21 Dec 2011

Five new cheeses to eat in 2012

Economic downturn? Pah! Britain's artisan cheesemakers have stuck two fingers up at the doom and gloom by coming up with a bumper selection of new cheeses in 2011. These are my picks from the past 12 months, but don't expect them to be consistently perfect yet. It can take years for cheesemakers to get a new cheese just right, but these producers have made an impressive start and their cheeses are all well worth trying. Definitely ones to watch in 2012. 

Capra Nouveau
Brock Hall Farm, Shropshire
When she isn’t tweeting (which is a lot of the time) Sarah Hampton spends her time showering her herd of pedigree Saanen goats with love. Their pure white milk goes to make the highly acclaimed Capra Nouveau - a new washed rind Vacherin-style cheese, which is sweet and creamy and if left to mature almost collapses with ooziness. Hampton (that's her on the label by the way) has also launched a washed Gouda-style cheese called Dutch Mistress, which is earning rave reviews from chefs.
Where to buy: Anderson & Hill 

Brother David
Holker Farm Dairy, Cumbria
A washed rind cheese with a complex meaty flavour, Brother David is made by Martin Gott on the Holker Estate in Grange-Over-Sands using unpasteurised milk from Shorthorn Cows. Washed in water everyday as it matures over five weeks, the cheese has a fabulous sticky rind with a smoky ham flavour and long milky notes. “It's somewhere between a Langres and a Munster, but has its own distinct characteristics,” says Gott, whose other cheese is a washed ewes’ milk called St James.

Corra Linn
HJ Errington, Lanarkshire
Made by HJ Errington of Lanark Blue and Dunsyre Blue fame, this Manchego-style ewes’ milk cheese is matured in cloth for six to 10 months and has a pretty mouldy rind. Sweet and earthy, Corra Linn is named after a waterfall in the Falls of Clyde. Selina Cairns, who has taken over production from her father Humphrey, also has some other new cheeses in the pipeline including one called Biggar Blue.
Where to buy: Guid Cheese Shop 


Cote Hill Red
Cote Hill Farm, nr Market Rasen, Lincolnshire
Michael and Mary Davenport have been making cheeses since 2005, using milk from their herd of Red Poll and Friesian cows. Their newest cheese has been developed by their son Joe, who has recently joined the business. It's a semi-hard unpasteurised cheese, wrapped in a semi-permeable red coating and matured for three months. There's nothing particularly spectacular about the cheese, but it's creamy and mellow, and the texture makes it perfect for melting. A washed rind version called Cote Hill Reserve is also in development.
Where to buy: The Cheese Shop in Louth 

Federia
Larkton Hall Farm, Cumbria
This Gruyere-style cheese was voted best newcomer at the 2011 British Cheese Awards and is made with unpasteurised cows’ milk near Malpas. Like Gruyere, it comes in great big wheels and, according to the BCA judges, has buttery, grassy notes with hints of white wine and red onions. Anne Connolly, who makes the cheese, previously worked as a chef in the Italian Alps.

15 Dec 2011

An evening of cheese at Borough Market

Borough Market opened on Wednesday night this week to flaunt its cheese credentials in the run up to Christmas. An impressive line up of mongers and makers were gathered together under the railway arches in what was basically a full on fromage fest.

Big hitters such as Neal's Yard, Mons, Brindisa and Trethowans Dairy were all there among the twinkling Christmas decorations, handing out samples and talking eloquently about how their cheeses were made.

As a food buying experience, it was a million miles away from buying a lump of plastic-coated block cheddar from the supermarket. Atmospheric and convivial, it was packed with enthusiastic people who knew their Gouda from their Gorgonzola. Maybe Mary Portas had a point in her recent report when she said that markets could be a way to revive the high street.

Speaking of Gouda, the stall that really caught my attention belonged to KaseSwiss, an importer of fantastic Gruyere, Vacherin and Raclette, which also does a nice sideline in Dutch cheeses.

One of these is a cheese called Old Remeker, which is made to a Gouda recipe using extra creamy Jersey cows' milk and is matured for 18 months. I bought some a few months ago at KaseSwiss' Maltby Street unit and was bowled over. Hard, crunchy and with the most amazing flavours of tropical fruits and chocolate, it was a mind bendingly good cheese.

This time around I took away a big lump of their Old Gouda (above left), which is two years old and is equally hard and fruity, but with more floral notes. Gouda is made by washing and scalding the curds to keep acidity low, so you end up with a lovely sweet, mellow cheese. KaseSwiss' is made with raw milk in the Ijsselstein region of Holland, and is just stunning. You won't be able to find it in a supermarket either.
      

13 Dec 2011

Do washed rind cheeses get enough respect?

I had an interesting chat with Cumbria-based cheesemaker and monger Martin Gott the other day. He reckons too many cheesemongers treat washed rind cheeses as the “joke” of the counter because of a lack of understanding.

Gott has just developed a new unpasteurised washed rind cheese called Brother David, which joins his long-standing washed rind ewes' milk cheese St James (pictured above), both of which are sold by Neal's Yard and in his shop Cartmel Cheeses.

“All too often washed rind cheeses are seen as caricature cheeses - 'come and try this, it will blow your socks off'," he told me.  "But washed rind cheeses shouldn't be offensive and they shouldn't be the joke in the shop. There's a lack of understanding about the flavour of washed rind cheeses and how they should be handled among wholesalers and cheesemongers. They have been slow to embrace them, but a washed rind cheese should be on any British cheese board. Consumers are more sophisticated than retailers give them credit for.”

