Most recounts of visits to cheese-makers seem to involve the word ‘bucolic’ and descriptions of jade-green grass and tumbling verges. Often cows feature, grazing contentedly in a hazy middle distance. Not so on my visit to Wildes Cheese. Stepping out from the train station, the only green to be spotted is the odd blowsy branch of elderflower hanging off the rail embankment and some plantains piled up outside a local shop. Tottenham is many things but a rural idyll is not one of them.
Category Archives: cheese makers
Many myths abound about the origins of Cheddar and why the world-famous cheese took its name from a small village in Somerset. One is that a milkmaid left a pail of milk in the Cheddar Gorge caves for safety and when she returned found that it had turned into a delicious cheese. Another tale features some monks on a pilgrimage to nearby Glastonbury, a thunderstorm and some similarly transformative milk. Whilst anyone who has ever left milk in the fridge and gone on holiday for a fortnight will view such tales with scepticism, there’s no doubt that the cheese does take its name from the village of Cheddar which lies at the foot of the famous caverns. And, if you go down to the caves today, albeit the nearby Wookey Hole caverns, you’ll once more find some cheese.
I was a bit nervous as I drove down the winding lanes that lead to Glynhynod Farm in Ceredigion, West Wales. John Savage-Onstwedder, the maker of Teifi cheese (in Welsh: Caws Teifi, the former to rhyme with ‘mouse’ and the latter pronounced ‘Tie-vee’) is known as ‘the Godfather of Welsh artisan cheese’ and makes the most highly-awarded cow’s milk cheese in Britain. He’s cheese royalty, if you like.
Red Leicester cheese has got a bad rep and, in many cases, deservedly so. Like many British cheeses, farmhouse production was wiped out by the Second World War and, as a result, most Red Leicester comes in a sweaty, claggy block. But, thanks to David and Jo Clarke, farmhouse Red Leicester has risen, zombie-like from its cheesy grave. I discovered Sparkenhoe last year and was blown away by its rich taste of biscuits and brown butter, surrounded by an earthy rind. If you’ve never tried it, get yourself to a monger forthwith; you won’t be disappointed.
It’s a film we’ve all seen. A traditional industry is closed down, leaving a community devastated, both in terms of economic loss and sense of identity. But then a band of locals get together and find new purpose through ballet dancing or trombone playing or pub stripping. Of course, it’s all made up, based on whimsical notions of plucky northerners winning over adversity. But, for one Derbyshire village I visited recently, truth could be stranger than fiction – except they’ve found a new beginning in a different sort of culture from ballet or brass bands. To be precise, a cheese culture – Penicillium roqueforti – which is responsible for the blue veins of Stilton.
Since starting this blog, I’ve been looking forward to meeting my first proper cheese-maker. Whenever I imagined it, I was usually welly-clad in a field, perhaps with the early morning mist floating over the grass as some cows lumbered into the dairy. It’s fair to say that my fromager fantasies didn’t look much like this:
Looking more Albert Square than Ambridge, Gringa Dairy is situated under a railway arch in Peckham, South London. Peckham has a reputation for being bad-ass rather than bucolic but, beyond the ‘don’t go there or you’ll get stabbed’ tabloid headlines, it boasts an eclectic food scene that encompasses events like KERB, restaurants like Peckham Refreshment Rooms and producers such as new craft brewers Brick. Another new kid on the block, Gringa Dairy was founded by American Kristen Schnepp and makes artisan Mexican cheese.