The advantage of living in London is that there are numerous cheese shops which stock a huge variety of British cheeses; the capital has been an epicentre of cheese commerce for centuries, even before Samuel Pepys was being ‘merry’ with a Cheshire cheese in 1660 (must have made a change from his housemaids). But there are also a myriad of cheeses being made all over the British Isles that rarely or never make it to the Big Smoke and are predominantly sold in local shops and farmers’ markets. I know they’re out there but unless I’m on my travels I often never hear about them. Eventually though, a quality local cheese will pack up its belongings Dick Whittington-style and make it down to one of my emporiums of choice and, when it does, I’m waiting, jaws open like a cat near the hole in the skirting board. So it was when this week’s chunk of regional loveliness hit my local shelves. Snap. Gotcha.
Allerdale is a hard, unpasteurised, goat’s milk cheese made by Carolyn Fairbairn at Thornby Moor Dairy, which is near Carlisle and overlooks the magnificent Northern Fells of the Lake District. The cheesemonger I bought it from told me that the dairy is ‘like something out of Beatrix Potter – it even had a limping cat on the day we visited.’ Carolyn was one of the pioneers of goat’s cheese-making when she started back in 1979. Formerly a photographer, she needed an enterprise that would fit around caring for three small children and began making cheese from the milk of her own small herd of goats. Entirely self-taught, she used basic smallholder recipes, trying them out in the basement of the family home before she hit upon the winning formula for what was to be her first cheese, Allerdale. In 1994 the business expanded and moved out of the basement into their current premises. Carolyn was joined in the business by her daughter Leonie, who deals with the sales and marketing side of things.
Allerdale is now made from the milk of goats from a mixed herd at Dolken Dairy in nearby Wiggonby. Natural kid rennet and sea salt are used and the cheese is handmade in open vats and pressed before being bound in cloth, rubbed with lard and matured in cloth for up to five months. Its colour is characteristically white as goats, unlike cows, convert beta-carotene that they ingest into Vitamin A and so none passes into the milk; it’s the beta-carotene that gives cheese a yellow tinge (and the more grass that a cow eats, the more yellow the cheese). Apparently goat’s milk is also more acidic which causes the light to reflect in a way that enhances the whiteness. Its texture is slightly crumbly like a traditional Cheshire (I believe the appropriate word is ‘friable’). It smells sweet and tastes fresh and nutty, sweet but not cloying as a slight goatiness cuts through. A little slab grilled on a mushroom also went down a treat.