Gott showcases a wide range of washed rind cheeses in his shop, stocking up to a dozen different styles, including Muntser, Cardo, Stinking Bishop, Adrahan, plus his own cheeses.

“We have the full spectrum and if it's not up to the mark we don't stock it – and that includes our own cheeses,” he said. “We opened the shop 18 months ago in area where there weren't any cheese shops. You might think people would not understand about washed rind cheeses, but it's these that are selling really well.”

Gott's cheese making business is based at Holker Farm on the Holker Estate, where he and his partner Nicola Robinson have around 180 Lacaune sheep. 

The new Brother David is made with milk from four newly bought Shorthorn cows to fill production during the winter months when sheep's milk is not available. Washed in water everyday while it matures over five weeks, the cheese has a smoky ham and long milky notes. “It's somewhere between a Langres and a Munster, but has its own distinct characteristics,” he said.

What do you think? Are washed rind cheeses under-rated? Do you struggle with the powerful smell that some have? Or should cheesemongers give us more credit?

* To read the original article in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's Dec 2011 issue. Click here

7 Dec 2011

CHEESE OF THE WEEK: Tomme de Savoie



When a friend bought me this little slice of Tomme de Savoie from a farm shop called Uncle Henry's in Lincolnshire, I didn't exactly have high hopes. Uncle Henry's sounds like the sort of twee farm shop that does a roaring trade in jams with silly gingham cloth bonnets on the top; not the kind of place where you buy serious cheese.

Anyway, it turned out that Uncle Henry does know a thing or two about good fromage because its raw milk Tome de Savoie was fantastic. Sweet and creamy at first, it had an earthy mushroomy depth and finished with just a hint of grass. This was definitely one of those cheeses where you should eat the rind. The mouldy grey and brown skin really added to the flavour (there's a brilliant blog post about eating cheese rind here byt the way). It also had a nice elastic yet firm texture, which was good under the grill. Tomme de Savoie on toast with black pepper and a few splashes of Worcestershire Sauce is a thing of beauty. 

Lots of small cheeses in France are called 'tommes' and they can be made with different milks and in various regions (Tomme de Couchevel, for example, is a small goat's cheese from the Languedoc Roussillon), although Tommes de Savoie is probably the best known. It's made with cows' milk in the Savoie region of the French Alps where Reblochon and Beaufort comes from. 

Traditionally, farms made Tomme de Savoie when they didn't have enough milk to produce the much larger Beaufort. Instead, they would skim the cream from the milk to make butter and use the rest to make small 1.5kg-3kg Tomme de Savoie cheeses, which means most are quite low in fat (20-40%). 

Anyway, apologies for doubting Uncle Henry. I'm sure his jams are very nice too.

Where to buy: Uncle Henry's Farm Shop

How to eat: Grilled on toast with black pepper and Worcestershire Sauce.

What to drink: A white vin de Savoie is traditional, but a mature red Burgundy with a bit of farmyard to it would also works well. 



30 Nov 2011

On the tip of my tongue: cheese vocabulary


'It's, err, really, like, creamy'
Apart from proving that it is physically possible to eat your own body weight in cheese, the other interesting thing to come out of the World Cheese Awards earlier this month was the different words people use to describe cheese.

Chomping your way through 40-plus cheeses in a few hours was the easy bit in many ways (apples, water and elasticated trousers are the secret). What was really tricky was deciding what was good and bad about each one in terms of flavour and texture, and expressing it clearly and accurately.

It was interesting that on our judging team of four people (including me) certain words kept cropping up. 'Clean', 'grassy', 'caramel' and particularly 'nutty' were popular ways to describe flavour, while 'smooth' and 'creamy' were used a lot for texture.

It's not surprising really. We all naturally tend to favour some words over others and translating what's going on in your mouth into words is tricky. But I did feel that sometimes these stock adjectives were trotted out a bit too quickly (by me just as much as anyone else). There was an over-reliance on certain words because they came to us easily. They weren't necessarily inaccurate, but weren't quite accurate enough.

The Wines & Spirit Education Trust has put together a rather nifty list of adjectives to describe wine, which can be useful when you're tasting and drawing a bit of a blank. You can see it here. So I thought I'd do something similar for cheese.

Here's what I've put together so far: Cheese Vocab

It's only a start. I'm sure there are other much more interesting and expressive words out there for describing cheese. What are your favourites for flavour and texture? What's missing from the list I've drawn up?

Feel free to leave suggestions and I'll add them to the list. It will hopefully build into quite a useful resource.

24 Nov 2011

Ossau-Iraty wins World Cheese Awards 2011

After squeezing, sniffing and tasting over 2,000 cheese, judges at the World Cheese Awards yesterday decided that the world's best cheese in 2011 was... drum roll... fanfare... an Ossau-Iraty from the French Basque region. 

Made with unpasteurised ewes’ milk in the Pyrenees by farmhouse producer Fromagerie Agour, the semi-hard AOC cheese is aged for 10 months and has a sweet, nutty flavour and creamy texture. It’s the second time that Agour’s Ossau-Iraty has been named supreme champion, after winning the title at the 2006 World Cheese Awards. 

Last year’s winner, Cornish Blue made by Philip Stansfield, nearly made it two years in a row, losing to Agour by the narrowest of margins, while third place went to a limited edition Cognac BellaVitano from Sartori Cheese in Wisconsin, USA. The semi-hard cheese is aged for a year then soaked in cognac for around a week. 

