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: 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: Cerney

Living for the Weekend Cheese, Seasonal Cheeses

Lake Como, LombardyApologies for the overlong gap between this and the last post. I’ve been cheating on GB cheese with the many (obviously inferior) delights of Lombardy for a week, especially toothsome Taleggio, transfixing Gorgonzola, and a bewitching Bergamo (exact name to be discovered). There’s some handsome country to gaze upon while eating your cheese, such as Lake Como as pictured here with Bellagio in the foreground.

But enough lake-gazing – it’s back to Blighty: aggressive nesting gulls, chill April winds that curdle the hopeless soul… and the fresh taste of our springtime cheese crop! This week, we’re focusing on the much ballyhooed Cerney (or Cerney Pyramid, according to its passport).

Made in Gloucestershire, the pyramid shape suggests Valençay influence. Developed by the canny Lady Angus of CerneyCerney, it looks very dashing in its ash and sea salt coat, and a first glance might suggest a lighter goat’s cheese. But as soon as you get tactile, you find it’s moist, and it begins sticking to your fingers and slate as soon as you’ve unwrapped it from its award besmirched plastic wrap.

At first, I didn’t get it. I’d heard about this cheese for a while, and here it was being creamy, yes, smooth, yes, but… what else? Let it be known that there was a slab of Ticklemore on the table as well, with all of its immediate goaty flavour. With the Cerney, the fresh taste was delicate, elusive, almost overwhelmed by all of that sticky full fat texture.

But as the evening progressed, the Cerney became first choice. It’s the texture that develops and subsequently beguiles. At first Cerney seems all “come and get me big boy”, but really it wants to engage you, coyly show you its diary, maybe read you some of its flowery sonnets and share its, uh, lemony notes. It’s all about the subtext, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. Lady Angus, you have my attention. Best on water biscuits with maybe a large glass of Sancerre. Hell, why not a pint?

Next week: Ticklemore or less…

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Dorstone

Living for the Weekend Cheese, Uncategorized

Dorstone is a village and a cheese. Apparently the village is very nice, set in the picturesque Golden Valley of Herefordshire and home to an annual sloe gin competition where the winner is crowned ‘Grand Master of the Sloes’.

Dorstone the cheeseBut let’s be honest here: none of us are ever going to go to the village of Dorstone except by happy accident, so let’s focus on the far more accessible Dorstone cheese that emigrates regularly from the artisan cheesemaking facilities of Neal’s Yard Creamery, Dorstone Hill, to the UK’s luckiest urban centres. Confusingly, Neal’s Yard Creamery in Dorstone is named for cheese purveyor Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. Creamery used to be a part of Dairy until it upped sticks to the south east in ’96 to independently produce cheeses of the goat and of the cow.

No identity crises surround Dorstone the cheese, however, which is a fun little wrinkly grey tower of goat – no more, no less. The handsome blue grey rind is the result of a covering of ash, and the commingling of various white, blue and green moulds that develop during the two week aging process and which we try hard not to think about while we’re enjoying our cheese. The pristine white interior draws a striking contrast to the exterior, and has a lemony, zesty freshness when shoved in the mouth. The texture is fluffy, apparently the result of pre-draining the curd.

Dorstone was the tower of power on my Christmas cheeseboard last year. Even if you’re not a huge goat’s cheese fan, you’ll get on alright with friend Dorstone. Nice with a drop of honey. I suppose you could call it the ‘Grand Master of the Easygoing Goats’, although that could sound quite dubious out of context, so probably best to just call it Dorstone.

Next week: more cheese

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Hafod

Living for the Weekend Cheese

HafodThe second time I had Hafod (pronounced: Havod) Organic Cheddar, I was staying at Y Talbot (trans: The Talbot), a pub in the Welsh town of Tregaron, not far from where Hafod is produced (no coincidence: I was writing about the cheese for Culture magazine).

If you’re lost and find yourself passing through Tregaron (not the worst place to be lost by a long shot, as the image at the end of the feature should attest), stop for the burger at Y Talbot. Expertly cooked steak mince topped off with an affable slab of Hafod. If you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll also catch the gregarious landlord spinning a yarn about a legendary local elephant to some punters (this time, it was a table of American journos). Apparently, the remains of the elephant were buried nearby, or so the legend goes…

“Did they find the bones?” a journalist cut in. Unfortunately, they had not.

