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

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…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Tymsboro

Living for the Weekend Cheese

tyms1Cheese, like people, comes in many different shapes. However, unlike cheese, society seems to be fixated on a particular ideal shape, whereas cheesemakers employ numerous shapes in their craft and not all that are ideal. When cheese eaters consume too much cheese, they tend to also share a particular same shape, which is perhaps not society’s ideal. But it is the cheese eater’s ideal to be eating cheese, and as cheesemakers aren’t fussy about shape, then it’s best to consume both product and associated ideology, relax, and loosen your belt.

This message was paid for by Type 2 Diabetes.

I’ve written about Tymsboro before, but as anyone who has eaten Tymsboro will tell you, you can’t have too much of a good thing. In these pictures is the creamy fresh version rather than the aged, way goatier Portrait of Dorian Grey variety that you can also pick up. The pictured is like goat’s cheese ice cream, cool and clean – a lemony, almondy siren song to the tastebuds.IMG_4509tymsTiny-2

Tymsboro is named for Timsbury, a village not far from Bath, where it and other cheeses are made on Sleight Farm by the just and wise Mary Holbrook. Holbrook was one of the lynchpins of the UK’s 70s artisan cheese recovery. Ditching her gig as an archaeologist, she toured Europe unearthing mad cheese skillz instead ( the farmhouse ways had been lost in much of Blighty at this time).

Tymsboro’s shape reflects Holbrook’s travels. In Valençay, central France, the Frenchies have been churning out truncated pyramidal cheeses till the goats come/came home. Indeed, according to this Neal’s Yard Dairy write up, Holbrook scored the recipe that forms the basis of Tymsboro from a ‘cheesemaker’s bible’ while at a “goat conference in Tours”.

There doesn’t seem to be a practical reason for the shape of these cheeses, however, there’s a story concerning Napoleon of which various versions are told. Conflating two sources, apparently the diplomat Talleyrand had a pyramidal goat’s cheese made for Napoleon during his Egypt campaign. After the campaign went south, either Talleyrand flattened the top himself so as not to bum out Napoleon on his Valençay visits or Napoleon did it himself with his sword (got to be pretty hammered to attack the cheese course, but we’ve all been there).

Next week: Bath & West fun and games…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Berkswell

Living for the Weekend Cheese

Rind onI’ve always considered it classic artis-anal (tip of the hat to Ruaraidh) marketwank to label a sheep’s milk cheese “ewe’s milk”. Well, thinks I, milk the ram over there and let’s see how that cheese goes down. But, once again, uncharacteristic diligence bowls me a googly: a swift fact check leads to Wikipedia’s male lactation page (not a fave bookmark for the mooby gentleman). Apparently, the male can spontaneously lactate, although, with sheep and goats, this is more often encountered in the latter.

Cue video showing how a male goat lactating can really spice up a slow news day in India (complete with awesome Bollywood soundtrack to replace the reporter they couldn’t be bothered to send to the village):

Light’s not great, but I’m pretty sure that’s an udder they’re aiming in the cup. Love how unimpressed the newsreader looks at the end.

Segue seamlessly to Berkswell, a hard, unpasteurised ewe’s milk (point accepted… just) cheese made in a handsome 16th Century brick and sandstone farmhouse near the village of Berkswell, West Midlands.

Berkswell by night

This award-winning milky marvel has a pale, cream-coloured paste (that these noirish photos aren’t too helpful in demonstrating) with a more-ish grainy texture (characteristic of harder sheep’s milk cheeses). Its flavour is a light, lingering nuttiness closer to Manchego than Ossau-Iraty. The wedge I bought was young, although the cheesemonger did produce a slice of very mature Berkswell from off the shelf that’d I’d mistaken for a decorative toenail. But the mature sample was salty, complex, delectable, if a tad overpowering for the cheeseboard – he recommended grating when in this condition, as it can apparently form a very tasty crust when cooked.

The Berkswell acted as the hard cheese mainstay on a three cheese board and I must admit that, while it is a lovely cheese, I missed the creaminess of a good cheddar. But then some Mrs Balls Original Chutney was introduced, and there was a partnership that sang with all the jaunty fruit and nut of Brian Blessed after ten tankards of mead.