The Agour creamery was founded in 1981 by Jean Etcheleku, who still runs it with his son Peio today. It is imported into the UK by QST/Cheese de France, whose director Frédéric Gayral (pictured above, centre) collected the award from BBC Radio 2’s Nigel Barden (left) and the Guild of Fine Food’s Bob Farrand (right).

For the rest of the results, please click here.

21 Nov 2011

British cheese: the genuine articles

My last post about 99p cheese ended up being a bit of a rant about how Britain's regional cheeses, like Wensleydale and Red Leicester, had become characterless mass-produced products, sold at rock-bottom prices by the supermarkets. But there are still a handful of farmhouse producers out there keeping the faith by using traditional recipes and techniques to make authentic cheeses with distinct personalities.

My favourites are below (I've left cheddar and Stilton out on purpose because the good ones are so well known). There's nothing original about the choices I've made, but just because they're not new and fandangled doesn't mean they should be overlooked.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester
This is the only Red Leicester (pictured above) that is made on a farm with raw milk in Leicestershire. The business was set up by dairy farmers Jo and David Clarke in 2005 to resurrect the area's cheesemaking traditions, which had entirely died out. They use milk from their own herd of Holstein Friesans and the red colouring comes from a natural plant dye called annatto. It has a lovely sweet nuttiness that gets stronger as it matures.

Martell's Single and Double Gloucester
Charles Martell is best known for his washed rind cheese Stinking Bishop, but he also helped revive the production of Single and Gloucester cheeses made with milk from the Old Gloucester breed of cattle. Made in Dymock in Gloucestershire with unpasteurised milk, his Single Gloucester has a mild buttery flavour, while the Double Gloucester has a dense texture and rich, mellow flavour. Smart's Traditional also make really nice Gloucesters.

Gorwydd Caerphilly
Pronounced 'Gor-with', this lemony semi-hard cheese is made by the Trethowan family at their farm in West Wales using unpasteurised milk. The cheese has a kind of two-tone crumbly texture with a soft creamy outer (which is called the breakdown) and a firmer band in the middle. There's a lovely tang to the flavour, backed up by earthy, savoury notes. Just a great cheese.

Hawe's Wensleydale
This is a good example of how a fairly large producer can still use traditional processes to make a decent cheese. It's fairly straightforward with a crumbly texture and lemony flavour with just a bit of honey. The Hawe's Creamery is often incorrectly called the last maker of Wensleydale in Wensleydale, but there is another much smaller producer - Ribblesdale Cheese- also based in Hawes that makes the cheese. Both are well worth seeking out.

Appleby's Cheshire
It's not made in Cheshire - I grant you - but this is the only traditional cloth-bound Cheshire cheese still made in the country. Not as sharp as the supermarket Cheshires, there's a lovely savoury quality to the cheese with a nice tang at the end. Texture is fairly moist and flaky. It's made by the third-generation of the Appleby family using unpasteurised milk from their own farm in Shropshire.

Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire
Several cheesemongers I've spoken to recently reckon this unpasteurised crumbly cheese is tasting as good as it ever has in its history, which is saying something considering it's been made by Ruth Kirkham for over 30 years at Lower Beesley Farm in Goosnargh. Martin Gott of Cartmel Cheeses reckons the texture is as important as the flavour, describing it as a "moist, buttery, breadcrumb-like crumble which somehow opens the flavour up". The flavour itself is a balance of lemony acidity and a rich creaminess.

17 Nov 2011

Is cheese for 99p really a bargain?

My ears pricked up the other day when a friend mentioned that the local 99p Store was doing a range of British cheeses. I couldn't quite believe that cheese could be so cheap, so I went down to have a look for myself.

Sure enough there was a selection of regional British cheeses, including a Wensleydale, Red Leicester and Double Gloucester all at the bargain price of 99p. I bought all three and ferried them back to the Cheese Chap Tasting Lab otherwise known as my kitchen table.

They weren't unpleasant, just bland and one dimensional. All three were dense, milky and very sweet to the extent that I found it hard to tell them apart. I did a blind taste test to see if I could tell the difference on flavour alone. I could just about pick the Wensleydale because it had slightly more acidity, but the Red Leicester and Double Gloucester were almost indistinguishable. They all tasted like the mild block cheddar you can buy in supermarkets to me.

The cheeses were all under a brand I'd never heard of called Ribble Valley, made by a company based just outside Preston in Lancashire. Preston is nowhere near Wensleydale in Yorkshire, Leicester or Gloucester.

The fact that a factory in Lancashire is making cheeses that traditionally come from completely different counties is nothing new. Many of Britain's so called territorial cheeses have largely lost the connection they once had with specific geographical areas. They are now blandly uniform, mass produced products that are made in factories all over the country and sold at rock-bottom prices by the big retailers.

The supermarkets still manage make to a hefty margin on 'value' cheese, though. According to a report from DairyCo earlier this year, retailers make an average margin of 47% on mild block cheddar. That means for every litre of milk that goes into mild cheddar the farmer gets 25p, the cheesemaker gets 4.5p and the supermarket makes a whopping 26p. This at a time when thousands of dairy farms in the UK have been forced out of business because the big retailers have driven them down so aggressively on price.

So for 99p you get a bland, generic cheese, which has been divorced from tradition, and is part of a damaging culture of low prices. In my book, that's not really a bargain at all, but what do you think? Is there a place for cheap cheese? And does it matter that cheeses named after specific places can be produced anywhere? 

