Today’s cheese choice demonstrates the power of social media. Or something like that. When I wrote up my sorry tale of the
mauling judging of my home-made Cheddar, Colin, I was somewhat mortified to receive several tweets from proper cheese-makers, although all of them were kind and full of encouragement. One of them was from a producer called Two Hoots Cheese, with reference to my nascent plans to produce a Stilton called Trevor:
It made me smile and so I clicked on their profile and then onto their website and read all about the cheeses they produce, which included one called Barkham Blue, which I’d heard of before but never tried. A few days later I was in my local cheese shop to stock up when what should I see on their shelves but Barkham Blue! After a wee tasting, which involved the cheese-monger being rather lovely and ceremoniously involving my five year old (who loves blue cheese and, after much slightly precocious Gallic shrugging and face-manoeuvring, gave it a literal thumbs up) the Barkham Blue was in the bag. And here it is:
Barkham Blue is a pasteurised, cow’s milk, blue cheese, made by the aforementioned Two Hoots Cheese, which is a family business in Berkshire run by Andy and Sandy Rose and their daughter Mia. The business was born from a love of animals that saw the couple move from a house with a small paddock to a smallholding and finally to a place with outbuildings where they could build a dairy. They began making cheese in 2003. And the ‘Two Hoots’? Named in honour of some rescued owls they had at the time.
The cheese-making process kicks off at the start of the day. The milk is first pasteurised and then heated before starter cultures, including the Penicillium roqueforti which will cause the blueing, are added. The treated milk is then left to ripen before rennet is added to produce the curd. When the right set is achieved, the curd is cut with long knives, one which does the job horizontally and another vertically, so as to produce little cubes. The whey is drained off and the curds scooped into moulds – colanders which give the cheese a unique ‘ammonite’ shape (wow, a blue cheese shaped like a fossil – no wonder it got the thumbs up from my son!) The cheeses are drained and then flipped over, before being dunked into brine, which contributes to the flavour and the subsequent blueing process. Finally the cheeses are pierced using a machine which drives needles into them; this allows oxygen to enter the cheese, which helps the blue bacteria to spread. (If you look at the photo above, you can see a horizontal line that shows where one of the needles made a groove.)
In terms of cheese beauty contests, Barkham Blue has got it all going on. The gorgeous colour of the paste comes from the rich Channel Island milk. I have to admit that so golden was my slice that I had to do a Google double-check to make sure that they don’t add annatto. Taste-wise, the first impression you get is of its creaminess, which is again down to the milk. It’s buttery rather than crumbly and although there’s a tang when you hit a blue bit, it’s subtle. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like the cheek-tingling that you get with a strong blue cheese (apparently such people exist) then this could be your blue. Chefs are apparently enamoured with it for their cheese-boards and cooking alike and you can taste why. It’s very moreish. Oh – and did I mention that it was crowned best cheese in Britain in 2008? I’d invite you all round to try some but – ha! – it’s long gone. Don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of Trevor the Stilton for everyone…I’ll be sure to tweet you all and let you know…