Next week: another West Country tower of goaty power…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Ticklemore Goat

Living for the Weekend Cheese, Seasonal Cheeses

It’s May Day, Walpurgisnacht, or annual official opportunity for students to get half cut and wacky around bridges. However, there is good reason for celebration besides the slightly creepy fertility stuff that the ancients Britons left lying around  (I’m looking at you, Padstow). Apparently, we can expect the average temperature to rise by a whole three degrees on paltry April. Even better, the translation of the Old English name for May is the ‘Month of Three Milkings’… cheese production also on the up and up?

What a month.

May Day also marks the final post in this Fromology springtime procession of goat’s cheese (four cheeses a procession doth make, apparently). Today, let’s return to Ticklemore Goat.

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Despite sounding like a misdemeanor, this is a very approachable, easy-eating cheese. Developed by artisan cheese hero Robin Congden of Ticklemore Cheeses in Devon, Congden offloaded Ticklemore Goat to his pals and current producers Debbie Mumford and Mark Sharman at nearby Sharpham Creamery (the skinny, apparently, was that Congdon was getting into the blues, the hard stuff, and didn’t have a fancy for no mo’ of that vanilla Ticklemore Goat manufacture.)

Fortunately, the Sharpham team took up the slack, and Ticklemore Goat remains on the shelves of our most sagacious cheese IMG_3551purveyors (including Paxton and Whitfield, Neal’s Yard Dairy, and Bath Fine Cheese Co. where I picked up this wedge). For me, it’s classic goat: light and refreshing. That makes it sound like I splash it on after a run, but, of course, I mean splashed on the palette. Gentle floral and herbaceous flavours – if this wasn’t pasteurised, it’d be a significant life event. Comes away in slightly moist, feathery slices. No crackers required. As it stands: simply a delicious cheese. A sliver between courses would make for a classy palette cleanser. Better than that sorbet crap.

Listen up, restaurateurs!

Next week: something other than goat’s cheese…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Cerney

Living for the Weekend Cheese, Seasonal Cheeses

Lake Como, LombardyApologies for the overlong gap between this and the last post. I’ve been cheating on GB cheese with the many (obviously inferior) delights of Lombardy for a week, especially toothsome Taleggio, transfixing Gorgonzola, and a bewitching Bergamo (exact name to be discovered). There’s some handsome country to gaze upon while eating your cheese, such as Lake Como as pictured here with Bellagio in the foreground.

But enough lake-gazing – it’s back to Blighty: aggressive nesting gulls, chill April winds that curdle the hopeless soul… and the fresh taste of our springtime cheese crop! This week, we’re focusing on the much ballyhooed Cerney (or Cerney Pyramid, according to its passport).

Made in Gloucestershire, the pyramid shape suggests Valençay influence. Developed by the canny Lady Angus of CerneyCerney, it looks very dashing in its ash and sea salt coat, and a first glance might suggest a lighter goat’s cheese. But as soon as you get tactile, you find it’s moist, and it begins sticking to your fingers and slate as soon as you’ve unwrapped it from its award besmirched plastic wrap.

At first, I didn’t get it. I’d heard about this cheese for a while, and here it was being creamy, yes, smooth, yes, but… what else? Let it be known that there was a slab of Ticklemore on the table as well, with all of its immediate goaty flavour. With the Cerney, the fresh taste was delicate, elusive, almost overwhelmed by all of that sticky full fat texture.

But as the evening progressed, the Cerney became first choice. It’s the texture that develops and subsequently beguiles. At first Cerney seems all “come and get me big boy”, but really it wants to engage you, coyly show you its diary, maybe read you some of its flowery sonnets and share its, uh, lemony notes. It’s all about the subtext, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. Lady Angus, you have my attention. Best on water biscuits with maybe a large glass of Sancerre. Hell, why not a pint?

Next week: Ticklemore or less…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Dorstone

Living for the Weekend Cheese, Uncategorized

Dorstone is a village and a cheese. Apparently the village is very nice, set in the picturesque Golden Valley of Herefordshire and home to an annual sloe gin competition where the winner is crowned ‘Grand Master of the Sloes’.

Dorstone the cheeseBut let’s be honest here: none of us are ever going to go to the village of Dorstone except by happy accident, so let’s focus on the far more accessible Dorstone cheese that emigrates regularly from the artisan cheesemaking facilities of Neal’s Yard Creamery, Dorstone Hill, to the UK’s luckiest urban centres. Confusingly, Neal’s Yard Creamery in Dorstone is named for cheese purveyor Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. Creamery used to be a part of Dairy until it upped sticks to the south east in ’96 to independently produce cheeses of the goat and of the cow.

