The end of the year. A sudden drop in temperature restores more seasonal climes and, with that, a craving for stodgier, heartier, fattier foods. As luck would have it, my in-laws recently bought me this cheese, Doublet, that they’d bought at their local market. And boy, does it ever fit the bill.
Doublet is a special British cheese. I was recently researching the history of cheese in the Welsh valleys and discovered that originally Welsh Rabbit (not Rarebit apparently but that’s a longer story for another day…) was only deemed acceptable if it was made with the local cheese, which was produced using a mixture of cows’ and ewes’ milk. That cheese is long since extinct and I hadn’t come across any mixed milk cheeses in production in Britain. Then along came Doublet.
Doublet is an unpasteurised, soft cheese, produced by Wootton Organic Dairy, near Shepton Mallet in Somerset (they also make Millstone, a wonderfully gnarly old hunk of a cheese). The Bartlett family have farmed there since the 1960s but it was in 1999 that brothers James and David decided to diversify their beef cattle production and so bought a batch of Friesland sheep. They also now have a small herd of Jersey cows. They make cheese by hand, three days a week, using traditional methods. Doublet is one of their cheeses that uses milk from both sheep and cows.
Historically, mixed milk cheeses would have been borne out of economic necessity. Poor farmers with just a few animals would mix milk from different species in order to make cheesemaking worthwhile (sheep, in particular, produce very little milk). It could also iron out seasonal variations; in the early summer months, cows, goats and sheep would all be producing plentiful supplies of milk but small farmers would not have the capacity to make three different cheeses. As animals stopped producing milk in the autumn months, mixing the milks together enabled farmers to continue making cheese.
Cheesemaking with different milks could also mask or enhance different characteristics; the Welsh, for instance, were very fond of the tartness that sheep’s milk gave to their local cheeses. Many of them were also skimming their milk to make butter from the cream and so adding the rich, fatty ewes’ milk would ensure that the cheese didn’t end up rock-hard. Doublet certainly can’t be accused of that. A mould-ripened cheese that matures from the inside-out, it’s one of the richest, gooiest cheeses I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The photo above doesn’t do justice to how perfectly ripe this cheese was; within half an hour it had spread across the plate in a come-and-get-me puddle. With the texture of a Camembert at its peak, it also tastes sublime; creamy, slightly mushroomy, with a natural sheepy sweetness. Definitely one to add to the New Year’s resolutions list.
With all best cheesy wishes for 2017.