Author: Abi

The DreamTeam goes to a Dairy

You may have guessed by now that we love a bit of cheese. I’m actually eating cheese as I write this. I have visited Vineyards around the world to look at wine production and taste the final product, so it seems only apt to do the same with the cheese.

It was this thought that had me picking up the Dream Team 13 at 9am one Monday morning and leaving the jewellery quarter behind for a short time in exchange for the rolling green grasses of Worcester. After packing the team into my relatively small Citroen, we hit the road and about an hour later we were driving down a small country lane. The kind of country lane that would fit right into a horror movie, one of those movies where the city folk take a roadtrip to the country and are never seen again…

A small detour around the Worcester countryside eventually saw us pull up at Lightwood Dairy. An ex-cattle farm with metal chains on the door and a makeshift “Lightwood Cheese” sign… this wasn’t giving us much comfort. Needless to say, we sent Phoebe in first to check the place out. I left the engine on ready to pull away with speed if I heard her scream.

Luckily Haydn (cheesemaker-extraordinare) put us at ease straight away and before we knew it we were all donning wellies and hair nets and delving straight in. The mornings milk delivery had come from a dairy farm in the Cotswolds, and we were shown how it comes packed much like a box of wine only much, much bigger. Haydn explained that it was his preference to use unpasteurised milk as we all stood around a 500 litre vat of the stuff, much like a sort of séance, channelling the spirit of the cows we had for Sunday Lunch the day previous. Before we arrived he had added the appropriate bacteria and natural rennet needed to create the natural blue, add in some extra flavour and separate the curds and the whey.

What you get at this stage is a sort of almost set pannacotta texture. It is at this stage that we are shown how to “cut the curds”, something that I promise is much harder than it looks. Through this process the curds get smaller and smaller, and much firmer. A little wait is needed before we start the moulding so we get shown the maturation room and the fridge and we get our first taste of cheese of the day. The aptly named “Worcester Blue” is beautifully buttery with a touch of sweetness.

By this stage the curds look like freshly popped popcorn and they are ready to be moulded. The moulds have a series of holes to continue draining the whey and the curds are poured in (somewhat inaccurately on my part). As the weight of the curds grows greater, they start to mould themselves together creating little pockets for the blue to grow and the cheese to breath. It’s a long process which started out really fun, and then grew very laborious and pretty hard work. Big respect for Haydn who produces all the cheeses at Lightwood by himself, I don’t think we helped much.

We finished up with a cup of coffee and a tasting of the range. Haydn is making some seriously good cheeses out of a space no bigger than our home under the Snow Hill railway arches. Although, I don’t think we’ll be making any “Arch 13 Cheese” any time soon, maybe we’ll just stick to eating it and serving it!

What Is Natural Wine?

natural-wine

Naturally delicious, or natural disaster?

It seems that over the last few years the wine world has fallen further and further in love with “natural wine”. Sommeliers have been throwing it onto tasting flights, shippers have been plugging it everywhere, and winemakers can’t stop bragging about how “natural” their wine is. Which really leaves one question being asked…

“What is natural wine?”

Great question, and one a lot of people in the hospitality world are currently asking or being asked.

Legally? There’s no definition. No concept. No guidance. Literally nothing. Ed compares it to modern art, in which nobody really knows what it is but we’ll believe you if you tell us “This is modern art”. At which point we all nod in agreeance like the Churchill dog and pretend we knew that all along.

The general consensus is that no chemicals are used, in any step of production, no filtering or fining, and no sulphites. “Minimal Intervention” is often the term shouted around bars that are filled with scruffy tattooed hipsters, and whispered tentatively around wine tastings that are filled with grey-haired men wearing red cord trousers.

Here’s the thing though, and I’ll try and stop myself getting carried away with personal bias; The reason sulphur is used in winemaking is to stabilise the wine, to stop it changing in transit, refermenting, going all weird. We need to stop using “sulphur” like it’s a dirty word in terms of winemaking (Have you checked your carton of orange juice lately?). The natural wine movement claims that it shows the true expression of the grape and the terroir, I’m all for that, but it doesn’t have to be fizzy and smell like a farm.

I’m going to put this out there; I don’t dislike natural wines. There are natural wines on our list that I love, and I’ve had some great ones in loads of bars, Birmingham and beyond. Natural wine can be really bloody good, and it can be absolutely awful. Just as conventional wine can be the same.

However, what’s not good is when, as professionals, we give a pass to wine producers that have flawed, oxidised and volatile wine simply because they’ve thrown around the word “natural”. One of my Fathers favourite moments from last year’s wine trade fair was overhearing an assistant winemaker holding forth about the winery’s latest “minimal intervention” offering to be met with the response “I can’t help but feel that perhaps someone should have intervened.”

Instead of drinking something because it’s “natty wine”, drink it because it’s delicious. Chances are, it’s probably pretty natural anyway.

Ok. Rant over.

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