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: 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: 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.

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.