Happy New Year everyone! Okay, I realise I’m a bit on the late side for that but I’ve been so busy lazing about, scoffing festive cheese, that this poor old blog has been a bit neglected. But here I am, pushing away the tumbleweeds and blowing off the cobwebs, ready to start the year afresh. And what better way to leap back into action than with a great big bear of a cheese?
Most cheeses on this blog I forage for but I was lucky enough to be sent this week’s. I received it a week before Christmas, then my parents arrived and my dad took a serious fancy to it, along with the Other Half who hasn’t stop guzzling it. Or indeed myself. But the cheese lives on. It’s like the tardis of cheeses. So here it is (and I must apologise to any cheese pros for the photo as so eager was I to get to the cheese that I cut it in half before I read the label on the bottom telling me not to do just that. Whoopsie):
Wookey Hole Cave-Aged Cheddar is a hard, pasteurised, cow’s milk cheese made by Ford Farm on the Ashley Estate in Dorset, which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The cheddar itself has a West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO – the only PDO in the world to have been granted to cheddar cheese. It stands for Protected Designation of Origin and means that the cheese must be made from milk within certain counties (Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall) and must be manufactured in a particular way, which includes ‘cheddaring’ the curds and maturing the cheese for a minimum of nine months.
But the production of this cheese is just the first step. It’s then wrapped in cloth and lard and taken down into the caves in Wookey Hole in Somerset, where it’s left to mature. Wookey Hole is just a few miles away from Cheddar, also famous for its caves. It’s thought that centuries ago, when there was no refrigeration, farmers used the caves in the area to store their cheese, as they provided cool temperatures and a constant humidity that ensured the cheese didn’t dry out. Travellers who came to the area to marvel at the caves and gorge would take some of the ‘Cheddar’ cheese away with them and its reputation spread.
As well as providing ideal maturing conditions, the atmosphere of the cave is also said to impart a unique flavour to the cheese. Just as if you leave a piece of cheese next to an onion in the fridge and get oniony cheese, so too does the cheddar take on the nuances of the environment in which it matures (their website assures me that there are no vermin in this area of the cave and so these ‘nuances’ do not include bat poo or mice wee).
It’s a beauty of a cheese. Cylindrical and covered in cloth, it smells musty and earthy, a little of antique shops and parchment. The cheese inside is creamy, with a bit of bite but nothing too sharp. The closer you get to the cloth, the more intense is the flavour of the natural moulds (yum!), whilst in the centre of the cheese the flavour is more rich and lingers. I don’t remember much from my visit to Wookey, more than ten years ago, except a Hall of Mirrors and the fact the cafe had shut early. But now I know there are ten tons of cheese down there, it might be time to pay it another visit.
Many thanks to Ford Farm for sending me some of their cheese.