Sunday, 30 September 2007

mmmm, cheese

Yesterday I felt like Homer Simpson feels about beer, but with cheese. On a field by Millets Farm Centre in Oxfordshire, the British Cheese Festival kicked off, and I was one of lucky six to experience the public debut of Alex James’ new cheese Little Wallop. (Well, if lucky means willing to leave London at eight in the morning to drive out to Abingdon.)

For those who don’t read the Guardian and/or the Observer, Alex James, former bassist for Blur, has forayed into fromage. In the blog and podcast series
The Cheese Diaries, he has detailed his journey, which culminated yesterday in Guardian readers (myself included) tasting the cheese whilst being filmed for the next cheese podcast (due Wednesday I’m told).

Sitting on a lovely long wooden bench, James introduced us to ‘Little Wallop,’ a soft, fresh goats cheese that he has been working on with renowned cheesemakers in Somerset. We sampled it at the tender age of two weeks old, though James feels that baby Wallop reaches its prime at three-and-a-half weeks. Luckily, we were able to take home a batch (which should go on sale soon, likely for about ₤6 a pop, James told me.

Flattery aside, the cheese was lovely: light and fresh. James and others notice a citrus note to it, which I and some other guinea pigs did not pick up on, though perhaps the cheese needs that extra week or two to mature.

The rest of the festival offered plenty of excitement as well. The non-celebrity cheesemakers were an excellent source of information. At Godsells Cheese’s stall in the main tent, I tasted Single Gloucester for the first time and learned the difference between it and its older brother, Double. It’s not just that they use a different cream; single uses less cream. The cheesemakers instead treat the cheese the second time around using the runoff milk curd, I was told. It has more uses than Double, I’m told: but what really convinced me to part with my money was an excellent risotto recipe he shared with me – pearl barley risotto with grated Single Gloucester stirred in at the end. So creamy, but just as tasty if not more so than Double, I was convinced by its healthier credentials as well. (Because, let’s face it, cheese isn’t always the healthiest option.)

Other purchases: a red Leicester (the only one actually made in Leicester) which had no trace of the waxiness usually evident in supermarket versions and a fantastically blue Stilton wedge (almost entirely royal blue to the quick glance).

I probably tasted fifty cheeses yesterday: all excellent in their own right. Flavoured cheeses – real ale and mustard, garlic and parsley, pineapple – and everyday Cheddars, perfect in their simplicity. Actually, I was told that the night before at the British Cheese Awards that it was a straightforward Cheddar – Cathedral – which claimed the wedge of honour.

For links to the cheesemakers, click here to go to my blog The Culinary Digest.

The best thing about these artisan cheeses? A little goes a long way, and I plan to enjoy them for as long as I can. James recommends Little Wallop with a baguette, though I plan on using it with beetroot soup and french bread toasts. Check back Wednesday for the link to the new Guardian podcast and the recipe for the soup.

No comments: