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