I love my Fromage Friday adventures but have to admit I’ve been getting impatient. There are so many cheeses I’ve heard about and want to try but there are only so many cheese purchases my hips and thighs can tolerate in one week. A tasting at Leadenhall Cheese back in July introduced me to some new cheeses in more pocket-size portions and so when I saw an event advertised at one of my local delicatessens, Cannon and Cannon, I jumped at the chance (and then did a few more star-jumps, just to build up a nice calorie deficit to be filled by cheese).
The event was called ‘Last of the Summer Cheeses’ and was hosted by Ned Palmer who has the rather enigmatic title of ‘Freelance Cheesemonger’, which conjures up images of a travelling cheese salesman, his trenchcoat lined with slices of Cheddar and chunks of Red Leicester. In reality Ned, after stints selling cheese at Borough Market and Neal’s Yard Dairy, now uses his knowledge to host corporate and private cheese tastings.
Summer cheeses are all about what’s available and what you fancy. Goat and ewe’s milk cheeses tend to come into their own as such cheeses are more scarce in the colder months when the animals don’t naturally give milk. British cows are out eating grass in the summer and so the flavour of their milk is different to the silage-munching winter months when they’re cosied up in the barn. And, as with any food, we fancy eating different things according to the weather; fresh, light tastes in the heat (lemony goat’s cheese anyone?) and richer, more substantial foods when the cold sets in (big hunk of Lincolnshire Poacher for me, please).
Here’s the cheeseboard, artfully arranged. I very kindly nibbled the first cheese so that you can follow the cheeses in a clockwise direction as I discuss them:
The first off the board was a favourite of mine, Pablo Cabrito, a soft goat’s cheese that I discovered on a previous Fromage Friday and also cooked up a tart with when I managed to get my hands on the fennel version. Made in Shropshire by Sarah Hampton with unpasteurised milk, it’s a beautifully clean cheese, citrusy and slightly herby; perfect for anyone who doesn’t like ‘goaty’ goat’s cheese. It’s delicately rolled in ash – the alkalinity of the ash helps to neutralize the natural acidity of the cheese which can inhibit ripening. But underneath the mottled grey exterior is a snowy white paste that tastes divine. Sarah’s a relative newcomer to the British cheese scene but has already built up quite a reputation, as well as a bulging trophy cabinet.
Appleby’s Cheshire was the second up. This one was a surprise as, although I knew the name, I didn’t realise it was coloured with annatto, as apparently many traditional Cheshires are (the theory is that cows grazing on rich pastures would naturally produce a cheese with an orangey hue, which was highly prized, and so cheese-makers started colouring their cheeses, originally with marigold petals or carrot juice, to emulate this quality). Appleby’s has been made in Shropshire by the same family since the 1950s and is now produced with the assistance of Garry Gray. One of Britain’s great territorial cheeses, Cheshire is said to get its distinctive tangy taste from the salts and minerals in the area that pass through to the cow’s milk. Appleby’s is made traditionally, the evening milk being left to ripen and mixed with the following morning’s milk and the minimum amount of starter culture being added, before the cheese is hand-made in open vats. A piquant and slightly crumbly cheese, it had none of the acidity of dryness I associate with Cheshire cheese.
Wigmore has been on my hit-list ever since I wrote about one of its sister cheeses, Spenwood, a hard, Pecorino-style cheese. Wigmore is quite a contrast; semi-soft with a dazzling white bloomy rind. It’s a washed curd cheese which means that more of the whey is removed by washing the curds with water; this results in the smooth and gentle flavour of the cheese. It’s sweet and creamy and very moreish with an inoffensive rind (if you’re the kind of person spooked by a rind.) The cheeses are made by Anne and Andy Wigmore in Berkshire who started cheese-making following a yachting adventure in the 1980s which saw Anne inspired by the Pecorinos of Sardinia. For years they made their cheeses in a garage in the back garden – although after seeing my Fromage Friday post about Spenwood, Anne told me that they’d recently expanded operations to a dairy a couple of miles away.
