This week’s cheese was a very lucky find. With Friday approaching and a fromage-less fridge, I braved the cheese counter at my local supermarket to see if I could find anything of interest. Apart from the usual continental suspects and a handful of decent territorials, there is usually very little to be found there, unless you like your cheese soused in some dodgy booze flavouring or tasting of jalfrezi (and sorry if it makes me a cheese snob of the worst kind but I just don’t).
My heart was beating with fear and trepidation at the sight of all the shrink-wrapping when I noticed this week’s cheese nestling against the glass. I’d heard good things about Cornish Blue so snapped some up sharpish (much to the annoyance of the deli lady who was obviously in a big huff about the fact she had to cut into its virgin rind). But the big question was: what’s an artisan cheese like you doing in a joint like this?
Cornish Blue is a blue, pasteurised, cow’s milk cheese produced by Philip Stansfield on his farm on Bodmin Moor. The Stansfields starting making cheese in 2001 and, like so many other dairy farmers at the time, it was a way to try and make some money out of their milk in a climate of plummeting prices. Through researching the market, they realised there was no blue cheese being made in Cornwall and that most British blue cheeses were pretty pungent, whereas softer, milder blues tended to be imported from Europe. They also thought that women might like such a cheese, presumably because it’s mild (although they’re on dodgier ground here with me; they’ve obviously never witnessed the very ladylike action of someone trying to lick the salt out of a Roquefort’s veins).
They’d thought of a cheese, they’d thought of a name (simple, appropriate and redolent of the lovely tableware which itself makes me think of dairies and thick yellow pouring cream). But Philip knew nothing about cheese-making. He went on a course and describes the first time he had to make cheese solo as ‘probably the most terrifying day of my life’. A year of research and development followed, during which they threw away thousands of pound’s worth of cheese and had to contend with the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease crisis, which brought much of British agriculture to a standstill.
Fastforward more than a decade and my, how things have changed. They’ve gone from making 30 kilos of cheese at a time to producing three tonnes at their busiest times. And the reason why it was gracing the cheese counter of my local supermarket? Well, I’m guessing that has something to do with the fact that in 2010 Cornish Blue was crowned World Cheese Award Champion; yes, that’s right, it was voted best cheese in the world, beating more than 2,600 entries from 26 different countries.
The milk comes from their own herd of Friesian Holsteins, 240 of the black and white beasts. The cheese is made by hand with vegetarian rennet and starter cultures including Penicillium roqueforti. The curd is cut and then separated from the whey on a draining table before being packed into moulds. The following day they are dry-salted before retiring to a maturing room where every now and then they are pierced to encourage the blueing before being matured for 10-12 weeks. Apart from being an artisan cheese that filled a gap in the market, the climate or in winey terms le terroir, contributes a great deal to the cheese. Their corner of Cornwall is blessed with high rainfall and a mild climate which creates perfect cheese-maturing humid conditions.
It’s a mild cheese, akin to a Cambozola or Gorgonzola rather than a spicy Stilton or eye-watering Roquefort. It always sounds patronizing to all concerned to describe a cheese as an ‘entry-level blue’ but it’s certainly one for people who twitch at the notion of a blue cheese. It’s not a boring cheese though (which in my humble opinion Gorgonzola Dolce can be); it’s creamy and sweet with long bore-like streaks of blue (as you can see in the photo) rather than a motorway-network of veins. Mine had a really dirty blue-brown hole near the rind which was especially nice (although I suspect the huffy deli-woman gave it to me on purpose because she thought it looked nasty). Definitely one to throw in the basket on your next supermarket shop.