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.

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

16 Oct 2013

Top five new cheeses of 2013

Not all of these cheeses were launched this year, but they are all fairly new and have really hit their stride in 2013. Go get 'em!

Pic courtesy of www.bistroatthedeli.co.uk
Baron Bigod
Fen Farm Dairy, Suffolk
British 'Bries' can be found in all the major supermarkets, but finding a raw milk Brie de Meaux-style cheese made in this country is not so easy. Enter Baron Bigod (above) from Bungay-based Fen Farm Dairy, which is run by third generation dairy farmer Jonathan Crickmore and his wife Dulcie. The couple attended courses at the School of Artisan Food and the Specialist Cheesemakers' Association before launching Baron Bigod (pronounced 'by-god') using milk from their farm's 76-strong herd of Montbeliarde cows. The final flavour is earthy and mushroomy with a silky texture.
Where to buy: Neal's Yard Dairy

Hampshire Cheeses, Hampshire
Wrapped in a spruce band with a gooey centre, this new pasteurised cow's milk cheese has been developed by Hampshire Cheeses' - the company behind Tunworth - with input from Neal's Yard Dairy. Like Vacherin, Winslade has a runny texture when it's fully ripe so you can eat it with a spoon. But unlike its Continetal cousin it doesn't have a washed rind, so the flavour is more delicate - creamy and mushroomy with interesting resinous notes from the spruce. Great sprinkled with white wine and warmed in the oven.   
Where to try:  Rotunda Bar and Restaurant  

James's Cheese, Dorset 
Francis is a washed rind cheese made by James McCall, who worked for many years with the granddaddy of British cheese, James Aldridge. It begins out as a young Stoney Cross cheese, made by Lyburn Cheesemakers, before McCall washes it in a solution of French cultures. It's quite mild by washed rind standards with a pink marbled skin and a pleasant tangy smell. The texture is supple and silky and it has a fresh and appley flavour.
Where to buy: The Cheese Shed 

St Jude
White Wood Dairy, Hampshire
This lactic set 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. It's made by Julie Cheyney, who previously co-founded Hampshire Cheeses, and was won this year's James Aldridge Memorial Trophy, which recognises the best raw milk cheese in the country and is voted for by other cheesemakers.
Where to buy: The Cheese Board

Hill Farm Dairy, Somerset
Will and Caroline Atkinson are best known for making a pretty little goat's cheese called Stawley, but earlier this year launched a much larger, semi-hard cheese called Wellesley. I'll 'fess up and admit to not having tried this yet, but the Atkinsons are such good cheesemakers it's bound to be a corker. It's made with raw milk from the farm's own herd of goats and is matured for two to three months. The rind is quite dusty and the cheese has a waxy pliable texture a bit like Ossau or Comté. Beefy and caramel flavours abound. 
Where to buy: Country Cheeses

11 Oct 2013

Colwick cheese: a forgotten food returns

Colwick topped with heritage beetroot at the Larder on Goosegate
It's a sign of how far the British cheese renaissance has come that cheeses that had once died out are being resurrected by new producers. Farmhouse Red Leicester, Staffordshire cheese and Dovedale Blue have all been revived in recent years after going missing from Britain's larder. 

Most recently, Matthew O'Callaghan food historian and chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association has helped reestablish Colwick cheese in Nottinghamshire. Colwick is a light, fresh cow's milk cheese, which was produced throughout Nottinghamshire from the mid 1600s. The last commercial production stopped in 1993, but O'Callaghan rediscovered a recipe for the cheese several years ago and encouraged Leicestershire dairy farmers Alan and Jane Hewson to start making it once again.

The couple have since set up their own creamery - Belvoir Ridge - at Crossroads Farm, using pasteurised milk from their own 60-strong herd of Red Poll cows to make Colwick. The cheese has a lactic flavour with a curdy tang and a distinctive bowl shape, which can be topped with fresh fruit. 

It was officially launched at the Artisan Cheese Fair in Melton Mowbray earlier this year and is due to feature in an upcoming episode of the second series of Jamie and Jimmy's Food Fight Club. It's also been admitted into Slow Food's Ark of Taste.

There's a fine looking recipe for grilled peach salad with Parma ham and Colwick on Jamie's website and local pub the Larder on Goosegate (which featured in the programme) is serving it with honey-roasted Roscoff onions, squash and hazelnuts and also makes kind of beetroot cheesecake with it (pictured above).

30 May 2013

Whisky and cheese: Glen Garioch competition

Most people wet their whistle with wine (that's a lot of Ws) when they're eating cheese, but I've always thought beer and cider work just as well. I'd not considered pairing cheese with whisky; that was until Glen Garioch - one of Scotland's oldest distilleries got in touch.