No identity crises surround Dorstone the cheese, however, which is a fun little wrinkly grey tower of goat – no more, no less. The handsome blue grey rind is the result of a covering of ash, and the commingling of various white, blue and green moulds that develop during the two week aging process and which we try hard not to think about while we’re enjoying our cheese. The pristine white interior draws a striking contrast to the exterior, and has a lemony, zesty freshness when shoved in the mouth. The texture is fluffy, apparently the result of pre-draining the curd.

Dorstone was the tower of power on my Christmas cheeseboard last year. Even if you’re not a huge goat’s cheese fan, you’ll get on alright with friend Dorstone. Nice with a drop of honey. I suppose you could call it the ‘Grand Master of the Easygoing Goats’, although that could sound quite dubious out of context, so probably best to just call it Dorstone.

Next week: more cheese

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Shropshire Blue

Living for the Weekend Cheese
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Classiest dressed cheese I ever saw

Colston Bassett’s Shropshire Blue is not from Shropshire, and it’s predominantly crayon orange, but otherwise  the name fits like a glove. It arrived at my home wrapped in someone’s marriage certificate.

It makes sense that Stilton producer Colston Bassett – which celebrated a hundred cheese making years in 2013 – should make Shropshire Blue. The recipe is identical to Stilton, bar two elements: the use of a different enzyme during cheese-making, and the addition of annatto to create the orange perma-tan effect.

The addition of annatto (from the seeds of the Annatto Tree) is a long held practice that originated as a swiz. Historically, yellowish, carotene-rich cow’s milk was meant to be an indicator of higher quality, so cheesemakers looking for a shortcut drafted in annatto as a dye. Make no mistake, however: this is no chump cheese: Colston Bassett’s version scored a Gold Award at 2013’s World Cheese Awards. Annatto has become part of the recipe, and is favoured by the industry as it also helps soften the cheese without tasting of much.

Shropshire Blue is reminiscent in taste of a toned down Stilton: blue tang with an appealing bitterness that gives way to a caramel sweetness. It’s very creamy, which may have to do with Colston Bassett’s decision to still hand ladle their curds (not a euphemism).

However, one thing it isn’t is a handsome cheese. But cheese is for eating, not dating. And this is, as they like to say, an “eater”. The way it keeps crumbling, forcing you to yet again have to tidy, tidy, tidy onto yet another cracker. Marvellous. I’ve also heard it’s a winner in lasagna, and the World Cheese Book sagely recommends crumbling it into salads or soups, or necking it with some port or brown ale on hand.

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The lovers were contented, unaware of the beast that lurked and envied and would soon destroy their bliss forever…

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“Am I so hideous?”

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And they all lived happily ever after.

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Hafod

Living for the Weekend Cheese

HafodThe second time I had Hafod (pronounced: Havod) Organic Cheddar, I was staying at Y Talbot (trans: The Talbot), a pub in the Welsh town of Tregaron, not far from where Hafod is produced (no coincidence: I was writing about the cheese for Culture magazine).

If you’re lost and find yourself passing through Tregaron (not the worst place to be lost by a long shot, as the image at the end of the feature should attest), stop for the burger at Y Talbot. Expertly cooked steak mince topped off with an affable slab of Hafod. If you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll also catch the gregarious landlord spinning a yarn about a legendary local elephant to some punters (this time, it was a table of American journos). Apparently, the remains of the elephant were buried nearby, or so the legend goes…

“Did they find the bones?” a journalist cut in. Unfortunately, they had not.

But who needs intangible things like Welsh elephants and credibility when you offer clean, well-lit rooms at reasonable prices  and a magnificent burger? And how fortunate to have Holden Farm Dairy (part of the Teifi Valley Cheese Producers group although the farm is not strictly in the Teifi Valley), producers of Hafod, so close at hand to supply the ingredient that elevates a burger from ‘tasty’ to ‘something quite special’.

Hafod is a raw milk cheddar made to a time-consuming old recipe; a decision by cheesemaker Sam Holden to create a cheese with a flavour profile that fully expresses the diversity of the farm’s organic pastures. The result is a more moist farmhouse cheddar than favourites such as Keen’s or Montgomery’s, but the flavour has a similar complexity and long finish as you’d expect from an unpasteurised cheddar, with perhaps an added creaminess. Actually, that makes it sound just like a creamier version of those other cheddars, when in fact it’s very much its own beast. And a very delicious beast at that, especially with a nice pint of bitter. A legend in the making.

Nr. Tregaron

Nr. Tregaron (click to enlarge)