Selecting which cheese to try next is always a fairly random occasion. Sometimes I like the name (Baron BIGOD!), sometimes I like the history (Single Gloucester PDO), sometimes I feel guilty about not eating cheese from a particular area (Teifi) and sometimes, if I am feeling particularly organised, I try and tie it in to an occasion (Caboc). But, feeling devoid of inspiration a few weeks ago, I put out a plaintive call on Twitter for cheese suggestions. One was from someone who works at Neal’s Yard Dairy who suggested Cotherstone because ‘It’s a great cheese, often overlooked and pretty rare…May not be around for ever either. Go grab some!’ I then heard it described as ‘the closest that British cheese-making has to a living fossil’. All in all, it sounded like a cheese to hunt down.
Here it is, the shy, retiring, winsome beauty that is Cotherstone:
Some cheeses come with such a history and pedigree that I’m almost afraid to try them in case they taste like dust or tom cat’s spray. And so it was with this week’s cheese which manages to combine coming back from the dead with gaining the coveted PDO status and being cheese-sibling of ‘Britain’s smelliest cheese.’ It also has the distinction of being the nicest-smelling cheese I’ve yet to come across. If this cheese were a person, I’d be handing them a big red book and so, in the style of Michael Aspel (or Eamonn Andrews if you’ve got a couple of years on me): ‘Single Gloucester, This Is Your Life’…
After I broke my Scottish cheese duck last week with Caboc, I’m on a roll as this week’s cheese also hails from north of the border (or The Borders, to be precise). But this week’s cheese could not be more different from last week’s. If Caboc is mild and inoffensive, the Balamory of Scottish cheese, Lanark Blue is – Scottish cliché alert – the Braveheart of cheeses. It’s fierce, blue and has certainly faced battle in its time.
So, here is Lanark Blue, seeking freedom from its foil:
It’s fair to say that on hearing about Miss Muffett’s troubles, most people don’t give much thought to the whey that’s mentioned. (Or indeed the curds; I think most of us are thinking about the prospect of a great hairy arachnid landing on us.) But when you realise that to produce one kilo of cheese it takes about ten litres of milk and you’re therefore left with nine litres of whey, you can start to ponder about what happens to it all.
Given that tomorrow is Burns Night, I thought I would take the opportunity to correct the terrible fact that I haven’t yet featured a Scottish cheese (I know, I know, the shame etc.) So, without further ado, I offer up a suitably cheesy excerpt from The Holy Fair by one of the first cheesemongers of Scotland (oh yes, read on fact fans), Mr Robbie Burns:
Here farmers gash, in ridin graith,
Gaed hoddin by their cotters;
There swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springing owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter;
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in mony a whang,
An’ farls, bak’d wi’ butter,
Fu’ crump that day.
Burns was no stranger to cheese, as his mother was a peasant cheese-maker; as a boy he often helped out, selling the cheese locally (which makes him a cheesemonger in my book). And so, without further ado, raise your whisky glasses, butter your neeps and say hello to Scotland’s oldest cheese, Caboc:
This week’s post is nominated for both personal and topical reasons. The personal sees me in an opening credits montage from Who Do You Think You Are, staring pensively into the middle distance in the sheep-dotted Yorkshire Dales, sandwiched perhaps between Christopher Biggins and Derek Griffiths. This is because we recently found out that my great-great Uncle Charles was involved in Wensleydale cheese-making (well, okay, we think he was a stockman but that’s a vital job; happy cows equals tasty cheese). Alas, penning a cheese blog has yet to bring me the requisite celebrity and so the BBC are not rushing to help me with this one. Another time.
my family’s legacy the cheese:
I’ve already written about two previous tastings which I attended at one of my local cheeseries, Cannon and Cannon, hosted by cheese-meister Ned Palmer. For a self-educating cheese geek like myself, they’ve proved a great way to try several great British cheeses in one go, as well as learn a little about their history and production. You can read about the previous two here and here.
The theme this month was Winter Warmers and the tasting reflected both the changing nature of cheese throughout the seasons, as well as the fact that as humans we tend to crave different foodstuffs according to whether it’s hot or cold. With regards to taste, the colder weather tends to makes us crave something with a bit more oomph; substantial rather than salady, comforting rather than cooling.
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.
Yes, I’ve eaten Red Leicester before. If truth be told, I was practically weaned on Red Leicester. I ate so much that it probably permanently altered my DNA. We always had a slab of it in the fridge – cheese sandwiches, cheesy jacket potatoes, cheese salads. But when I grew up, I went off Red Leicester. It always seemed to look a bit sweaty and shiny and taste quite sharp and, if I’m honest, there’s probably an element of food snobbery about its colour. We’ve been so conditioned to think that all colouring in foods is bad – salmon shouldn’t be pink, smoked haddock shouldn’t be yellow and children’s juice shouldn’t be the colour of dayglo socks from the 1980s – that orange cheese somehow feels a bit wrong. But back to the colouring later…
Never one to miss the opportunity to try several new cheeses in one sitting, I recently hiked across to Brixton again to one of Ned Palmer’s tastings at Cannon and Cannon. If you missed the last instalment, ‘Eight Cheeses in One Day’, you can check out what I snaffled last time here.
The theme of this tasting was ‘Cheese and Culture’ in which Ned attempted to show how cheese has evolved through history according to the environments and societies which produced it. With two hours ticking on the clock and just eight cheeses on the plate (just eight cheeses!), Ned himself admitted that it was never going to be a comprehensive and chronological survey of global cheese history but it was certainly interesting. I won’t attempt to reproduce everything he said, partly because he might sue me and partly
mainly because I drank some beer and can’t remember. But I will tell you about the lovely cheeses and drop a few nuggets of information in as I recall them.