I chose this cheese as in the space of a week two fellow cheese-fans raved about it and posted photos. I’d tried original Yarg cheese before but not this variation. I bought it from a local market next to a river; as South London goes, it’s about as rural as it gets and the kind of leafy damp place I imagine wild garlic might have grown in the past, before the rusty shopping trolleys squashed it all.
It’s a handsome cheese, striking in its green livery. This photograph doesn’t really do it justice; for the full effect of its beauty you need to see a wheel of it, the dark green leaves covering it like strips of tissue paper. Alas, even my legendary cheese-eating talents probably couldn’t stretch to eating a whole wheel and so here’s my bit:
Wild Garlic Yarg is a semi-hard, pasteurised, cow’s milk cheese made by Lynher Dairy near Truro. Yarg is a great name for a Cornish cheese; it makes me think of pirates (you can imagine them yelling ‘Yarg!’ as they swill grog and make landlubbers walk the plank.) Or it could be the name for a particular strain of fairy folk who live in the grassy hillocks above the cliffs and sea, luring sailors to their doom with their siren calls. It’s a name redolent of Celtic myth and legend. So it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that the name isn’t traditional at all. Yarg originated in the early 1980s and was first made by Alan and Jenny Gray. They were experimenting with a Caerphilly-like cheese that they’d wrapped in nettles (it’s thought that people used to use nettles to try and ripen cheese). Whilst trying to think of a local name they realised that their surname backwards – Gray into Yarg – sounded suitably Cornish and Yarg was born. The recipe was passed on twice and is now made by Catherine and Ben Mead.
The Cornish Yarg familiar to most people is wrapped in nettle leaves but this variety is covered in Wild Garlic leaves. The underlying cheese is produced in the same way. The milk comes from the farm’s own herd of Ayrshire, Friesian and Jersey cross cows, as well as some neighbouring herds. Once the curd has set, it’s cut into rice-sized pieces before being ‘blocked’ three times (this means that the curds are piled together, turned and cut into small pieces; this increases the acidity in the same way as cheddaring). The curd is then shredded, put into moulds, pressed and then, finally, left in brine overnight.
It’s only at this point that the leaves comes into play. Wild Garlic grows wild in Cornwall in the springtime and its leaves are gathered and brushed onto the cheeses. It’s a pungent plant that you can smell in the air if you chance upon it but the effect on the cheese is subtle. It has a firm but creamy paste (the nettle Yarg matures slightly faster and so is a little more crumbly) with a slight oniony taste but nothing over-powering. I didn’t get a chance to cook with it, as it all got eaten pretty quickly. But I’d love to try it stuffed into a chicken breast and breadcrumbed – a posh cheesy kiev, if you will.
So, if you’ve played ‘What’s your Porn Star name?’ (name of your first pet plus your mother’s maiden name) or ‘What’s your Downton Abbey name?’ (a grandparent’s first name plus the name of your primary school), now you can turn to ‘What’s your Cornish cheese name?’…
Additional research from West Country Cheesemakers by Michael Raffael