If there were a prize for the cheese with the best story behind its name, Edmund Tew would be right up there as a contender. Alas, there isn’t such a gong and so the cheese had to make do with winning Gold at the 2015 British Cheese Awards, which isn’t too bad either when you think about it.
Edmund Tew is a soft, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese made by Dave Holton and Tim Jarvis of Blackwoods Cheese Company; my version was from Neal’s Yard Dairy and so had also been lovingly washed. I first came across Blackwoods at a cheese tasting where I tried their Graceburn, a ‘Persian-style fetta’, steeped deliciously in herbs and oil. That was way back when, in 2013, when they’d just started out. The company was originally set up by four friends, three of whom were school-friends back in Australia, and all of whom had experience in the cheese industry. Originally based in Brockley in southeast London, the cheesemakers recently made the move out to Kent, to be based on Commonwork Organic Farm, which supplies milk to other London producers such as Gringa Dairy and Kappacasein.
Because of the founders’ Australian roots and the fact that making raw milk cheese would be illegal back home, they came up with the genius idea of making a ‘convict range’ of cheeses. So far they produce two cheeses named after men who were transported to Australia in the 1800s for stealing cheese. The fate of poor Edmund Tew (who was only 16, bless him) was reported in the Leicester Chronicle in 1829: ‘Edmund Tew has also pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with stealing a loaf of bread, some cheese and beer, from the dwelling house of John Boot at Leicester. The prisoner receiving a bad character was penitence to be transported for 7 years. The prisoner heard his sentence with the most perfect indifference.’
Edmund (if I may be so familiar) is a lactic cheese, which means it relies primarily on natural bacteria converting lactose to lactic acid, causing the proteins to cling together and form a curd. The presence of Geotrichum yeasts ensures the newly-born cheeses develop their ‘brainy’ appearance. The lucky few that are sent to Neal’s Yard Dairy become washed rind cheeses, hence the harder, hieroglyphics-on-a-pillar appearance that my cheese has. Given that he’s a washed rind, there was always the chance that Edmund would smell much as his namesake did after several months on a crowded ship. Fortunately, he proved to be more subtle; a little punchy round the outside but with a savoury, creamy middle. Definitely a cheese worth stealing (not that I did, you understand, I have the receipt to prove it etc.)