11 Nov 2011

CHEESE OF THE WEEK: Abbaye de Belloc

Cheese lovers might not realise it, but they owe a debt of gratitude to monks. From Munster to Wensleydale, via Grana Padano and Epoisses, some of the world's greatest cheeses were developed in Medieval monasteries by Benedictine monks as part of a belief in prayer combined with work and self sufficiency.

It seems strange in this age of modern food manufacturing but monks are still making cheese today. I recently took home a lovely chunk of Abbaye de Belloc from a visit to Raoul's Deli in Maida Vale, London, where owner Geraldine Leventis told me it ranks as one of her best selling cheeses.

An unpasteurised hard ewes' milk cheese, Abbaye de Belloc was first developed in the 1960s by the monks of the abbey of Notre-Dame de Belloc, close to the Pyrenees in the South West of France, and they are still making it today.

Based on an Ossau Iraty recipe, the cheese is made with milk from the local red-nosed Manech breed of sheep between July and December and is dusted with paprika to help develop its pretty speckled brown rind. It's aged for 4-10 months.

I'm not sure how long the cheese I tried had been matured, but I'm guessing it was still relatively young. It had a lovely supple texture with a sweet creamy flavour that developed to nutty caramel with just a touch of wet wool (try it and you'll see what I mean!)

I'd advise against chutneys and pickles. It's a delicate cheese that deserves your full contemplation.   

Where to buy: Raoul's Deli, Henri of Edinburgh, La Cave a Fromage

How to eat: Slice and eat. Don't mess about with chutney.

What to drink: A creamy white Burgundy works well, or try a nutty Manzanilla Pasada sherry.

7 Nov 2011

The art of affinage?

It's not just the washed rind cheeses in the maturing rooms of New York's cheesemongers that have strong personalities, judging by an interesting article in the New York Times. The people running the shops and making the cheese have equally robust views when it comes to the divisive issue of 'affinage'.

You can read the article for yourself here, but, to summarise, the New York cheese fraternity seems to be split into two camps. On one side are mongers like Murray's Cheese, who have built their own temperature and humidity-controlled cheese rooms so that they can practice the art of affinage - a European tradition which involves skillfully maturing and developing cheeses to perfection.

On the other are those that argue that mongers are dressing up simple 'cheese care', practised by all good retailers, as affinage so that they can charge customers more. Or as cheesemonger and author Steve Jenkins puts it in the article: “This affinage thing is a total crock.”

There's nothing a journalist likes more than a good old ding dong, so not surprisingly issues are painted in black and white in the article when in reality they are varying shades of opinion on the subject. That said, it does raise some interesting questions, such as, what is affinage and how is it different to just looking after a product?

In the UK cheesemongers and wholesalers such as Neal's Yard, Paxton & Whitfield and La Fromagerie all claim affineur status. Martin Knapp, the manager of Paxton & Whitfield's shop in Bristol, told me over Twitter that in his opinion, "if you change the nature of the cheese, it's affinage". 

The kind of things Paxton gets up to includes making its own truffle bries, soaking the French blue Fourme d'Ambert in sweet Monbazillac wine and ageing cheddars for several months to get a more mature cheese. Knapp also explained that Paxton takes very young or vacuum-packed cheeses that do not have any rind and stores them in a 'rinding room', which has the right temperature and humidity to encourage mould growth.

Where it gets confusing is that some of the stuff talked about by Paxton is done by all cheesemongers. Justin Tunstall at Town Mill Cheesemongers in Lyme Regis told me he turns his cheeses, allows them to breathe or covers where necessary, adjusts heat and humdity and trims and dresses them for display. That sounds like there are elements of affinage going on to me, but he classes it as just 'cheese care'.

It's this grey area that gets some people so hot under the collar. One deli owner told me: "There are too many cheesemongers who think they are the second coming of [legendary British affineur] James Aldridge when all they are doing is caring well for their cheese. I was astounded at the markup some wholesalers/affineurs put on a product for what will effectively be turning the cheese a few times in their 'maturing' room. I think it is a veritable pisstake."

It sounds like the cheese care versus affinage argument is not just an American one, but what do you think? When does cheese care become affinage? And are cheeses from affineurs justifiably more expensive?

30 Oct 2011

CHEESE OF THE WEEK: Ragstone

I got a bit over-excited in a previous post about how some British cheesemakers are going back to using traditional calves' rennet in their cheeses (rather than vegetarian) because they believe it gives a more rounded, 3D flavour.

Following on from that, and just by coincidence, I picked up a small log of  Ragstone goat's cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy at Borough Market, which is made with kids' rennet.

Logically, you would think that all traditional goats' cheeses would be made with kids' rennet, but it's actually very unusual in the UK. A lot of goat's cheese producers here use vegetarian or calves' rennet, but cheesemaker Charlie Westhead swears by keeping it 100% goat. He thinks it adds "an extra dimension" to the flavour of the cheese, which echoes what cheesemakers in my previous piece were saying.

Anyway rennet ramble over, Ragstone is a pretty cheese with a velvety white rind and smooth interior. It's made with unpasteurised goat's milk in Herefordshire overlooking the River Wye by Neal's Yard Creamery. The company was originally based in the South East of England and was part of Neal's Yard Dairy, but it is now completely separate and relocated to Herefordshire in 1996.

The piece I bought in mid October had a rich creamy flavour with lemony, herby notes and an earthy finish. There was an interesting mix of textures as well with the silky rind giving way to an oozy outer layer and a smooth paste inside. Best of all, the flavours and the textures all seemed to balance each other really well.

