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 Kรคserei 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

20 Oct 2013

VIDEO: Great Taste Awards 2013 - the cheese winners

This year's Great Taste Awards saw a clutch of cheeses win coveted three-star status with several being named among Britain's Top 50 Foods.

The Guild of Fine Food (which organises the GTAs) teamed up with Harrods and review app and website www.60secondreviews.com to create a free app with video reviews of all the products in the Top 50 list.

Below are a couple of the cheese reviews (Colston Bassett Shropshire blue and Denhay cheddar) presented by (ahem) me. Other winners included Dutch Mistress goat's cheese and Quickes vintage cheddar.

Top work by Britain's cheesemakers!

You can download the app for free here