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…

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…