It’s fair to say that cheese isn’t the first foodstuff that springs to mind when you think about romance. But actually there’s a historical precedent for cheese romance as the milkmaids of yore with their creamy (smallpox-free) complexions, impeccable personal hygiene and impressive biceps were the most sought-after of country companions. These days cheese has somewhat lost its allure d’amour but nevertheless, on this pinkest and fluffiest of days, I was determined to bring you a cheesy cheese story.
And here she is, ivory-white and lovely – Rachel:
Rachel is a semi-hard, unpasteurised, washed rind, goat’s milk cheese made by Roger Longman and Peter Humphries of White Lake Cheese at Bagborough Farm in Somerset. And why the romance? Well, the story (and there are several slightly differing versions, it would seem, so delete as appropriate) goes that Rachel was the name of Humphries’ friend/ex-girlfriend/a prospective squeeze that he wanted to impress. Regardless of the exact circumstances, he named the cheese after her because she is ‘sweet, curvy and slightly nutty’. Aw! (White Lake also make another cheese called Katherine who again, depending on what you believe, is either named after the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins or Longman’s girlfriend who got miffed that no-one had named a cheese after her.) Either way, it all fairly warms the cockles, doesn’t it?
The farm is home to a herd of 600 goats, a glorious Heinz-57 mix of breeds that includes Saanen, Toggenburg, British Alpine and Anglo-Nubians. It’s been a while on the blog since I mentioned this but I have a bit of a thing for Toggenburgs; they can grow to enormous proportions, like small horses, but are rather lovely, a bit like old country gentlemen somehow. Here is a gratuitous picture that I took of one, mined from my extensive personal collection:
The goats are milked twice daily and produce about two and a half litres of milk each. The milk for their cheeses is thermised; this means that it’s heated but not as high as when milk is pasteurised. It kills off harmful bacteria but leaves some of the good bacteria that contribute to flavour. Rachel is a washed curd cheese which means that whey is removed and replaced with hot water, which ‘washes’ the curds. This removes the lactose (milk sugars), keeping the acidity of the cheese low and retaining moisture, which results in a sweet and nutty taste. It’s made in a classic colander shape which gives it that fossil-like rind. The rind is also washed in brine (rind-washed goaty cheeses being quite rare) and it’s ready to eat at about six or seven weeks.
Washed rind cheeses are divisive in our household and despite being plied with Stinking Bishop, Oxford Isis and Ogleshield, the Other Half now refuses to eat any washed rinds (he didn’t mind Burwash Rose, though). I snuck this one through though as interestingly it didn’t have the really sticky orange rind and squidginess that you associate with most washed rind cheeses. It neither smelt nor tasted like old feet and had a smooth but firm texture and a sweet and nutty taste. It would also be a winner for people who hate ‘goaty’ cheeses as it doesn’t have the headbutt-with-horns that some goat’s cheeses do. I think I’d be a bit miffed if someone said they were naming a washed rind goat’s cheese after me (‘What, you basically saying I stink to high heaven?’) but I think he got away with it with this one. As to whether he got the girl? Who knows…
What characteristics would ‘your’ cheese have then? I’m thinking mine would be along the lines of ‘semi-aged, essentially mild but with a tendency to turn rancid under pressure.’