Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meeting some of Britain's best cheesemakers

Yesterday I went to Bath to check out the Fine Cheese Co’s Cheese Festival in Milsom Place, an opportunity to meet and buy cheeses from 14 of the best artisanal cheesemakers in the country. The Fine Cheese Co, which is run by Anne-Marie Dyas, is always a step ahead of the game: it was one of the first to sell cheese online, and to come up with matching biscuits and condiments for cheese which are still hard to beat for quality.

There were quite a few cheesemakers whose cheeses I was already familiar with such as Keen’s Cheddar, Bath Soft Cheese, White Lake, Sharpham, Ticklemore and Charlie Westhead of Neal’s Yard Creamery (above) but it was good to meet one of my heroes, Mary Holbrook of Sleight Farm, in person (top of the page) and taste right through her range.

I also got to meet Suzanne Stirke of Fortmayne Dairy in North Yorkshire (above) who makes Richard III, a fine traditional style of Wensleydale (and hope I've managed to persuade her to go on Twitter!).

And I discovered a lovely unpasteurised Red Leicester from David and Jo Clarke of the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Co. The cheese hasn’t been made in the county for 20 years and not on a farm in the county for over half a century.

The event really underlined what magnificent cheeses we have in this country. I hope it's something the Fine Cheese Co. will sponsor every year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Six Devon cheeses

I did a couple of cheese and wine matching classes at the Dartmouth Food Festival this weekend with local winemerchant Liam Steevenson of Red & White in Kingsbridge.

Fittingly we used six Devon cheeses. Two were familiar to me - Quicke's Traditional Mature Cheddar which we paired with Chateau Lezongars Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Beenleigh Blue, a Roquefort-like ewes' cheese from Ticklemore Cheese in Totnes which we matched with a sweet Bordeaux, Domaine de Noble Loupiac. (I'm not sure about the vintages which weren't on the tasting sheet - sorry!)

There were two from Sharpham Dairy, also in Totnes - a very attractive creamy Brie which paired beautifully with a fresh-tasting Beaujolais: Fleurie 'La Madone', La Reine de L'Arenite and a new cheese called Sharpham Savour, a tangy mixture of cows' and goats' milk that was apparently created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Devon being designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. We matched that with an Urbino Rioja Crianza - the most successful of the reds for me.

The other two cheeses were Norsworthy, a hard goats' cheese which we partnered with a Domaine Jean-Claude Chatelain Sancerre and Curworthy, a mellow Cheddarish cheese which was paired with La Secreto Carmenère, a lush fruity red from Chile that I thought slightly overwhelmed it.

Although the people who came clearly felt most comfortable about red wine with cheese most were converted by the the goats cheese and Sauvignon Blanc and sweet wine and blue combinations. And I must say I was impressed by the cheeses. A tasting based on six from one county isn't bad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How runny do you like your cheese?

I've been spending the past couple of weeks in France (hence the absence of posts), the last few days in Burgundy where smelly cheese reigns supreme.

This is the Epoisses they serve at a restaurant called Ma Cuisine in Beaune which, as you can see, is so ripe it forms liquid pools on the plate.

For me this is too ripe. I find cheese acquires a bitter note if it's allowed to mature this long which overwhelms its natural flavour. It also tends to knock the stuffing out of any accompanying wine - especially reds. (You can find the alternative pairings I suggest here.)

I also think it looks unappealing - like three large buttery cowpats. I prefer my cheese to retain its original shape.

But I'm aware I may be in a minority. Many cheeselovers, I know, adore their cheese to get as runny as this. What about you? And what do you drink with it once it's this far gone?