10 Jul 2014

CHEESE OF THE WEEK: Quickes Vintage

I paired this cheese with a cider at a recent event I organised with the Brighton Food Society and it went down a storm. Devon producer Quickes Traditional ages most of its cheddars for around a year, but some have the potential to be matured for much longer. Quickes Vintage, which is made with pasteurised milk, is 24 months old when it is released, making it one of the most mature farmhouse cheddars in the country.

Owner Mary Quicke describes her cheeses as being “10-mile cheddars” in that if she tastes a piece before driving away from the farm, the flavour will still be developing on the palate 10 miles later. Unlike über sweet block cheddars, Quickes Vintage has what Mary describes as a 'grand staircase of flavours' taking in creaminess, intense savoury 'umami' notes and a lovely mellow caramel sweetness.

Cheddar always traditionally had complex savoury flavours – it's a fundamental characteristic of the cheese - but the big supermarkets have put pressure on their suppliers to make ever sweeter cheddars using a starter culture called Helveticus (used in Swiss cheese). This gives big more immediate sweet and fruity favours and is now so common that the original characteristics of cheddar are in danger of being lost.

Several farmhouse cheddar makers feel very strongly about the issue. One told me he wanted to run a cheddar road show educating people to 'savour the savoury' in cheddar cheese, while Mary often talks about the importance of holding onto cheddars that have different layers of flavour, including savoury notes.

This is how she put it to me a few years ago when discussing the difference betwee male and female cheesemakers (Quickes has been run by women for more than 30 years): “As a business we've always prized complexity, subtlety, balance and length of flavour. Is that because it's a female thing? We want to be seduced and allured on our way to pleasure; not beaten up!”

Where to buy: Widely available in delis and farm shops.

How to eat: Mary Quicke likes to serve it with a salad of leaves and flowers from her garden and Fred's Kitchen chutneys.

What to drink: I paired it with Wobblegate medium cider on the night, but it would also work with a darker ale like Pure UBU from Purity Brewing Co.

28 May 2014

Rosary goat's cheese wins British Cheese Awards 2014

Flavoured cheeses are often frowned upon by fromage purists, but this year's winner of the British Cheese Awards proves there are some great examples out there.

Rosary goat's cheese, flavoured with garlic and herb, was named Supreme Champion at yesterday's awards, which saw more than 1,000 entries from 177 British and Irish cheesemakers.

9 May 2014

Hafod: taking it slow

It only takes a few weak rays of sunshine for Brits to start flashing the flesh and breaking out the flip-flops, but that's nothing compared to the delirium of cows when spring arrives. According to Sam Holden of Holden Farm Dairy in West Wales, setting the cows loose in the fields for the first time after the winter is one of the great moments in a farmhouse cheesemaker's year.

10 Dec 2013

World Cheese Awards: Montagnolo Affine wins again

So the dust has settled after last month's World Cheese Awards and I've had a bit of time to digest (literally) what went on. The Supreme Champion, whittled down from more than 2,700 entries by hundreds of judges (including me), was a German cheese called Montagnolo Affine from a company called Käserei Champignon in Bavaria.

Made with pasteurised cow's milk, it's a rich and creamy blue with a natural grey rind. “A blue cheese for people who don't like blue cheese,” is how one of the expert judges on the final panel of 16 described it.

What was remarkable about the result was that Montagnolo Affine was entered into two categories at the World Cheese Awards and both cheeses made it through several rounds of blind judging to be voted first and second with just one point between them. It's a result that is testament to the accuracy of blind judging. On top of that, Montagnolo Affine also won the top title at the Nantwich International Cheese Show in 2012, which I wrote about here.

So is this double Supreme Champion really the best cheese in the world?

Well, it's certainly a good cheese. Sweet and buttery with a soft, velvety grey rind, it's a real crowd pleaser. But I have to confess that I was left scratching my head as to why two sets of expert judges made it their champion.

For me, the best cheeses are the ones that have complexity, length and that something extra - flavours that are elusive and beguiling. A great cheese makes you stop and think and challenges you in some way, so that you have to cut another slice and another and another.

I didn't get that from Montagnolo Affine. It's lovely in an easy, upfront way, which is perhaps explains why it has done so well in cheese competitions. For every judge who likes a challenging cheese, there will be another who disagrees. These kinds of cheeses naturally provoke debate and strong opinions so fall by the wayside over the course of several rounds of blind judging. On the other hand, everyone can agree that something sweet and creamy, like Montagnolo Affine, is delicious.Like I said, it's a real crowd pleaser.

Anyway, why not decide for yourself and let me know what you think. Montagnolo Affine is sold in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and independent retailers.

25 Oct 2013

St Jude: Britain's best raw milk cheese

Wise old curd nerds will tell you that it takes five years for a new cheese to really hit its stride. According to conventional wisdom, cheesemakers must first master seasonal changes in the milk before they can make a really good cheese.

Conventional wisdom does not seem to apply to Julie Cheyney, owner of White Wood Dairy in Hampshire, however. Her lactic cow's milk cheese St Jude has just won the James Aldridge Memorial Trophy for Britain's best raw milk cheese, despite only being launched a year ago.

The St Marcellin-style cheese has a lemony flavour and moussey texture when young, but develops into an earthy little bombshell in a basket as it matures, which belies its dainty appearance. I've been a huge fan since day one, as have Cheyney's fellow cheesemakers – the James Aldridge award is voted for by members of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.

“What a first birthday present!” says an obviously delighted Cheyney. “ I know it's an in-house award and doesn't have a big marketing mechanism behind it, but it's the people that vote that really count. For cheesemakers, it's the one.”

Her cheese is made with raw milk supplied by Sam Martin - a dairy farmer in Hampshire. His cows are an unusual cross between Holstein, Friesian, Swedish Red and Jersey breeds. The milk they produce has its own unique character and was just what Cheyney needed to get back into cheese making.

“I've always been a cow nerd,” she says. “I always go right back to the raw ingredient – what breed the cow is, what they're fed on and how they are kept. I want to make cheese that has its own Hampshire terroir to it. I'm not a cheesemaker in kitten heels and lipstick - I can milk cows and drive tractors. I sometimes help milk the cows at the weekend just because I like doing it.” 

* To continue reading this article, a version of which first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Fine Fod Digest, click here