Dates for the Dairy – Somerset Cheese Festivals

Dates for the Dairy, Event cheese

No cheese this week –  instead, the promise of cheese. The Somerset cheese festival programme is slated (see what I did there?) to begin this Saturday. Grab your chutney, statins, sun hats and cagoules, and get involved.

A5-BETTER-WILD-CHEESE-FLYER-2014-2The Second Westcombe Wild Cheese + Beer Festival

Westcombe Dairy and the Wild Beer Company’s promotional material promises “Beer & Cheese & Food & Other Things”. Other Things translates to coconut shys to support the local cricket team, live music, and cheese and beer pairing/tasting classes. They’re launching two new Wild Beer Co. beers, and the dairy will be putting about its stellar unpasteurised cheddar alongside a couple other of its masterfully crafted artisan cheeses. In the event of a light shower or two, there’s cleverly a marquee.

The 151st Royal Bath & West Show

The UK’s “biggest” cider competition; the country’s “finest” livestock; and the new home of The British “Cheese” Awards. Wham Bam Thank You Farmland.

Somerset Cheese, Cider and Moozic Festival

Promises 25 different local ciders; over 30 Somerset produced cheeses; camping; dogs welcome; cheese & cider games “like no other”. Bands include Joey the Lips; Sound of the Sirens; Wille & The Bandits; and The Mangled Wurzels known for such agriculturally flavoured hits as “I Can Drive a Tractor” (see below).

Any festivals I’ve missed for May/June in Somerset, please let me know in the comments section.

Next week: back to cheese

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

Cheeses call spring: seasonal cheese suggestions

Seasonal Cheeses
This was taken last summer

This was taken last spring

Well, some say spring is here, but if it was really here would I be typing in fingerless gloves beneath a blanket? We look to other signs: the spring equinox has passed (20th March), and cheesemaking blogger Mary Quicke has decreed that spring only arrives when grass growth outstrips her cows’ appetites… which apparently should be around now. As her Devon fields aren’t visible from my North Somerset sofa, we could go with the equinox. But spring is more than just longer days, as a deep feeling poet such as e. e. cummings enlightens:

[in Just-] – e. e. cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
Let’s run with the equinox. Or, better: the arrival of long-awaited springtime cheeses infused with the optimism of the gambolling lambs and tumbling kids from whose eager suckling mouths we’re diverting all this nourishing, life-giving liquid known as milk for something to go with our crackers and stout. Here’s a few that I’ve been obsessing over through the wet winter months:
Tymsboro

Made near Bath by Mary Holbrook – one of the pioneers of the UK artisan cheese renaissance that we currently find ourselves Mary's goatsenjoying – Tymsboro is a pyramidal goat’s cheese similar in style to the French Valençay (no coincidence: Holbrook learned her craft back in the 70s by travelling Europe and picking up tips). The unpasteurised cheese is coated in grey ash, and starts creamy and light before getting richer towards the dense centre. According to the World Cheese Book, it tastes of almonds and lemon. Fiona Beckett calls this cheese, “A modern British classic“. Also see: Cerney Pyramid. (pic above: Mary’s goats on Sleight Farm, Timsbury (the town for which the cheese is named)

St. James

With thanks to Gourmet Britain for this St. James image.

With thanks to Gourmet Britain for this St. James image.

While the majority of my cheese intake involves cow’s milk cheeses (cheddar lover, year round supply), some of my favourite cheeses are made from sheep’s milk (or the faintly ridiculous tag of “ewe’s milk”), such as Manchego, Berkswell, Ossau-Iraty. However, St. James, a previous winner of the James Alridge Award for Best Unpasteurised Cheese of the Year (2005), is rumoured to stand alone, to be quite unique on these shores. And by unique, I mean to say it has a flavour reminiscent of bacon (McDonald’s has probably been trying to perfect this for years). The texture, from the picture, looks like Tallegio, but apparently it can be crumbly and creamy. It’s available from Cartmel Cheeses and Neal’s Yard Dairy, however having been informed it was available at the start of March, it may have already sold out… cursed Maccy Ds.

Ticklemore

The only pasteurised cheese on this list, Ticklemore makes the cut due to its provenance and obvious popularity. The creation of Robin Congdon (another pioneer in the Mary Holbrook mold), it’s now made at Sharpham Estate in Devon by cheesemaker, Debbie Mumford. Again the World Cheese Book’s extra-sensory palette comes up trumps, describing the flavour profile of this UFO-shaped cheese as “herbaceous with a hint of marzipan”.

