29 Oct 2012

Washing cheese in a Bermondsey cave

It doesn't have quite the same romance as the caves of Roquefort, but the cool, damp climate of a railway arch on an industrial estate in South East London is proving to be the perfect place to make a new washed rind cheese called Bermondsey Spa. 

Taking its name from the local neighbourhood (it's hard to believe that this inner city area was once home to a natural spring), the cheese is the brainchild of cheesemonger and maturer Tom Harding. His company Mootown is one of a new breed of micro-businesses that have sprung up over the past five years as London's street food scene has blossomed, selling everything from cupcakes to beer at London's trendy farmers' markets and food festivals.

Bermondsey Spa is actually washed with a pale ale from a fellow urban food producer - a micro-brewery called the Kernel, which is housed in the railway arch next door. “We wanted to put our own mark on the cheeses that we sell and the Kernel's beer is so yeasty and full of character that it seemed the obvious choice for making a washed rind cheese,” says Harding.

Bermondsey Spa starts out life as a Welsh cheese called Golden Cenarth, which is made by Carwyn Adams of Carmarthanshire-based Caws Cenarth. Mootown has long sold this organic washed rind cow's milk cheese on its stalls at Herne Hill market and North Cross Road market in East Dulwich, but by washing it even more with pale ale over two to three weeks it turns into a very different product altogether with a darker, stickier rind and a stronger fruity flavour.

L to R: Golden Cenarth and Bermondsey Spa
“One of our customers said in a nice way that is smells like death. It has got a very big meaty smell, but actually the flavour when you eat it is much more mild and creamy,” says Harding. “We took advice from Carwyn about washing the cheese and the environment we should keep it in. We don't claim it's perfect, but we're quite happy with it.”

Tom Harding
To continue reading this article, which was published in the October issue of Fine Food Digest, click here and turn to p30. 

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