It’s been a very sheepish blog for the last few weeks with St James, Flower Marie and Homewood Ewes Cheese all making an appearance. But the sheepish one this week is me; after tantalising everyone with my promise of cooking something up with the Homewood curd, it all went very wrong. I planned to make stuffed courgette flowers, waiting four days for enough flowers to appear, diligently stuffed them, prepared the batter, heated the oil and then fried them. Oh – except I’d forgotten to batter them first so they all disintegrated on impact. I blame the heat. Sigh. Anyway, onto this week’s cheese which is decidedly goaty:
Harbourne Blue is a blue, pasteurised, goat’s milk cheese produced by Ticklemore Cheese in Devon. The cheese was pioneered by Robin Congdon, who started making cheese with his sheep’s milk in the 1970s, back in the day when milking sheep at all was considered either innovative or backward, depending who you asked. Having visited the Rocher de Combalou in France where Roquefort is made, Robin decided to create a similar cheese back in Devon, where he’d previously been making yoghurt and soft cheeses. He went so far as to take mould scrapings from the French cave walls and recreated a cheese cave by digging out a hole in a mound and installing an old wine tank in there with blowing machines to recreate the air flow. He planted similar grasses and herbs on his lands for the sheep to eat. A testament to terroir, the cheese he created, Beenleigh Blue, wasn’t Roquefort but has nevertheless gone on to be a huge success.
Harbourne Blue came later and is named after the tributary of the River Dart which flows nearby. Back when Robin started, British blue cheeses were in short supply, apart from Stilton. Now, there are a plethora of blue cheese makers but blue goat’s cheeses are still relative rarities. The milk comes from a farm in Buckfast, where the goats nibble the pastures from April to November. Half the herd is kidded every spring whilst the farmer continues to milk the other half. This means there is some milk available all year round but less so in the winter when the goats are drying out ready to give birth. The cheese is made by hand with Penicillium Roqueforti culture added to produce the blue streaks of mould. After the curds have set, they are is cut, stirred and allowed to settle before being broken up and put into moulds. When the cheeses have formed, they are salted and pierced to allow air in to create the blue, before being matured for around ten weeks. The cheese-making is now carried out by Ben Harris, who has been with the team for a decade.
The cheese is alabaster white, from the goat’s milk, and the blueing is subtle and less apparent than in some other blues. The texture is quite crumbly and the smell is unmistakeably ‘blue’. The taste of goat comes through strongly but pleasantly and the blue packs more of a punch than appearance would make you think, although it can apparently get quite fierce at certain times of the year. For a house of goat and blue cheese lovers, this one was a family favourite. I won’t even pretend it will be around long enough for me to cook with it, which is probably for the best given my recent record.
With additional research from West Country Cheesemakers by Michael Raffael