The Caboc Conundrum

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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. 

Mission Statement: A Cheese Epiphany

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IMG_2272smLast Autumn, I went to a Neal’s Yard Dairy tasting at Grey’s Cheese shop in Pangbourne. Admittedly, it was a pretty wanky scene: being talked through a selection of cheeses by a floppy-haired cheese aficionado. But the eclectic selection of attendees (average age 40) and the good, honest, cheese-loving women of Grey’s certainly put paid to any sense of pretension (admittedly, the Crane boys could have probably slipped in unremarked, but I digress).

At the time I was a cheese consumer in much the same way as the majority in the western world: enjoying it as a non-essential essential, mostly supermarket Cheddar, Parmesan, and any name Brie, often not really tasting it grated onto my pasta dish or puddled on a pizza. My wife and I attended this event more out of a lack of other options than any deeper reason; we had just returned from three years in California and were marooned in the countryside outside of Reading while she worked a temporary contract at a local school. I was lonely. And I found Grey’s.

Perhaps loneliness makes us most vulnerable to epiphany. For epiphany arrived that night on the tip of the tongue for, lo, these cheeses were unpasteurised. It was a whole other deal: long finishes, complexity, notes. All those wanky terms usually floated at a vineyard were completely transferable to the cheese on offer.

As we ate, the “cheesepert” spurted forth about the trials and tribulations of artisan cheese in the UK. It’s had a rough ride, to be recounted in a later post, but the summary – as these cheeses attested to – was that UK artisan cheese is in some kind of Golden Age flowering; a resurrection thirty years plus in the making.

Through this blog, I hope to slow down on my cheese consumption (certainly no more weed-fuelled-whole-brie-wedge-a-night-poundings of my mid-twenties), take more careful note, and commit those notes to this blog. I’ll focus on domestic artisan cheeses, as it still feels like there’s a lack of awareness (I base this on a feeling in my waters) regarding home grown farmhouse (interchangeable term for ‘artisan’) cheese.

Cholesterol’s for wusses – nobody lives forever.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers, Chris

PS The cheeses at the tasting were Ogleshield, Keen’s Cheddar, Kirkham’s Lancashire, and St. Jude.