The company's tasters have done a lot of work exploring the world of cheese and whisky and have come up with some interesting combinations. They reckon their Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve is a top match for Comté, while their 12 Years Old goes best with salty Parmigiano Reggiano. Scottish cheeses, such as Lanark Blue and Criffel, also work, as do Lancashire and Caerphilly.

The Aberdeenshire company is currently running a competition with the winner going on a two-day, all expenses paid trip to the area where the whisky is made. It includes a VIP tour of the Glen Garioch distillery and a private tasting with Master Blender Rachel Barrie. A whisky and cheese matching session will also be held during the visit.

Competition runners up will receive a limited edition small batch release of Glen Garioch Single Malt Whisky.

For your chance to win, enter via the Glen Garioch Facebook page:

Entry closes at midnight on 3rd June 2013.

* More on whisky and cheese matching in later blog posts, when I've had a chance to do some serious tasting!

28 May 2013

Mary Holbrook and the rise of British goat's cheese

Hill Farm Dairy makes Stawley
with milk from its own herd
Goat’s cheese doesn’t always get the respect it deserves in this country. That’s partly due to Britain’s climate and landscape being suited to grazing cows and making big cheeses, such as Cheddar and Lancashire. It’s also because many people have only ever tried those mass-produced logs of goat’s cheese that either taste of nothing or have such a “goaty” tang they put people off for life.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Britain now makes some acclaimed goats’ cheeses that have earned the right to strut their stuff on any cheeseboard.
British goat's cheeses, such as Tymsboro, Cardo and Stawley, are among the very best cheeses he has to offer.

Cardo and Tymsboro are produced by veteran cheesemaker Mary Holbrook using milk from her own herd at Sleight Farm near Bath, while Stawley is made in the village of the same name by newcomers Will and Caroline Atkinson.

Like many other young British cheesemakers, the Atkinsons trained at Sleight Farm before setting up their own business in 2009. Will Atkinson, who makes Stawley with his wife Caroline using raw milk from their own goats, is effusive about Holbrook's impact. “She's the godmother of British goat's cheese,” he says. “There was a dearth of artisan goat's milk cheese producers before Mary. She did it off her own back over 30 years ago.”

Holbrook modestly brushes the tribute away when I speak to her. “It's curious to be called a godmother!” she laughs. “I don't feel like that. I've just been doing it for a long while, but it's nice that my cheeses are well thought of.”

Shaped like a pyramid with the top cut off and a pretty charcoal-dusted rind, Tymsboro was one of Holbrook's first cheeses and is similar to a classic French Valençay. It's made with raw milk and is creamy with a silky smooth texture when young, but can be aged for up to two months becoming denser and more concentrated in flavour as it matures.

Stawley: gentle, sweet & lemony
Intensity is also a characteristic of Cardo – a much larger washed rind goat's cheese that is based on the mountain 'queijos' of Portugal. Holbrook uses the dried petals and stamen of a thistle-like plant called cardoon to curdle the milk, rather than traditional rennet, before cutting the curd by dragging her bare arms through the vat.

The unusual production process leads to a cheese with a unique texture, ranging from meltingly soft to quite firm, while the flavour takes in chicory notes from the cardoon with a big meaty hit from the sticky orange rind.

It's a very different cheese to the gentle Stawley, which is sweet and milky with a pretty wrinkled rind. “Our cheese doesn't have any of those strong goaty flavours that often put people off,” says Atkinson. “We've managed to persuade some who say they don't like goat's cheese to change their minds after tasting Stawley.” 

A longer version of this article appeared in the May issue of Harrods Magazine. To read it click here

29 Apr 2013

Heaven scent: Francis washed rind

The Cheesewire pages of Fine Food Digest magazine have been ripe with some rather pongy cheeses in recent months as an increasing number of British producers launch new washed rind cheeses.

Bathed in alcohol or brine as they mature, these kinds of cheeses famously develop a particularity pungent rind thanks to the growth of sticky red-coloured bacteria, which are also the cause of smelly feet. The French have been blowing our socks off for centuries with classics such as Munster and Epoisses, but now a new generation of British cheesemakers are also dipping their collective toe in the whiffy waters of rind washing.

These new products not only meet growing demand for strong British cheeses, they are also seen as a relatively easy way to expand a business. Rather than developing a completely new recipe, all the cheesemaker has to do is take an existing cheese, give it a wash in local cider or ale as it matures and, hey presto, he or she has a brand new product to sell.

It sounds simple, but the odorous arts of cheese washing are anything but, according to James McCall. He worked for the granddaddy of British washed rind cheeses – James Aldridge - for seventeen years from the late 1980s, making Tornegus and Celtic Promise, and today runs his own company specialising in these types of cheeses.

