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 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: 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.