This week’s cheeses (yes, it’s a rare double-bill this week!) have had me thinking about what sort of cheese I’d like to be immortalised as. It’s a tricky one. Much as I adore blue cheese, its main characteristics are mould and stinkiness, which I’m not sure I’d like to be summed up by. Ditto smear-ripened cheese which is a bit of a smelly joke. Perhaps a farmhouse cheddar? But then that just brings up words like ‘earthy’ and ‘robust’ which would make me sound like a used tractor. Hmmmm… Anyway, republicans look away as this week I bring you The Duke and Duchess:
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There are several sights you might expect to see on a visit to a Somerset cheesemakers: blotchy black and white cows grazing jade meadows; grown men wearing hairnets; great hulks of maturing yellow cheddar. But one thing you perhaps don’t figure on stumbling upon is a state-of-the-art laboratory complete with microscopes and canisters of liquid nitrogen.
It’s been a heck of a week. Not in a bad way, just in a ‘How much work? And I have to hand in my Masters project (which is about cheese, of course)? And try and keep two offspring alive? Eek.’ So I nearly, very nearly, decided to forget the blog this week. But then I remembered that it’s St Andrew’s Day this weekend and I had recently tried a Scottish cheese and so fate stepped in, thwacked me sharply round the back of the head with a rolled-up newspaper and said, ‘Get on with it. Tell them about Dunsyre Blue.’ So here I am. And here is Dunsyre Blue:
It’s fair to say that Suffolk has historically had a bit of an image problem when it comes to cheese. Back in the sixteenth century Suffolk cheese had a good reputation but farmers began to turn to butter production, which was more profitable; cheese made from the resulting skimmed milk was famously hard and inedible. One connoisseur described it as having ‘a horny hardness and indigestible quality’, Samuel Pepys recorded that his wife was ‘vexed at her people for grumbling to eat Suffolk cheese’ and a range of contemporary ditties describe how weevils are unable to penetrate it and rats on ships prefer to eat grindstones. When severe floods and cattle disease caused a drop in production, cheesemongers were only too happy to turn their attentions to Cheshire cheese instead and before long Suffolk cheese receded into folk memory.
It’s been a very sheepish blog for the last few weeks with St James, Flower Marie and Homewood Ewes Cheese all making an appearance. But the sheepish one this week is me; after tantalising everyone with my promise of cooking something up with the Homewood curd, it all went very wrong. I planned to make stuffed courgette flowers, waiting four days for enough flowers to appear, diligently stuffed them, prepared the batter, heated the oil and then fried them. Oh – except I’d forgotten to batter them first so they all disintegrated on impact. I blame the heat. Sigh. Anyway, onto this week’s cheese which is decidedly goaty:
It’s been a while since I bid a fond farewell to my home-made Cheddar, known as Tooting Gold or E-Colin for short. Anyone who has read this sorry tale before will recall that Colin, despite maturing apparently happily down in my cellar for six months was judged (quite literally, by a judge) to be distinctly below par. It was a disappointing result but hardly surprising, given my complete lack of knowledge about cheese-making when I set out to create him. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on me as I cobbled together moulds, picked off hairs and chased away mites to create my cheese monster. Poor Colin.
I was drawn to this cheese by the story of its name. A blue cheese (rather obviously), it was named ‘Blacksticks’ after a farm of the same name near to the dairy, where some tall chestnut trees looked like black sticks against the winter sky. I love the British countryside in the autumn and winter (my other half likes to go on about ‘crows in ploughed fields’ as he knows it will make me all misty-eyed) and, as the summer starts to wind down, it seemed an appropriate cheese to check out.