There has been a distinct bias so far on this blog towards cheeses of the English southern counties and semi-soft cheeses and I felt this week I should attempt to redress the balance. So I’ve headed north-east to munch on Lincolnshire Poacher, a hard unpasteurised cheese made from the milk of cows that graze on the chalky pastures of the Lincolnshire Wolds, an area not usually associated with dairy let alone cheese-making.
I bought my Poacher from a local butcher and although he knows his sausages, I’m not sure he’s much of a Maître Fromager. Even after he’d tasted it he wasn’t entirely sure whether it was smoked or not but as far as I could tell if it had been any smokier it would be wearing a velvet jacket and calling itself Dot Cotton. I also have my suspicions that he’d cut off the lovely rind which is apparently ‘granite-like’; as you can see below, my poor cheese has been well and truly butchered.
But enough about the fromage failings of my meat-man and onto the Poacher. A relative Johnny-come-lately to the British cheese-making scene, Lincolnshire Poacher was first produced in 1992 on Ulceby Grange Farm. It takes its name from an eponymous 17th-century folk song in which a rogue gives up his respectable apprenticeship to go poaching hares. Made to a recipe loosely based on West Country cheddar, the cheese can take anything from fourteen to twenty-four months to mature. (And if you like your cheese really mature, seek out the Cambridge Gumburner, which is produced in the neighbouring county by aging the Poacher for a further two years).
Although very much like a Cheddar, the cheese is also influenced by Swiss mountain cheeses. This is where it gets a bit technical for an arts graduate like me but Neal’s Yard Dairy explain that the essential difference is that Lincolnshire Poacher, like Swiss cheeses, is made with thermophilic (heat-loving) starter bacteria whereas Cheddar cheese uses mesophilic starter bacteria, which grows best at slightly lower temperatures. (For more about starter bacteria, tune in soon to my next attempt at cheese-making, following my first rather bland attempt.)
The result is a smooth Gruyère-like texture but with the nutty, grassy taste of a mature Cheddar. Mine being the smoked variety, it also has lovely smoky overtones. Many modern smoked cheeses are flavoured with ‘liquid smoke’ but the Poachers are sent to a local family-run smokehouse when they’re mature. There, they are cold-smoked over dampened oak chips for a day.
It’s a completely different taste to an artificially smoked cheese. Just one nibble took me back to Fortune’s Kippers in Whitby, a traditional smokehouse that you find by following your nose along the streets. I used to buy fish from the shop with my Dad and would peek inside the smokehouse to see the herrings hung up in rows, dripping oil onto the smouldering chips beneath, the walls and floor blackened with soot. The smell and taste of everything was incredible. Based on this association, I would say that Lincolnshire Poacher is a properly smoked cheese. It makes you think of camp-fires and smoky autumn evenings and although I haven’t tried it, I bet it would be a belter mixed into a jacket potato.
Oh – and one last thing. The ‘girls’, as the 230-strong herd of Holsteins at the farm are known, have special ‘Happy Cow’ brushes installed in their yard to rub up against. Apparently there’s always a queue. You can see the video here. Ah, bless.