Next week: a goat’s cheese with a ghoulish exterior, but an interior like seventh heaven…

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)

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Quickes Mild

Living for the Weekend Cheese

quickesArtisan Quickes is based in Devon and has been producing well-received cheese since ’73. A traditional operation, but not afraid to take a punt (see: Quickes Elderflower Cheddar). Family run, Quickes’ leading light is Mary Quicke. She writes a blog about cheese making and farm life. It has lines like: “The hen pheasants, so courted and sought after by the cocks, disappear into the hedge to lay eggs, then disappear into the fox.” Fromology has blog envy.

Now onto the cheese.The Mild Cheddar comes across all coy and modest, but it’s really a bit of a scene stealer. It’s attracted great acclaim in its time, and in 2013 alone took 1st at the Devon County Show and gold at Royal Bath & West. A younger cheddar aged 3 to 4 months, only those truckles with the correct “buttery” flavour profile are selected for sale at this tender age.

The taste is creamy, smooth, elusive, nutty and, indeed, rather buttery. Most of it disappeared into a lasagne for my parents-in-law. Despite the presence of mozzarella, ricotta, and a rather lairy parmesan, the Quickes could be detected singing beneath the clamour like a lark in a bar brawl (this simile inspired by Mary Quicke).

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Finn

Living for the Weekend Cheese

Finn. Click on the picture to experience filth.

Following on from last week’s heart attack butter cheese, aka Caboc, I present Finn.

Round and soft and just waiting to ooze lazily around your arteries, Finn is a delicious velvety salty-sweet hot mess produced by Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire.

If you find something sumo-esque about the way it squats on yonder slate, perhaps that is the 10% additional cream added to the unpasteurised cow’s milk projecting its slippery charisma in through your eye holes.

It has 75% fat content, which, according to the French, makes it a triple cream threat. After the Caboc debacle, I was just looking forward to eating something that resembled cheese rather a log of butter kicked around a sawdust-covered floor. But it surprised me how flavourful it was, quite complex with the salty-sweetness, an underlying metallic tang. Apparently, it also develops mushroom and walnut flavours.

I read around a bit, and with creamy cheeses like this bad boy you can’t go far wrong with pairing it up Wimbledon style: strawberries/raspberries, some bubbly. As we’re all out of champagne and strawberries, I whacked it on some water biscuits and that did the trick quite nicely.

Next week: more cheese, I reckon

The Caboc Conundrum

Uncategorized

Last week I promised to unveil the outright loser of the Burns Night Cheese fest. As the quick-eyed blog reader would have discerned from the title of this post, it was Caboc.

IMG_3333-2What is Caboc? Well, therein lies the conundrum. According to Jenny Linford’s Great British Cheeses: “The richness of this cheese, produced by Highland Fine Cheeses in Tain, Scotland, is explained by the fact that it is made entirely from double cream, with a lactic starter used instead of rennet. The thickened cream is shaped into small logs and coated in golden brown oatmeal. The soft yellow paste inside has a buttery creaminess, which contrasts with the texture and nutty flavour of the oatmeal coating.”

Perhaps I set myself up here. I love a good heart attack cheese (ah, Vignotte, what times we’ve had…) and I thought: If anyone knows how to do heart attack food properly, it’s those Scots. Well, not in this instance. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Apparently, Ruaridh Stone, owner of Highland Fine Cheese Co which makes Cadoc, (and whose mother, Susannah, revived the Caboc recipes from centuries of slumber) has stated (thanks fromagehomage):  “I think it’s a taste which should stay in the 1970s, but it has had a revival” and “For some it tastes like rancid butter rolled in oatmeal, some might say nutty, but with that much fat there’s little, if any flavour.”

I’d suggest: none at all?

Clearly head of PR at Highland Fine Cheese Co., Ruaridh continues: “Selling the cheese is a nightmare (Dignitas?) as it really is a Scottish specific line, the French say it is butter, the English just don’t get it and so it’s mainly eaten by people with triple heart bypasses and purple noses. At 70% butter fat it’s a kind of heart grenade.”

Much as it pains me to say it, the French are correct: It’s just like eating slices of butter. Half of the log remained after Burns Night. I kept chipping away at it this week waiting to get it, to taste it, to understand why it’s called cheese.  I’ve also noticed that it hasn’t exhibited any of the signs of aging that you expect with a cheese: no hardening, shifts in colour, flavour intensity. It just remains inert, untouchable. It’s Scotland’s oldest cheese, dating from the 15th Century, and I’ll bet there are some ancient logs of it half finished and unchanged lurking in the heather, waiting to be gobbled up by your dog before it has a massive coronary on the way home.

Next week: I think I’ll use this as a jumping off point to look at other heart attack cheeses. And it’ll give me an excuse to try some Finn.