In an article in last year's FFD, he branded many new washed rind cheeses as “gimmicky” and voiced concerns about “unskilled” cheesemakers risking health and safety, which could damage the reputation of the category as a whole.

“You have to be dedicated to washed rind cheeses and take them very seriously,” he explained to me last month as we discussed his Dorset-based business James's Cheese. “They are not something to just fit in between other cheeses. They really need their own dedicated maturing room, so you don't get different bacteria jumping from cheese to cheese, and it takes time and commitment to develop a really good product.”

McCall, who has also worked at Daylesford Organic, Cranborne Chase and Chalke Valley Cheese, set up James's in a converted barn in Child Okeford in 2011. The company's main product is Francis – a pasteurised cow's milk cheese, made by washing young Stoney Cross rounds from Salisbury-based Lyburn.

Last year, the cheese, which is named after James Aldridge (his middle name was Francis), won the Best New Cheese category at the British Cheese Awards. Listings with The Fine Cheese Co and Paxton & Whitfield soon followed with the Cheese Cellar listing it this month. The wholesaler will also carry the company's other cheese Burwood Bole – a washed rind cow's milk log, which is based on a cheese made by McCall himself at Chalke Valley's production premises.

“Entering that award was the best fifteen quid I ever spent,” says McCall. “It really raised the profile of the cheese and has opened doors for me.”

As washed rind cheeses go, Francis is quite mild. The pink marbled rind has a pleasant tangy smell without the nose-wrinkling niff you get with other cheeses, while the interior has a fresh appley flavour. “I don't like it when a washed rind cheese is mega matured. I like firmer younger cheeses where the flavour from the rind is in the background,” says McCall.

* To continue reading this article, which first appeared in the March 2013 issue of FFD, click here and turn to p18

19 Apr 2013


The cheese in the picture above might look like a Vacherin, but it is in fact a new British cheese called Winslade from the company that makes the fabulous Camembert-style Tunworth.
Wrapped in a spruce band with a gooey centre, the new pasteurised cow's milk cheese has been developed by Hampshire Cheeses' co-owner Stacey Hedges with input from Neal's Yard Dairy and is named after a local village.

Like Vacherin, Winslade has a runny texture when it's fully ripe so you can eat it with a spoon. The flavour is delicate - creamy and mushroomy with interesting resinous notes fom the spruce

Hedges deveolped the cheese after a discusssion with Neal's Yard Dairy, which was looking to stock a new kind of British cheese. The retailer is the only one currently selling Winslade, although it is also cropping up on restaurant menus quite a bit. I saw it at Rotunda near Kings Cross recently, where it's served hot from the oven with walnut and raisin bread for dunking.

Where to buy: Neal's Yard 

How to eat: Sprinkle with white wine and warm in the oven. Serve with crusty bread for dipping. 

What to drink: A crisp Sancerre or a fruity Beaujolais.

18 Apr 2013

The tasting slate at La Cave a Fromage

I'm not shy when it comes to asking for tasters in cheese shops. Nibbling on a few slices while shooting the cheese with a fellow curd nerd is half the point of going to a good independent. Any self respecting retailer should be more than happy to let you try before you buy. 

But even when you do it's still easy to get it wrong and take home a dud. That's partly because tasting four or five cheeses in quick succession messes up your palette, but there's also that terribly English desire not to cause offence. Before you know it, the fatal words 'that's lovely' have left your mouth and the cheesemonger is wrapping up 200g of cheese that you don't really want.

That's why I like the cheese tasting slates served in the cafe-cum-restaurant of Hove-based cheese shop La Cave a Fromage. Not only are they a great option at lunch or in the evening with a glass of wine, but they are also a good way to test drive the shop's 220-strong range of cheeses. 

For £10, you get six decent-sized hunks of cheese on a slate with some excellent bread served by staff who know their stuff. Order the charcuterie tasting slate (also £10) and a bottle of wine and you have a fine meal for two for less than £40. And if there are any cheeses or charcuterie that you really like, you can buy more to take home with you, safe in the knowledge that you've picked some good uns.

I tried the slates out recently at an event hosted by the shop's supremely knowledgeable manager David Deaves for the Brighton Food Society. Of the six cheeses we tasted, it was a crumbly five-week-old Cerney goat's cheese and a fruity Epoisses that stood out for me, but the star was Lord of the Hundreds - a ewe's milk cheese from Sussex, which is similar to a young Manchego.

It wasn't a blockbuster, but I liked its sweet, slightly nutty simplicty. It also matched up nicely with a smooth Tourraine Malbec from Vignoble Gibault. The charcuterie was also pretty special, particularly the Trealy Farm bresaola and a rabbit and hazelnut pate.

I know what I'll be buying the next time I go there.

Photos courtesy of Adam Chandler. Read his excellent blog here: Lewes Foodie