West Country Cheesemakers say Sack the Stilton
The British Christmas cheeseboard can be as predictable as stockings, satsumas and socks. So, why not add a little sparkle to your yuletide cheese selection and send a little festive cheer to Somerset's fantastic cheesemakers? The county is home t...
Choosing and tasting cheeses
Most good delis will let you 'try before you buy' so if you want to get the most from your nibble here are a few tips to help you decide whether a cheese works for you:
- Look at the cheese - is it inviting?
- Touch it, break it, smell it - texture and aroma are important factors
- Put a piece in your mouth, chew it and press it against the roof of your mouth. What can you taste? How does it feel? Does the taste have different facets?
- Swallow, and think what's left behind? Does it have a lingering and complex flavour?
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Good cheeses are best stored in a cool, damp environment. Keep it in the warmest part of the fridge (usually the top shelf unless it has a freezer compartment, in which case use the salad drawer at the bottom). If it's kept too cold the cheese will lose flavour. Cheese that becomes too dry will start to crack and wither, so keep it well wrapped.
To enjoy at their best, remove hard cheeses from the fridge and stand them at room temperature for at least an hour before serving, which allows the full range of flavours to develop. Serve softer cheeses straight from the fridge.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SOMERSET CHEESEBOARD:
Westcombe Dairy Unpasteurised Mature West Country Farmhouse Cheddar
(hard, cows' milk, strong)
All Cheddar is not the same. Because West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and is handmade, each farm produces a cheese with a character all its own. Using experience passed down through generations to create some of the finest Cheddar, Westcombe Dairy use only milk from their own herds.
Cheese has been made at Westcombe, near Shepton Mallet, since the 1890s, and they returned to making traditional unpasteurised rounds of West Country Farmhouse Cheddar in the 1990s. They now produce about 100 rounds each week, ageing the cheeses for up to 20 months. The final product is a fine cheese that varies subtly with the seasons.
Westcombe is available in Waitrose under the West Country brand. Tel 01237 431246
Keen's Unpasteurised Extra-mature West Country Farmhouse Cheddar
(hard, cows' milk, strong)
Traditional West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has been made by the Keen family at Moorhayes Farm near Wincanton since 1899. The Keens use milk from their own Friesian cows to make their flavourful, rich cheese. The cloth-bound cheeses mature for more than 12 months in the farm store. They are regularly turned, cleaned and sampled to ensure that each one acquires the characteristic robust but subtle nutty flavour, which has real appeal for the fans of stronger cheese.
Keen's make only about 130 rounds of Cheddar each week. It is available in Waitrose, sold as their Finest Extra-mature Cheddar under the West Country label. Tel 01963 32286
(semi-hard, cows' milk, medium)
A full-fat, unpressed but firm blue cheese with a predominantly white mould rind, Somerset Blue has a rich, nutty and smooth flavour. Its creamy yellow colour and the buttery flavour are derived from the Jersey milk with which it's made. It is matured longer than Exmoor Jersey Blue and is thus bluer and stronger but just as rich and buttery.
Somerset Blue is produced by the Exmoor Blue Cheese Company in an old stone dairy that lies in a lush valley near Lydeard St Lawrence. Ian and Ruby Arnett maintain a hands-on approach to cheesemaking, using only traditional methods.
Available in many delis and good food stores. Tel 01984 667328
(semi-soft, cows' milk, mild)
Goldilocks, made by Daisy & Co, is a camembert-style soft cheese, ripened in the traditional way by the action of the soft white mould which covers the mature cheese. The interior is a bright golden colour with a soft creamy texture. The taste is full and rich, similar to but stronger than brie, with subtle depths and flavours. As the cheese ripens the colour deepens, the flavour becomes stronger and the cheese begins to 'run' like thick Jersey cream.
Goldilocks is made at Tree Tops Farm, an 80-acre organic farm lying in a small valley overlooking the River Brue near Bruton. Daisy & Co is a herd of 40 pedigree Jersey cows.
Available in most good delis and food stores. Tel 01749 850254 or visit www.daisyandco.co.uk
(soft, goats' milk, medium)
This is the one of the cheeses that Mary Holbrook makes regularly using milk from her own herd at Timsbury, near Bath.
The cheese is shaped like a truncated pyramid and coated in ash. It is made as many French farmhouse cheeses to benefit from ripening, and is ready in around three to five weeks. It has a typical, mild goaty taste and a smooth texture; as it becomes more mature the flavour becomes more pungent.
Available from good delis. Tel 01761 470620
Why not give a cheesy gift?
There's always someone difficult to buy for. What could be more unusual than unwrapping a wheel of Somerset brie or a wedge of the finest West Country Farmhouse Cheddar? A good deli will usually wrap the cheese in pretty, old-fashioned paper that needs little titivating. So nip down to your local deli or cheese counter and put together your own selection. It would certainly beat another pair of socks.
For more about the cheeses or to order online go to www.farmhousecheesemakers.com.