Sometimes there's a macho swagger to goat's cheese - the billy goat flavour is just too overpowering - but not with Ragstone. It's a harmonious little cheese.

Where to buy: Neal's Yard Dairy, Paxton & Whitfield, IJ Mellis, Whole Foods Market 

How to eat: This is a versatile cheese, which works on a cheeseboard, but is also great in salads, tarts and sandwiches. Try it in a salad with pear and walnuts, or grilled with marmalade in a sandwich. Beetroot and rosemary are also friendly flavours.

What to drink: A grassy sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley is a classic accompaniment to goat's cheese. The CheeseWorks in Cheltenham recommends a crisp English white from the Three Choirs Vineyard called Coleridge Hill 


26 Oct 2011

Vacherin Mont d'Or: a seasonal star

Everyone knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is why there’s always an extra-special thrill when seasonal foods that have been missing for many months suddenly reappear.

Whether it’s the arrival of asparagus in May or Seville oranges in December, these long-awaited foods are made all the more precious by the knowledge that they will only be available for a short time.

For cheese lovers, one of the most eagerly anticipated seasonal débuts is the mountain cheese Vacherin. Made exclusively during the autumn and winter in France and Switzerland, this soft cow’s-milk cheese is a sure sign that summer is over and the nights are drawing in.

By happy coincidence, Vacherin’s gooey creaminess makes it the perfect cheese for winter evenings, when it is traditionally warmed in the oven in its own spruce-wood box and eaten like fondue or drizzled over meat and potatoes. The cheese is considered to be at its best from November onwards, making it a Christmas favourite on the Continent.

Vacherin’s distinctive undulating rind is said to resemble the Jura mountains, which straddle the border between Switzerland and eastern France, where the cheese is made. Both countries claim to have invented Vacherin – the Swiss eventually won Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) status for the term “Vacherin Mont d’Or” (despite the fact that the summit of Mont d’Or is actually in France). Never ones to miss a chance to safeguard their foodie traditions, the French also successfully applied for AOC status for the terms “Vacherin du Haut-Doubs” and “Mont d’Or”.

To read the rest of this article, which was first published in the November edition of Harrods Magazine, click here

21 Oct 2011

CHEESE OF THE WEEK: Berwick Edge



Unless you live in the North East of England, you might not be familiar with Berwick Edge, which is made by Doddington Dairy in Northumberland and is mainly available in regional delis and farm shops. 

That's a shame because this unpasteurised Gouda-style cheese, which is aged for between 12-24 months, is an absolute cracker. The cheese I tried managed to retain the milky freshness of its youth while also possessing those fruity caramel flavours that come with age. There was a nice salty hit to it as well.

Don't just take my word for it either. Members of the Specialist Cheesemakers' Association awarded it with the 2011 James Aldridge Memorial Trophy earlier this year, which goes to the UK's best raw milk cheese.

The trophy is named after legendary cheesemaker and affineur James Aldridge, who helped reinvigorate the artisan cheese sector in Britian in the 1980s and 90s and passed away in 2001. In a weird twist of fate, Doddington's MD Margaret-Ann Maxwell took advice from Aldridge when she first started cheese making. 

Where to buy: The Pantry, Bamburgh

How to eat: Good in sandwiches when it's young, but when it's older and fruitier it works well as cheese on toast or over pasta, or simply as part of a cheeseboard. 

What to drink: Try an off-dry riesling from Germany or the Alsace. The combination of sweetness and mineral notes works well with the fruity, salty flavour of the cheese.

18 Oct 2011

Urban raclette at Borough Market

Cheese is nearly always made in the countryside because, well, that's where cows live. But cheese company Kappacasein, which is once again drawing huge crowds at Borough, makes cheese just five minutes from the market under some railway arches in Bermondsey. 

Urban cheesemaker William Oglethorpe sources the milk for his cheese from an organic farm in Kent, which rears Brown Swiss and Montbéliarde cows. The milk is brought back to Kappacasein's newly built dairy at Voyager Railway Arches, where it is turned into a halloumi-style cheese called Bermondsey Frier and Bermondsey Hardpressed, which is similar to Gruyere. There's a strangely atmospheric video of the process at the bottom of this post.

Oglethorpe was the man who helped develop, and gave his name to, Montgomery's washed rind raclette-style cheese Ogleshield when he worked for Neal's Yard. 

He was also part of the so-called Bermondsey Seven, who were evicted from Borough Market earlier in the year for trading at new foodie destination Maltby Street (close to where he makes the cheese). 

Thankfully, he seems to have patched up his differences with Borough and is now back at the market trying to keep up with the big queues that form at his stall. Here he cranks out plates of new potatoes, cornichons and little pickled onions smothered in the frazzled, bubbling loveliness of melted Ogleshield raclette.

This is the traditional way to eat raclette in Switzerland and France, where the cheese originates ('racler' is French for scrape), although it's made all over the world these days. According to fromage guru Patrica Michelson, in her fantastic book 'Cheese', Swiss raclette tend to be much stronger in flavour than French, particulalrly those made in the high Alps, which are washed in brine and has nutty smoky flavours.


Hot, gooey Ogleshield blobbed over potatoes and pickled onion sounds just about the most awesome hangover dish I can think of, especially when it costs just £5. In the interests of research, I visited Kappacasein's stall with a slight hangover to put this to the test and can confirm that I was instantly cured. Mind you, I did also eat half of one of Oglethorpe's other great inventions - the toasted cheese sandwich made with Poilane sourdough bread and Montgomery's cheddar.