But who needs intangible things like Welsh elephants and credibility when you offer clean, well-lit rooms at reasonable prices  and a magnificent burger? And how fortunate to have Holden Farm Dairy (part of the Teifi Valley Cheese Producers group although the farm is not strictly in the Teifi Valley), producers of Hafod, so close at hand to supply the ingredient that elevates a burger from ‘tasty’ to ‘something quite special’.

Hafod is a raw milk cheddar made to a time-consuming old recipe; a decision by cheesemaker Sam Holden to create a cheese with a flavour profile that fully expresses the diversity of the farm’s organic pastures. The result is a more moist farmhouse cheddar than favourites such as Keen’s or Montgomery’s, but the flavour has a similar complexity and long finish as you’d expect from an unpasteurised cheddar, with perhaps an added creaminess. Actually, that makes it sound just like a creamier version of those other cheddars, when in fact it’s very much its own beast. And a very delicious beast at that, especially with a nice pint of bitter. A legend in the making.

Nr. Tregaron

Nr. Tregaron (click to enlarge)

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Finn

Living for the Weekend Cheese

Finn. Click on the picture to experience filth.

Following on from last week’s heart attack butter cheese, aka Caboc, I present Finn.

Round and soft and just waiting to ooze lazily around your arteries, Finn is a delicious velvety salty-sweet hot mess produced by Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire.

If you find something sumo-esque about the way it squats on yonder slate, perhaps that is the 10% additional cream added to the unpasteurised cow’s milk projecting its slippery charisma in through your eye holes.

It has 75% fat content, which, according to the French, makes it a triple cream threat. After the Caboc debacle, I was just looking forward to eating something that resembled cheese rather a log of butter kicked around a sawdust-covered floor. But it surprised me how flavourful it was, quite complex with the salty-sweetness, an underlying metallic tang. Apparently, it also develops mushroom and walnut flavours.

I read around a bit, and with creamy cheeses like this bad boy you can’t go far wrong with pairing it up Wimbledon style: strawberries/raspberries, some bubbly. As we’re all out of champagne and strawberries, I whacked it on some water biscuits and that did the trick quite nicely.

Next week: more cheese, I reckon

Living for the Weekend Cheese: Stichelton

Living for the Weekend Cheese

Stichelton

Stichelton is an unpasteurised blue cheese made at Stichelton Dairy on Collingthwaite Farm in Nottinghamshire.

It’s such a tasty cheese that it brought me on board with blues. Previously, I used to pussy out at veins of blue mank running through a cheese. But now I’ll give anything a go, even this here Stichelton which looks not unlike a gangrenous elephant foot in the shot above.

The story behind Stichelton is that it’s essentially unpasteurised Stilton. But a cheese can only call itself Stilton if it’s made in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, or Nottinghamshire, and to the exact recipe as protected by the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Stichelton fails the test as it’s made with raw cow’s milk, and the recipe calls for pasteurised. This seems like folly to me, since the original Stilton, made back in the olden days, would surely have been raw. But perhaps it suits Stichelton and its maker, Joe Schneider, as its name (the original name for the village of Stilton) proudly proclaims both its kinship and difference.

stichelton Admittedly, I haven’t tried any Stilton since having Stichelton, so I can’t draw  a comparison. But it has that powerful blue taste that you’d expect, which is then drawn into this buttery riptide that just goes on and on. The blueness of blue is still quite overwhelming to me, so I’ll leave it to others to define its flavours. According to Great British Cheeses the flavour is “savoury and lingering”. Accurate, but a bit vague.  The World Cheese Book is slightly more specific: “moves from a fruitiness to a spicy sweetness, all carried within a creamy texture”.

I wouldn’t call it a gateway blue, by any stretch. It’s a punchy cheese, a ‘deep blue’ (like the computer, but worse at chess). But it’s so delicious, so creamy, that it demands fealty. Add some butter to your cracker to take the edge off if you’re unused to blues.

Embrace the rot.

Further reading: 

http://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/cheeses/Stichelton.pdf

Where to buy: 

http://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/cheeses.html

http://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/index.php/shop/cheese/blue-cheese/stichelton.html

http://www.finecheese.co.uk/stichelton.html