I’m a bit cynical about celebrities and ‘their’ products. I find it hard to believe that Britney Spears is really out the back chopping up lychees, quinces and civet cat testicles to make her perfume or that Frank Lampard is holed up in his garret, writing children’s stories (or writing joined-up letters, quite frankly). So when I heard that Sean Wilson – or ‘Martin Platt off Coronation Street’ as he’s been called for the last thirty years or so – was making cheese now, I’ll confess, I thought ‘Yeah, of course he is…’
I saw his company (The Saddleworth Cheese Company) at a cheese show recently so thought I’d wander over and snaffle some of the cheeses on offer. I was surprised to see him there, looking a bit hot and bothered, doling out cheese samples and bobbing off to get a coffee for a colleague (pushing past all the middle-aged women whispering, ‘Look! It’s that bloke what used to be on Corrie!’) Someone later told me that he also judges at cheese shows and someone else that he writes about cheese and, the more I read about him, it seemed that he might actually make the cheese too. I took home a piece of his Lancashire cheese, called Mouth Almighty, and here it is, for your delectation and delight (apologies for the dreadful photo; this is what happens when you drop your camera):
Mouth Almighty (the names of his cheese are all inspired by Northern expressions) is a pasteurised, hard, cow’s milk cheese. It’s a Lancashire Cheese and classified as ‘tasty’. The other two varieties of Lancashire are creamy and crumbly, the latter being a relatively modern invention that ripens quickly and so is suitable for mass production. Mentions of cheese-making in Lancashire date back to the twelfth century but the standard recipe for what we know today as ‘Lancashire Cheese’ was laid down by council employee Joseph Gornall in the late nineteenth century, who was tasked with standardising its methods of production. It’s unique amongst British cheeses, as it’s made by blending together the curds from two or three day’s milkings. Traditionally the cheese would be made with leftover milk and most farms just didn’t produce enough milk from one day and so turned it into curds to stop it souring and then added it to the next day’s curds until they had enough for a batch.
Wilson left Coronation Street in 2005 after playing philandering nurse Martin Platt for twenty-one years. For most actors, this would mean a one-way ticket straight to eating kangaroo testicles in the outback but Wilson had a passion for food, and cheese in particular. Acting on Waterloo Road during the day, at night he’d be making piccalilli or black pudding. And then, a chance meeting with the late Bob Kitching, a legendary Lancashire cheese-maker, inspired him further. Bob acted as a mentor, showing him the ropes and taking him to visit other dairies. Meanwhile, Wilson had abandoned the piccalilli in favour of making cheese at home. The next step was to hire space at a dairy. That was in 2009; two years later, he won a gold medal for his blue cheese ‘Smelly Apeth’, beating Saint Agur and Gorgonzola into second and third place.
Wilson is big on provenance, sourcing his milk from the Trough of Bowland, the corner of the county renowned for producing the best Lancashire cheeses. But is his Lancashire tasty actually tasty? Well, yes, it is. Although it has a crumbly texture, its taste is buttery and creamy and it has bite but not the acidity you’d expect of a crumbly these days (or at least the crumblies you get in a supermarket). We ate some on crackers and made cheese on toast with some of the rest. It’s easy to be snobbish about celebrities and their projects but with this one, Sean Wilson might just be able to give Celebrity Big Brother the swerve.