16 Oct 2011

In search of a 3D flavour

Unless you're a vegetarian, rennet is probably not very high on your list of priorities when it comes to choosing cheese, but perhaps it should be.

A growing band of British cheesemakers are switching from using vegetarian rennet in their cheeses in favour of traditional calves' rennet because they say the flavour is much better.

Charle Martell: '3D flavour'
Charles Martell of Stinking Bishop fame is one of them. He told me that his Single and Double Gloucester, Hereford Hop and Double Berkeley cheeses taste "like they used to 30 years ago" and have "a 3D flavour" since he switched to calves' rennet, with none of the bitter notes he was getting with vegetarian rennet. He's thinking of switching to animal rennet in his Stinking Bishop as well.

At the same time Robin Skailes of Cropwell Bishop has developed new calves' rennet Stiltons, which he says are more "rounded" and "complex". I've done a pretty unscientific taste test myself with some Cropwell Bishop and would have to agree. But more on that in a minute.

Before then, I wanted to give a bit of background to rennet, which admittedly is not the sexiest of subjects, but it's important to understand what effect it has on cheese. Traditional rennet, which is also sometimes called 'natural' rennet, is basically a collection of enzymes extracted from calves' stomachs that is added to milk to help it coagulate into curds and whey.

Not surprisingly, vegetarians don't want to eat this kind of cheese, which means classics such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Gruyère are off the menu because by law they must be made with natural rennet.

Quite a few British cheeses, including Montgomerys' Cheddar and Gorwydd Caerphilly are also still made with natural rennet, but a lot of British cheesemakers switched over to vegetarian rennet in the 80s and 90s. This was partly because the big supermarkets wanted to target as wide a consumer base as possible, but also because there were problems sourcing good quality calves' rennet.
The story behind vegetarian rennet, also known as microbial rennet, is not really any more appetising than that of traditional rennet. It's made by fermenting mould (mmm, tasty) and can be associated with slightly bitter flavours in aged cheese because the enzymes target the milk's casein proteins in a general way, while animal rennet acts on specific areas (that's what Paul Thomas, the head cheesemaker at Lyburn, told me anyway).

Stilton producer Cropwell Bishop is interesting because it makes cheese with traditional rennet and vegetarian. Weirdly, Waitrose sells both kinds, so you can actually do a direct taste test. Here they are:

The one on the left is made with vegetarian rennet and the one on the right uses traditional rennet. Interestingly the prices are not that different -   £14.95 per kilo for the veggie cheese and £15.99 per kilo for the other.

Three of us blind-tasted both cheeses and we could all immediately tell the difference. The traditional rennet Stilton was noticeably better. To be completely fair, the vegetarian Stilton was from the bottom of the truckle (it had a rind on two sides), which might have made a difference. And I don't know how long they'd been matured for either.

 

But the flavours of the calves' rennet cheese were definitely more vivid and pronounced. It was creamier, more tangy and had a longer earthy note at the end. '3D' is a good way to describe the flavour. Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap would have said its volume had been turned up to 11.

In contrast, the vegetarian rennet cheese was muted with a definite bitterness at the end, or to carry on the Spinal Tap analogy, its flavour volume was a seven with some unpleasant feedback.

11 Sep 2011

A temperamental little cheese

'A bit of a prima donna'
Petite, curvaceous and with delicate dusky skin, Golden Cenarth has become a pin-up of the cheese world, but there’s more to this Welsh beauty than stunning looks. Made with organic milk from the verdant Teifi Valley and hand washed in cider, the cheese has a rounded character taking in nutty, savoury flavours and a rich creamy depth.

Judges at last year’s British Cheese Awards were certainly swept off their feet by its charms. They awarded it the ultimate compliment by naming Golden Cenarth Supreme Champion ahead of over 900 other cheeses in the competition. What made the accolade even more remarkable was that the cheese had only been launched two years previously – a meteoric rise that is almost unheard of in the dairy world where cheeses often take up to five years to achieve such recognition.

The overnight fame and adulation has not come without its fair share of heartache, however. Carwyn Adams, MD of Camarthenshire-based Caws Cenarth, which makes the cheese, admits that like all true superstars Golden Cenarth can be a bit of a prima donna.

“It’s quite a temperamental little cheese,” he says. “If we don’t get conditions spot on, it doesn’t thrive at all. To be honest, it’s been the bane of our life trying to get it right, so winning the award made it all worthwhile.” 

To read the rest of this article, which was first published in the September edition of Harrods Magazine, click here

10 Sep 2011

Can I get the bill and some Stinking Bishop, please?

La Cave a Fromage has opened a cheese room as part of the new Bistro du Vin restaurant in Soho and is in talks with another restaurant group about the concept.

Part of the Hotel du Vin group, Bistro du Vin was launched earlier this year as a stand-alone restaurant brand with sites in Clerkenwell and Soho. The temperature-controlled cheese room at the Soho branch, which opened in July, houses around 80 British, French and Italian artisan cheeses and a selection of charcuterie supplied by La Cave a Fromage's parent company Premier Cheese. 

Choose your cheese board to eat in or take away
The restaurant serves a cheese and charcuterie platter starting at £8.95 per person and an eat-as-much-as-you-like cheese board for £12.50 per person. Customers can also buy cheese to takeaway and specialist staff trained by La Cave are on-hand to explain the range. 

