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 

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.