No real story behind why I chose Shipcord for this week’s cheese; I had heard its name and saw it in a cheese-mongers. Job done. I will admit that when I got it home and unwrapped it I felt a bit sulky as it looked like a cheddar. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with a good cheddar but, well, I was in the mood for a cheese with a certain je ne sais quoi and this didn’t look like that cheese. But stay with me, as the moral of this story involves judging, books and covers.
And here is Shipcord for you to judge:
Shipcord is a hard, unpasteurised, cow’s milk cheese made by Rodwell Farm Dairy near Ipswich in Suffolk. It’s fair to say that Suffolk has historically had a bit of an image problem when it comes to cheese. Suffolk cheese was provided to the Royal Navy back in the seventeenth century as their cheese du jour but if Jamie Oliver had been about back then he’d have put a stop to it on ethical grounds (and no doubt brought out a ‘Ship’s Dinners’ recipe book on the back of it). The problem was that the cheese was made with the skimmed milk left over from butter-making (as was Dorset Blue Vinny) and this made it rock-hard. And we’re not just talking a bit chewy here gathering by the legions of songs, poems and quotes that deride it. This ranged from jokes about weevils being unable to get into it and rats on ships preferring to eat grindstones, to local ditties like:
Those that made me were uncivil
They made me harder than the devil.
Knives won’t cut me, fire won’t sweat me,
Dogs bark at me, but can’t eat me.
Samuel Pepys even mentions the cheese in his diaries when he ‘found my wife vexed at her people for grumbling to eat Suffolk cheese, which I also am vexed at. So to bed.’
In June 1759, it was reported in the Ipswich Journal that ‘The Suffolk Cheese being so badly made for some years past, the Lords of the Admiralty have thought it fit to exclude it from the Royal Navy for one year.’ And alas, shortly afterwards the Navy switched to Cheshire and Gloucester cheese.
Fortunately, whilst many cheese-makers like to preserve traditional methods, the Richards family of Rodwell Farm have decided not to make a wholly inedible cheese. The family had been dairy farmers for some 75 years but it was only in 2005 that Robin and Susan Richards decided to embark on cheese-making. Susan attended some courses and started making cheese in a small vat in her kitchen whilst a nearby calf-shed was converted into a dairy. Their first cheese was on sale in late 2006.
Shipcord is made from the unpasteurised milk of their own cows. It’s named after a river meadow on the farm, as are the other cheeses produced by the dairy. And this is where I’m going to break with Fromage Friday convention and describe how it tastes before talking about how it’s made. I was amazed that it didn’t taste as cheddary as I’d imagined at all but instead was rich and nutty. It didn’t taste unlike a cheddar but had, well, a certain je ne sais quoi. The reason for this is that it’s made by scalding the curds and whey at a higher temperature that’s more associated with Alpine cheeses or French tommes than British territorials. (We’re talking about 38 degrees for cheddar versus 54 degrees for an Alpine). It’s then matured for a minimum of five months. Shipcord isn’t one of those cheeses that catches your eye with its fancy rind or its river-running-silver-blue veins or even with a flash of hairy red mould (oh yes, I fell for that cheese once). But it is a lovely-tasting thing so if you see some, I would bag it up and take it back to your cheese cave.