“We are always looking to spread the word on cheese and get more people to experiment and taste, so this is another interesting avenue,” said director Amnon Paldi, who operates two shops in Kensington and Brighton and the wholesale business with Eric Charriaux. “We are also talking to another restaurant group about the concept and will hopefully announce something in October.”

Bistro du Vin plans to open two more sites in London this year in Chiswick and Shoreditch, and is aiming for a total of 10-12 sites in the capital in the next 18 months.
Since opening, the cheese room has proved particularly popular with women, said Paldi.

“It's something we've also noticed in our shops over the past 3-4 years,” he said. “More and more women are eating cheese and are interested in stronger more unusual products, like washed rind cheeses.”

www.la-cave.co.uk
 
* First published in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's September 2011 issue. Click here

5 Aug 2011

Cinderella cheese wins top raw milk prize

Margaret-Ann Maxwell took advice from James Aldridge
The Gouda-style cheese Berwick Edge was named the best British unpasteurised cheese for 2011 last month by the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association (SCA).

The cheese, made by Doddington Dairy in Northumberland, was one of 21 finalists nominated by fellow cheesemakers in the James Aldridge Memorial Trophy for 2011. 
 
Berwick Edge was crowned the winner by a panel of judges including Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy, Tim Rowcliffe of Anthony Rowcliffe and Clare Cheney, secretary of the SCA, along with James Aldridge’s widow Pat Robinson. 
 
The trophy is named in honour of pioneering cheesemaker and affineur James Aldridge, who died in 2001. “It’s a particularly fitting award as James rang me many years ago out of the blue to give me some very valuable advice on my cheeses when I first started making them,” said Doddington MD Margaret-Ann Maxwell. “I am particularly delighted that Berwick Edge won as I often think of it as the Cinderella of our cheeses as Doddington Cheese is much better known nationally. Now I can say this has definitely had its time in the limelight.”

The cheese is aged for between 12-14 months and joins a long line of winners, including Saval, Innes Log, Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, Golden Cross and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire. 

www.doddingtondairy.co.uk
* First published in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's August 2011 issue. Click here

10 Jul 2011

Up-and-coming producer debuts British Reblochon

Julianna trained at Capriole Dairy in the US
After learning her trade with artisan producers in the US and the UK, an up-and-coming young cheesemaker from Hungary has launched her own company, producing a Reblochon-style raw milk cheese.

Julianna Sedli has worked for companies including Capriole Dairy in the US, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Wootton Organic, but has now launched her own business called The Old Cheese Room, which is based at a converted outbuilding on the Neston Park Estate in Wiltshire.

Her newly launched Reblochon-style cheese is called Baronet and is made with the Estate’s Jersey cows’ milk. It will initially only be sold through Neston Park Farm Shop before distribution is expanded to farmers’ markets and other retailers. Other new cheeses are also being developed.

“Reblochon is a cheese I have always loved, but this is something a little bit different. The Jersey milk has a high fat and protein content, which gives it a mellow buttery flavour with a hint of lemon,” she said. “There’s a gap in the market for a British-style Reblochon. Something like Stinking Bishop has a very different texture.” 

The cheese is named in reference to Sir James Fuller, who is the fourth Baronet of the Neston Park Estate and is on the board at his family’s famous London brewery Fuller’s. His wife Lady Venetia Fuller set up the farm shop in 2009.
* First published in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's July 2011 issue. Click here

6 Jun 2011

Goodwood Estate moves into cheddar

Shorthorn milk is used from the Estate's own herd
An organic cheddar-style cheese called Charlton is the first product to come from Goodwood Home Farms new dairy.

Cheesemaker Christopher Vowles told Fine Food Digest that further cheeses, including a blue and a Brie are in the pipeline after setting up a cheese rom and three storage units in farm buildings last year. The facility is able to process 1,400 litres of milk a day from the Goodwood Estates own herd of Shorthorn dairy cows.

The pasteurised Charlton is made to a traditional cheddar recipe with the cheeses larded and bandaged by hand. “The Shorthorn milk is much creamier than you would get from a Friesan, so the cheese has a lovely richness with a tangy bite at the end,” said Vowles, who previously worked for Lyburn Farm and whose father and grandfather also made cheese.

The cheese is available in two varieties, mild (6 month maturity) and mature (12 months), as well as an 18 month extra mature variety. It will be sold in the Goodwood farm shop and local delis.

Goodwood Home Farm encompasses more than 3,300 acres, combining arable land with livestock, including 200 dairy cows, 1,200 ewes and 20 Saddleback sows. Most of the produce from the farm is sold on the estate through its hotel, clubhouse and farm shop. It achieved full organic status in 2004.
 * First published in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's June 2011 issue. Click here

5 Jun 2011

New ewes' milk cheeses from Scotland

The company behind Scotland’s famous Lanark Blue cheese has developed two new unpasteurised sheep’s milk cheeses, including a washed rind cheese made with fermented whey.


HJ Errington in Carnwath, which is best known for its Lanark Blue and Dunsyre Blue cheeses, named its new washed rind cheese Elsrickle after a neighbouring village. The cheese is washed in Fallachan – a type of cheese ‘wine’ also known as blaand, which has been made from fermented whey in Scotland for centuries. 

 “We started making it this year due to several customer requests,” said Selena Cairns, who is a partner in the company and the daughter of founder Humphrey Errington. 
 

The company has also launched a hard ewes’ milk cheese called Corra Linn named after one of the water falls on the Clyde. The cheese is matured in cloth for at least five months and weighs 6kg. 
 

