I’ve been studying the world of cheese recently with The Academy of Cheese. It’s an official thing, not just an excuse to eat a lot of great cheeses…although that is, of course, a major selling point. It’s safe to say, I’m obsessed.
And so, with that obsession, much like many others, comes a need to vocalise and share it. And without skipping a beat, I introduce you to the first part in a hopefully regular series, sharing my current favourite British cheeses and of course, plugging some sales as well.
If you like the sound of what you read here, you can order a “Fromage Favourites” box from the link at the bottom of the page. Doesn’t that sound like a good plan?
Here’s the honest truth, I used to find hard cheese so incredibly dull. I try not to judge people on their cheese taste, but just know that if you’ve ever ordered a cheese board with only hard cheeses…it hurts me inside. However, once you’ve realised quite how much goes into the production of hard and crumbly cheeses, how much history stands behind them, and not to mention just how much variation you’ll get between them it’s hard not to be a little bit excited. Potentially, my earlier judgement of hard cheese came from eating far too much mediocre cheddar.
Which brings me onto our first “Fromage Favourite”…
Kirkhams Mature Lancashire.
Did you know, in 1939 there were 202 producers of farmhouse Lancashire cheese? Well, now you do. Guess how many there are now, go on, take a guess…
Kirkhams are the last remaining producer of farmhouse Lancashire cheese, with a recipe passed down from her mother after she retired, Ruth Kirkham took up the family business in 1979. Her husband John helped her turn an old piggery (yes, that’s a word, I checked) into a cheese making dairy and they made cheese here for almost 30 years until 2008. The milk was pumped straight into a small vat in the dairy, and they had just two presses which would make 4 cheeses a day in total.
Their son Graham returned back to the farm about 15 years ago with what they refer to as his “big city ideas” and convinced them it was time to build a new shiny dairy. In 2008 the new dairy was completed alongside a state of the art milking parlour and space for their 100 strong herd of cows.
The Kirkham’s that we stock is matured a little longer than the norm, which gives it a great punch, whilst retaining it’s traditional buttery notes and slight yoghurt tang.
Someone once suggested serving Lancashire with warmed Eccles cakes… do it, have no regrets.
It’s very easy when talking about British blue cheeses to have tunnel vision, we live in a country where Stilton reigns king of the blue. But, whilst I don’t disagree that Stilton is a bloody marvellous cheese, there are so many different styles of blue cheese. From softer styles to hard and crumbly, cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and some incredible goat’s milk blues. (Check out the Harborne Blue from Ben Harris down at Ticklemore Dairy in Devon!)
This month we’re going to a classic Stilton producer in Nottingham but for something that isn’t a Stilton.
Made by the wonderful team at Cropwell Bishop, Beauvale is a fantastic take on a Gorgonzola style. Buttery and soft and gooey in all the right ways.
Cropwell Bishop is a family run creamery that have been making cheese in some form since 1847. They’re now one of the last few traditional Stilton producers. The day-to-day running of the creamery is now done by cousins Robin and Ben Skailes alongside the watchful eye of their fathers, David and Ian.
Beauvale is something a little bit different for the guys at Cropwell Bishop who have been making stilton for generations. It’s much younger (aged for just 7 weeks) and creamier taking on a texture similar to Gorgonzola Dolce. It’s rich and buttery with a gentle hint of that blue spice coming through. Great to cook with but even better to east straight off the knife (we all do it!).
Soft “exterior-mould ripened” cheeses (that’s Brie or Camembert styles to regular folk) have become increasingly popular over the last few decades as supermarket ranges have expanded and more styles have become available. And whilst the range of choices being offered at supermarkets these days is brilliant (or… brie-lliant…sorry!) I always find the soft cheeses just a little…restrained.
Due to the nature of soft cheeses like this, the ones found in supermarkets are often stabilised so that they don’t over ripen, and the shelf life is extended. By doing this, you’re hurting the real nature of what makes the cheese so wonderful.
So, let’s talk about proper soft cheese.
