I was pleased as punch recently when ‘the real me’ won a selection of British cheeses from La Cremerie in a recipe competition with my Spenwood Soufflé with Blackberry Sauce. When they arrived (and I could smell them even before I opened the box – bliss!) I was even more pleased that one of them was from Staffordshire, county of my birth. I’d been searching for homeland cheeses for some time but with little luck. I had a brief flutter of excitement when I found a cheesemaker based around the corner from where I used to live but hope was dashed when I discovered that they’d ceased production. Then when I tried making Staffordshire Oatcakes for the first time, I wanted to use local cheddar but I may as well have been trying to get my hands on Novak Djokovic’s donkey cheese. I surrended my quest.
And then my Innes Log appeared! A Staffordshire cheese through and through , here it is, stripy as a snakeskin on the outside and snowy as a snow leopard on the inside:
Innes Log is a soft unpasteurised goat’s milk cheese made by mother and son team Stella and Joe Bennett for Innes Cheese at Highfields Farm Dairy in Staffordshire. They have a herd of more than 350 goats, mostly crossed Saanen and Toggenburgs, which are milked twice a day, year-round, to produce the milk for their award-winning range of cheeses. All of their cheese is hand-made, the process starting when the milk is still warm from the goats, which they claim helps to preserve the full flavour of the milk. Stella is the cheese-maker, a job she took on from scratch when she was widowed at 27 with four children. They subsequently bought the dairy business from its then owner in 1997.
The story of the creation of the Innes Log is an interesting one. The Bennetts were already making Bosworth Ash, a goat log with a rind produced from Penicillium candidum mould; this gives it a thick white ‘bloomy’ rind and it develops a fairly goaty taste. The family worked with Neal’s Yard Dairy, using instead a Geotrichum candidum mould and also switched their vegetarian rennet for kid’s rennet – essentially switching from techniques associated with English cheese-making to French techniques responsible for goat’s cheeses such as Saint-Maure. The result for the Innes Log is a delicate, thin rind that is rolled in ash when the cheese is young (this process lowers the acidity of the cheese on the surface and helps the moulds to grow). The difference in rind makes for a warmer, less ‘goaty’ cheese, whilst the addition of animal rennet improves flavour.
The Bennetts are not the only cheesemakers to start employing French techniques in this way and it’s a switch that provokes some debate in the cheese world; critics are wont to ask questions like ‘Are they making English cheese or just French cheese using English milk?’ Defendants such as Joe Bennett point to the inherent complexity of cheese-making, stating that the animals, pastures, seasons and even the producers themselves will all create subtle differences in the cheeses.
And the Log itself? Well, as you can see from the picture it has a beautiful mouldy rind, which some compare to a brain but I think looks like a nice snakeskin handbag. When you cut into it, the paste is snowy white in the middle, with a slight gooey edge just under the rind. It’s dense but very creamy with a slight tang to it but overall it’s clean tasting for a goat’s cheese. English, French, French, English? Ach, who cares, it’s a mighty fine cheese and that’s all that counts in my book. We ate it on a plain cracker and also cooked with it (recipe coming up next week!); both ways it was delicious.