“We have been experimenting with it for the past few years as the techniques are very different to blue cheese,” said Cairns. “It has been difficult to get the cheese consistent. We have found that as the ewes’ milk changes throughout the season it gets harder as the fat content of the milk goes up. We are really pleased with the results although the cheese does change though the season giving a variety of different flavours.”

* First published in the Cheeswire section of Fine Food Digest's June 2011 issue. Click here

15 May 2011

Montgomery's Cheddar: stuff of legend

The Cheese Chap discusses hair nets with Jamie Montgomery
Montgomery’s cheddar is not short of admirers. Food writer Charles Campion describes it as a “world beater”, while Tom Parker-Bowles rates it as “the stuff of legend”. Then there’s the public, who eagerly snaffle the 500 truckles made each month at the family business’s 1,200-acre farm near Yeovil in Somerset.

The company’s success can be put down to owner Jamie Montgomery’s determination to remain faithful to the traditional cheesemaking practices of his grandfather, Sir John Langman, who took over the business in 1911. “My life is dedicated to making cheddar as my grandfather did, or at least as close as possible,” he says. “That might sound boring, but sticking to these principles can be incredibly challenging.”

Working with raw milk is a good example. Most cheesemakers pasteurise milk to eliminate any chance of disease – a ‘belt and braces’ approach to food safety that has more to do with the rise of supermarkets and huge dairies than making good cheese.
The problem with pasteurising is that it kills off ‘good’ bacteria that add complexity and depth of flavour.

Montgomery's is made with milk from the farm's own herd
Montgomery’s can vouch for the safety of its milk because it comes directly from the farm’s 170-strong herd of Friesians. Cheese is made daily to ensure the milk is absolutely fresh, but stringent health and safety laws still make life difficult – something that rarely affected Montgomery’s grandfather.

The biggest difficulty is the unreliable testing procedure for bovine TB – a disease that can spread through unpasteurised milk. “The tests are often inconclusive or throw up false positive results, which mean we have to slaughter,” explains Montgomery. “We test every six months and usually at least one cow has to be slaughtered. Yet in all the autopsies we’ve done, we’ve never actually found a case of TB.”

Beyond raw milk, Montgomery’s stands out from the cheddar crowd because it uses liquid starter cultures, which support a diverse range of bacteria and therefore create complex flavours in the final cheese. Most cheesemakers use freeze-dried cultures, which have a long shelf-life and are convenient to use. “But freeze drying is a heavy duty process and only some bacteria can take it,” says Montgomery. Cheese company Barber’s makes the starters using bacteria first collected from local farms in the 1950s.

Each batch of Montgomery’s cheddar produces around 18 of 23kg cheeses, depending on milk yields. A pint of starter is added to a churn of milk the day before processing to allow the bacteria to develop. This is then emptied into a vat of raw milk the next day and bacteria begin fermenting the sugar in the milk to make lactic acid. Calf’s rennet, which contains a catalyst enzyme, is then added to help coagulation.

Most cheddars use man-made vegetarian rennet to curdle the milk, but Montgomery argues that traditional calf’s rennet makes for a better end flavour. “I’ve tried the same cheese made with both and the difference in flavour is extraordinary.”

The cheese is matured for atr least 11 months
The curd is left to set before being cut to release the whey. The mixture is then mixed while warming to 41oC, a temperature that causes the bacteria to slow the creation of lactic acid. “Most will die off, but some will remain and keep adding flavour – it’s a fine balancing act,” says Montgomery.

The curds and whey are eventually channelled into a second vat, where much of the whey is drained off. The next stage in the process, known as cheddaring, is crucial to the final texture of the cheese and requires an expert touch. The cheesemakers run their hands through the rubbery chunks of curd to release more whey and slowly build up two sausage-shaped piles. 

These are then cut into blocks, which are turned and stacked on top of each other repeatedly. This process helps drain off more of the whey, increases acidity and develops cheddar’s famous smooth texture. “We don’t want it to be amorphous like a block of soap; we want some fissuring,” says Montgomery.

The final slabs of curd are shredded in a peg mill and salted. “I think we’re one of only two producers in Britain still using a peg mill. Everyone else has chip mills, which slice the curds into smooth discs. But we like the brittle texture the peg mill produces.”
As output has slowly grown, Montgomery has been tempted to invest in a more efficient chip mill, but instead redesigned his old peg mill to run more quickly. “My grandfather would have appreciated that – he loved engineering and tinkering with machines.”

After milling, the curds are mechanically pressed in stainless steel moulds for three days. During this time the cheeses are also dipped in hot water to create a rind. The final stage of production sees the cheeses rubbed with lard and wrapped in muslin to prevent cracking and add support. They are then stacked in the maturing room where mould feeds on the lard and lets the cheese breathe.

The cheeses are matured for at least 11 months, with some aged for longer. Neal’s Yard takes a handful of two-year-old truckles each year. Interest in these strong, extra mature cheeses prompted a Times journalist to describe them as the ‘vindaloo’ of cheddar in a recent article.

“After the story appeared we had lots of enquiries from shallow people asking about our ‘cheddar with curry’, which was a nuisance,” says Montgomery. “The two year-old cheeses are almost a bit of fun. Generally, our cheese is at its peak a little earlier.”

For a man that takes his cheese seriously, the light-hearted media attention was obviously not appreciated by Montgomery. You can’t help but think his grandfather would have approved.

First published in the January issue of Artisan magazine