Look, it’s the first ever blog of the series. I know I’m being predictable. Baron Bigod is the one cheese that we have had in the fridge ever since we opened back in May 2018 (I should specify, it’s not the exact same cheese…that may be a bit funky four years later).
For me, there are few cheeses that compare to what the team at Fen Farm Dairy have created. Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore are an absolute powerhouse couple when it comes to British cheesemaking. Jonny grew up on the farm, sneaking out of bed at 3 am to help his dad in the cowshed with the morning jobs, Dulcie left behind her day job and went into the marketing and business development side of the business. Together, they have created something absolutely brilliant.
Baron is the only traditional raw milk Brie-de-Meaux style made in the UK. It’s nutty and mushroomy at the rind and utter luxury at the centre. Pure silky, golden goo at its core that gets stuck all around your chops, in the best possible way. There really is nothing else like it.
“What in God’s name is a washed rind cheese?” I hear you say softly to your computer screen. It’s one of the questions we get asked quite a lot in the bar. Essentially, a washed rind cheese is as it says, they wash the rind. Usually with a brine solution or alcohol. The basic science of it all is that by washing the rind you stop the normal penicillin candidum (that’s the bloomy white rind) from being able to grow, and instead a bacteria called “brevibacterium linens” which prefers damp and salty atmospheres can grow instead. It all sounds very unappealing doesn’t it? The bacteria then produces sulphur compounds as it grows which make the cheeses smell and taste super funky. That doesn’t sound much better.
Washed rind cheeses are generally stronger, stinkier and have an orange/pink rind. Classic examples would be Epoisses, a French cheese washed in Marc de Bourgogne, or Stinking Bishop which is washed in Perry.
This months washed rind favourite has to be St James as it’s just come back into season.
St James is a sheep’s milk washed rind cheese from Cumbria. The milking season is between late spring and early autumn (hence the seasonal part), and it’s then aged for three to four weeks with regular brine baths.
The cheese is made by Martin Gott, who developed the recipe himself at Holker Farm in Cumbria that he runs with his wife Nicola. The name comes from the late James Aldridge who was a huge pioneer in British cheesemaking.
In terms of flavours, it’s a deep and rich cheese that’s strongly influenced by the seasons. At the moment it’s wonderfully plump and savoury with a milky tang and a little malty touch from the rind.
One of my core beliefs is that people who claim they “don’t like goat’s cheese” are wrong. Sorry, but they are. Goat’s milk cheeses range so much in style and flavour profile, to discount all of them because of one overly acidic cheese you tried once, it’s just not OK.
I love a goat’s milk cheese. From the mousey ash covered styles of the Loire Valley, to irish goat milk Gouda style Killeen or the fabulous Rachel from White Lake Dairy in Somerset. Goat’s cheese has a bad rep, and it needs to change.
Well, almost 2000 words later and that’s the first blog complete. I really can talk about cheese all day if I was given the chance. Maybe next month I’ll try and be a little more concise, but I doubt it.
In order to show the variety of what you can do with goat’s milk, this months highlight is the Goatisan by Ribblesdale Cheese Company.
Ribblesdale are based in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, and is run and owned by Iona Hill. The business was started by Iona’s Uncle Iain Hill, who bought a pair of goat’s one day and named them after his mother (I’m sure she loved that!). What he hadn’t realised, is that the goats were in kid and he ended up with two more goats than planned and quite a bit of goat milk. His drinking pal (who happened to be a vet) told him he should start making cheese, and that’s how Ribblesdale Cheese Company was born. Because all good plans are hatched over a pint down the local.
Anyway, onto the cheese itself. Goatisan is a hard goat’s milk that’s aged for 3 – 5 months. It has a complexity and layers of flavour unlike any other goat’s cheese. Although the definite goaty acidity is there, it’s mellowed out with almost caramel notes and a touch of salted peanut. A goat’s milk cheese for the most avid hater.
You can grab your “What’s in the Fridge?” box with the button at the bottom and do let me know what you think about the cheeses. Have you been converted to any styles? Or do we have to try harder next month?
That’s what’s in my fridge, what’s in yours?
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