What season are we in right now? It’s easy to lose track. The last four months seem to have merged into one long biblical downpour, punctuated only by the briefest teasing sun-spells. Fortunately, I came across a froth of elderflowers recently, soggy but defiant, the last on the bush, to remind me that apparently it’s summer.
They also served to remind me about one of the cheeses that I’d tried back in April, when I visited Devon, but never got round to writing about: Quicke’s Elderflower Cheddar.
Quicke’s Elderflower Cheddar is a hard, pasteurised, cow’s milk cheese, produced by Mary Quicke and her team at Newton St Cyres, near Exeter in Devon. The Quicke family have been farming the pastures here for more than 450 years and the operation is now run by fourteenth-generation Mary Quicke, with other family members. Herds of cows, cross-bred to produce quality (as opposed to quantity) milk roam the fields, where the temperate climate of the West Country bestows a perfect balance of sun and showers.
Quicke’s are well-known for their clothbound, mature Cheddars but the cheese used for their elderflower product is relatively young, at just three to months old. Made using traditional pint starter cultures and natural rennet, once the milk has set into curds, it’s cut into blocks which are then ‘cheddared’ by hand – the traditional process used to raise the acidity of the cheese (you can see the process in action in my post about Sparkenhoe). The blocks of curd are then milled and salted, before being pressed into muslin-lined moulds and sent to a maturing room.
Flavoured-added cheeses (‘cheese with bits in’) are often made by chopping up an immature cheese and mashing in the flavour (and there’s some pretty scary combos out there…anyone remember the ‘Christmas dinner’ cheese I wrote about before?) Quicke’s, however, have gone for the more traditional approach, as with proper Sage Derby, where the elderflower flakes are mixed into the curds before the cheese is pressed. For anyone who thinks that cheese and elderflowers are a new-fangled concept, I present you with Sambocade, a medieval tart made with cream cheese and elderflowers, as well as my own seasonal creation, Elderflower Cheesecakes, which were delicately delicious, if I do say so myself.
The cheesemakers themselves describe the flavouring as a ‘flicker of real elderflower’ running through the cheese, which is a great description. The Cheddar itself, being young, is buttery rather than fierce, but with the complexity that comes from good milk, starters and being swaddled in cloth. The elderflower, which can be a tad on the cloying side if you’re not careful, is more of a sweet herbal suggestion. Unfortunately my small piece was quickly consumed, as it would be an interesting cheese to cook with, as well as scoff.