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…

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…