Celebrities making cheese is nothing new. Alex James turned his back on the rock lifestyle to give his name to a range of award-winning cheeses before courting controversy by launching a range of cheddars blended with salad cream, tomato ketchup and tikka masala (not altogether, I hasten to add) and a ‘pouring cheese’ called Spudsworthy. Sean Wilson made Martin Platt leave the cobbles and the Rovers Return to make a range of Lancashire cheeses. But could it be that S-Club 7 pop poppet Rachel Stevens had really given up showbiz glamour to get elbow-deep in curd?
Well, no, obviously not. It’s a different Rachel Stevens. In fact it’s Rachel Stephens. But it made a nice intro to this week’s cheese, didn’t it? And, in fact, this week’s choice does have its roots in the world of media, albeit of a somewhat different sort from that which churned out nineties floor-fillers such as Don’t Stop Movin and Bring It All Back. But, first, Ghetto boys, make some noise! Hoochie mamas, show your nanas!* Here is Devon Oke:
Devon Oke is a hard, pasteurised cow’s milk cheese made by Rachel Stephens on Stockbeare Farm in North Devon. The origins of Devon Oke lie with the creation of its younger sibling Curworthy. In 1980 Curworthy Farm was being rented by Farmers Weekly so they could write a column about dairy farming. One of the big cheeses at the magazine (see what I did there?) decided that making cheese would be an interesting idea. Rachel was friends with the farm manager and agreed to help out on the launch day, ‘cutting up the cheese’; within a couple of years she was in charge of cheese-making. The Domesday Project records that in 1986 ‘there are approximately 105 cows and 550 ewes and approximately 800 lambs and there are 35 fields to keep them…There is a Commodore Computer used for keeping track of any illnesses’ (and playing Frogger presumably).
When the magazine decided to sell the cheese business Rachel bought it and in 1990 moved it to the family farm a few miles away where they built their own dairy. Curworthy was their flagship cheese, named after the original farm; Devon Oke, which takes its name from the nearby village of Okehampton, is a larger unwaxed version of Curworthy, which is matured for longer, anything from 5–8 months. The original recipe was developed by the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and is said to be based on a seventeenth century traditional recipe but which hints at Gouda. The milk comes entirely from the farm’s own herd of Friesians. The curd is cut, scalded, put into moulds and bathed in brine before being left to mature, during which it develops a natural rind with a light covering of mould.
It’s easy to imagine that a cheese developed as an experiment for a magazine is going to be ropey but Devon Oke is a perfectly quaffable cheese. It’s very like a Cheddar; the texture is firm but creamy and the taste is buttery and slightly nutty. For my tarty tastebuds it’s a bit on the mild side but it does have what the experts call ‘length of flavour’ (i.e. the flavour persists on your palate rather than giving you a short, cheap hit). And talking of short, cheap hits, what are S-Club 7 up to these days? Arf!