Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Cheese! (The blog post - part 2).
Regular readers of my blog, casting their minds back to January, may remember mention of my heroic cheese mongering exploits for Trethowan’s Dairy at their Harvey Nichols pop up shop over the festive period, and of my rather comprehensive post on the subject of cheese here.
I’m pleased to say, (after a brief gap), that my epic fromage exploits continue. But, I am now safely ensconced in the St Nicholas Market cheese shop, with a much bigger range of cheese to learn about.
In fact there’s so much cheese that’s entirely new to me, I thought it worth another post to highlight it.
Let me start by saying, the most gratifying thing of all is that most of the cheese is British, in fact almost exclusively so. There are a couple of French cheeses, which are just so good, with no viable homegrown alternative, that they just have to be stocked. But I’m heartened by the fact that artisan British cheese is bloody amazing,and there’s lots of it.
One of the reasons for this British cheese renaissance that we’re currently experiencing is partly due to people like legendary South West cheese maker Mary Holbrook who started making goats milk cheeses in the 70’s, innovating and experimenting. We sell a couple of her cheeses; the rather beautiful blunt pyramid shaped Tymsboro, an unpasteurised goats cheese with a tangy, slightly nutty taste which should be arriving back in the shop any day soon.
We also stock her rather fabulous Old Ford as well. It’s an unpasteurised hard goats cheese, and has a lovely almost buttery, dry and nutty flavour. It’s slightly salty and in a way, strangely reminds me a little of feta. It’s a bloody gorgeous cheese.
Moving onto British sheep cheeses, we sell a couple produced by cheese makers Andy and Anne Wigmore, who, believe it or not produce their cheese from a converted garage at the end of their garden, near Reading in Berkshire. The first is the eponymous ‘Wigmore’ an unpasteurised cheese and made using vegetable rennet. With this cheese, unusually it’s all about the texture as opposed the flavour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely stuff, but the texture is incredible. It’s soft, almost meltingly so, with a crisp shell like rind, it tastes sweet, light and milky and practically dissolves in your mouth. I guarantee you’ve never tried anything quite like it.
The Wigmores also produce Spenwood. This is one of my favourite cheeses right now. Like their other cheese, it’s unpasteurised and made using vegetable rennet. It’s very subtle, but has a nutty, hard to define flavour – the only description I can come up with, and which always pops into my head when I taste it, is ‘comforting’. I could eat it all day long.
Another of my favourites right now is Beenleigh Blue. As the name suggests it’s a blue cheese. Made from pasteurised ewe’s milk cheese, using vegetable rennet and produced in Totnes, Devon, it’s comparable to Roquefort but is less salty. Basically this stuff is bloody gorgeous, it’s got such a distinctive sweet tangy flavour. We’ve been using it a lot when cooking for our supper club ‘The Basement’ and it is incredible with roast beetroot or crumbled into a risotto. It’s sharpness cuts beautifully through fatty meat dishes. I absolutely love it.
Moving onto cheese made from cow’s milk. We’ve recently been stocking Hafod, a Welsh Cheddar style cheese from Lampeter in West Wales. It’s unpasteurised, and made using traditional rennet. Also of some note is the fact that it’s organic. It has an incredible deep yellow colour, and has real depth of flavour, which, as Cheddars go, is subtle, nutty and buttery. It’s lovely stuff, but is pretty expensive even by handmade artisan cheese standards.
Whilst we’re in Wales, lets talk about a cheese that my employers, the Trethowans make. In my last cheese post I mentioned their bloody awesome Gorwydd Caerphilly. This time it’s their Gorwydd Washed Rind or GWR as it’s known. Basically, it’s the same cheese as the Gorwydd Caerphilly, but on day one it’s put aside and washed with a salt-water solution. This simple process amazingly changes almost every characteristic of the cheese. Rather than the grey rind ofthe normal Gorwydd Caerphilly, it develops a sticky yellow rind. As opposed to being crumbly, its texture can almost be described as ‘meaty’ being soft and creamy, with a more pronounced flavour. It’s a superb cheese, and it’s also interesting to note, as with all artisan cheeses, it’s texture and taste changes subtly throughout the year. Its flavour is dependent on the milk used to produce it, which is itself influenced by what the cows have been eating. Bearing this in mind, spring and autumn in particular are often superb times for cheeses which have relatively short maturation periods, e.g. GWR and goat cheeses like Dorstone. Right now GWR is bloody awesome and tastes that much better to the cheeses I was sampling in December.
Sparkenhoe Red Leicester is a strikingly coloured, unpasteurised cows milk cheese. Cloth wrapped in the traditional way in Upton, Leicestershire. I have to be honest, before I started selling cheese, I’d only ever encountered supermarket Red Leicester. day-glo orange chunks of tasteless cheese, about as flavoursome as the plastic they were wrapped in. The real stuff is, as you can imagine, far more interesting. Subtle, nutty and almost mustardy in flavour. It’s a million miles away from the supermarket stuff. Interestingly, the red colour is produced by the addition of annatto, a natural flavourless plant dye made from a tree that grows in South America and the Caribbean. Traditionally, cheese makers wanted their cheese to stand out from the competition at market, colouring the cheese red was a way to achieve this.
Ogleshield is also an unpasteurised washed rind cows milk cheese made by Jamie Montgomery in Somerset (of Montgomery Cheddar fame). It’s firm, yellow and has an almost wine-like, soft flavour. It’s very similar to the French Raclette, and shares it’s incredible melting qualities. Personally I love it used as Raclette, so melted and tipped over potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons, but I’m not so keen on it eaten in it’s own right. I find it just a little too subtle for my tastes.
Adrahan is a similar washed rind cheese, but unlike Ogleshield, is pasteurised, made using vegetable rennet and is from County Cork in Ireland. I much prefer this. It’s sticky, smelly (which can be off-putting for some) and somewhat moister. But despite the smell, it’s surprisingly subtle. It shares some of the wine-like flavours with Ogelshield, but it also has it’s own underlying slightly smoky taste. It has an almost meaty texture and is lovely stuff.
Finally, let’s finish up with a French cheese. Langres. It looks incredible, like a golden brain (Just me then?) Made from unpasteurised cows milk, traditional rennet and produced in the Champagne-Ardennes region, as with the previously mentioned cheeses it has a washed rind. But somewhat more extravagantly, it’s washed with ’marc’, which is a spirit made from leftover skins and pulp from the champagne making process. As you can imagine, Langres has an almost wine like flavour, and is creamy and soft in texture. Apparently the French, if really pushing the boat out in celebration, put a splash of champagne into the depression at the top of the cheese. Tres decadent eh? As with most washed rind cheeses it smells more pungent than it actually tastes. It’s lovely stuff, one of my favourites in fact.
So, between this and my last cheese post, that’s pretty much most of the fromage I’m currently selling covered. I’m proud to say most of it is British, and all of it tastes absolutely amazing.
Time for my Jerry Springer style "final thought" - It really is worth spending a bit more on the quality handmade artisan stuff, even if it means eating a bit less. Factory mass produced cheeses just don't compare. Until next time, take care of yourselves, each other and your cheese.