cider selection available at the bar

Mighty cider selection available at the bar. “I’ll have an ‘alf of the Barn Owl, please, stout yeoman of the bar.”

Cider makers showing demonstrating how it's done

Cider makers demonstrating the traditional ways

Not very popular band, although I thought they sounded fine

The die hard fan

"Mm, do you have a bag with a dog on?"

“I’m looking for something very specific: a photograph frame for a portrait of a horse with a lime green border. I’ve looked everywhere, I’m at my wits end – can you help?”

Prize pigs doing what they do

Prize pigs

Prize cow

Prize cow

Look at the size of this!

Look at the size of this!

More prize livestock.

“Mm, good hooves…”

Clearly the owner is no fan of Keira Knightley

Clearly no fan of Keira Knightley

Another delicious, I mean, handsome looking beast

Another delicious, I mean, handsome looking beast

Buffing the undercarriage

Buffing the undercarriage…

The Conquering Cheddar: Quickes Vintage Cheddar from Devon. Congrats to Mary Quicke! It's a shame they didn't have time to truck some up to the show as the results are known only the night before.

The Conquering Cheddar: Quickes Vintage Cheddar from Devon. Congrats to Mary Quicke!

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Reserve Champ: Humming Bark by Carrigbyrne Cheese… intriguing little fellow

The King of Kings: Rosary Garlic & Herb by Rosary Goats Cheese - I'll be getting medieval on its ass pretty soon and no mistake.

The King of Kings: Rosary Garlic & Herb by Rosary Goats Cheese. Release the hounds.