I picked up some Gorwydd Caerphilly from Borough market a couple of months ago and was blown away by how unlike ‘Caerphilly cheese’ it was. Expecting a crumbly white acidic cheese – the kind you force down at Christmas – I almost couldn’t believe what I was eating. Made by Maugan Trethowan in Ceredigion, it’s one of a handful of traditional Caerphillys now being produced, following its near extinction during the Second World War. It’s not over-blowing it to say that it’s a beautiful cheese – the stripy Battenburg cake of cheeses – with a lovely, crusty rind and then a moist, mushroomy layer and finally a chalkier, lemon centre. From stirring the milk to cutting the curds and turning the finished cheeses during a two month maturation period, each process is carried out by hand to produce the perfect texture.
Dutch Mistress is another of Sarah Hampton’s goat’s cheeses and a new one for me. It’s semi-hard and rind-washed – but not the kind of rind-washed cheese that you have to apologise for whenever you open the fridge door. The recipe is based on a Dutch Gouda and, as with the Spenwood, the curds are washed, this time creating a rich, nutty flavour. Sarah is meticulous about the hygiene of her goats and cheeses and so brine-washes the exterior of the cheese to keep it moist and clean. (Formerly in advertising, Sarah also does a great line in goat names, calling them all after fonts such as Romano, Pookie and Talula!)
Beenleigh Blue was next up and another stranger to me. One of the few blue sheep’s cheeses in the UK, it’s produced by Ben Harris and Robin Congdon in Totnes, Devon. I love the sound of Robin’s attention to detail in trying to recreate a Roquefort-type cheese with his sheep’s milk. Not only did he create a humidifier that mimics the air movement of the famous French cheese caves, he also took mould scrapings from the walls of said caves and grew native herbs on his land that the Roquefort sheep would be grazing on and hence flavouring their milk with. In a testament to the notion of terroir, he didn’t produce a cheese that tastes like Roquefort but nevertheless Beenleigh Blue is delicious, creamy and speckled with subtle blueing that doesn’t detract from the rest of the cheese.
Tymsboro has been on my hit-list for a while so I was chuffed to see its mouldy little house-shape on the board. Made by Mary Holbrook in Somerset, it’s an unpasteurised goat’s cheese, made to a similar shape as French Valencay cheeses. Ned tells a great tale about how the French cheeses used to be made with a pointy top but when Napoleon was defeated by the Egyptians he couldn’t bear to look at a pyramid and so they lopped the top off all the cheeses! Mary’s goats are milked from spring through to autumn, to coincide with their natural lactation period; this is a departure from most commercial cheese-makers who breed their goats all year round to ensure a constant milk supply. Tymsboro (like Pablo Cabrito) is a lactic cheese and so relies primarily on natural bacteria converting lactose to lactic acid causing the proteins to cling together and form a curd; it takes much longer for the milk to coagulate (16-24 hours) rather than a rennet-set cheese which only requires 30-60 minutes. It has a lovely taste, silky and fruity and just a tad more goaty than the Pablo Cabrito.
Hafod completed the cheese octet, another name that I keep hearing but had yet to try. An organic Cheddar produced by Sam and Rachel Holden on their organic farm in Wales, the name (pronounced ‘Havod’) is Welsh for the summer pastures where traditionally the men would take the cows to graze. The Holdens received training in cheese-making from Simon Jones, who makes Lincolnshire Poacher and in turn was trained by the late Dougal Campbell, a stalwart of the British cheese-making renaissance who was influenced by the cheeses of the Swiss Alps. As a result Hafod, like Poacher, although essentially a grassy, nutty Cheddar, has the buttery texture of a Gruyere (apparently it has something to do with the starter culture used, as well as the richness of their Ayrshire milk).
I left the tasting, full of cheese
and beer. It was great to try a few of the cheeses I’ve heard lauded and to find out more about them from Ned. So what to try next? What’s your desert island cheese? Your final supper cheese? Your trying-to-impress-someone-with-a-cheeseboard cheese? Answers on a postcard…or on here…or on Twitter @fromhomage.