That’s a half-wheel of Stilton (producer is Cropwell-Bishop) staring you straight in the face. And holding it is Juliet Harbutt, British cheese guru and knower of all things cheese-related. (There, I think I’ve deftly summed up Juliet’s dense full page resume of achievements). Juliet, among many other things, started the British Cheese Awards in 1994 to help recognise excellence in British cheese. She was in town last week (at The Cookbook Store) promoting a selection of British cheeses in Canada.
The entire selection consists of sixteen traditional cheese that have been consistent medal award winners at the British Cheese Awards. Only about 30% of 900 entries each year garner a medal and 22 “rise to the top” says Juliet. Sobey’s is carrying six of her sixteen choices exclusively at their stores. (There is a bonus 7th cheese on the plate below)
So shall we get on with our tasting?
Starting at NOON (with the vibrant orange Red Leicester and moving clockwise)
1. Red Leicester
This was interesting for me. I love Red Leicester and usually only buy the farmhouse clothbound version. Tasting it next to the larger scale industrial version, there is no comparison. But Juliet introduced us to this younger non-clothbound version which is made at a big creamery, but using artisinal methods. It is made by The Pembrokeshire Cheese Company, a farmer’s cooperative in West Wales.
This wedge was younger than what I was used to but still had the savory-sweetness that intensifies as it ages. Beautiful on a cheeseboard and easier to slice for a snack (or sandwich) when it is softer and younger.
2. Creamy Lancashire
Have you ever had a cheese and thought it was so-so and thus never tried it again? (bad–don’t ever do that. Give Cheese a Chance) I did that with Lancashire. I had a crumbly, drier wedge one time and gave up. This has me converted. It’s buttery, tangy and richly mouth-coating. Made with a loose curd, you can see the delineations where they been pressed together to form the cheese. I mention Lancashire in my Globeholiday cheese column ….(PLUG!) Juliet described the Lancashire as having a “raw onion tang”
3. Double Gloucester
Hailing from Lancashire England, the producer of this Double Gloucester is Butler’s Farmhouse Cheese. It is made using traditional methods in open vats, cloth bound and matured for up to 8 months. There is a slight hint of orange-pink to the paste as it is coloured with annato (a natural colouring from a South American seed also used in orange cheddar and the Red Leiscester). Dense, nutty and firm textured.
4. Oak Smoked Lyburn Farms
Loved this one. The smoke is subtle and delicate. It’s naturally flavoured over oak chips and the milk comes from the cheesemaker’s own farm. The cheeses has a caramel coloured rind and will win you over if you’ve been turned off by over-smoked fellows that leave a campfire in your mouth.
5. Wyfe of Bath
This was the “bonus” cheese and is not available at Sobey’s. Wyfe of Bath is a creamy, buttery cheese made from organic milk and molded in cloth-lined baskets.. Juliet’s identified a “rubber boot aroma” (that sharp, pleasant new-ness).
6. Special Reserve Shropshire Blue
The bright orange blue cheese on the upper left of the plate is the Shropshire Blue. Made at Cropwell Bishop (as is the Stilton) it’s based on the Stilton recipe but was actually created in Inverness, Scotland in 1970. Annato gives it its colour. Peaks at 3 months. Not as strong as Stilton you still get buttery, cocoa notes and a real punch of colour on the cheese board.
7. Special Reserve Stilton
Only five producers make Stilton. Cropwell Bishop is one of them and the family has been making Stilton for over three generations. Milk suppliers are hand-picked to ensure the quality of this famous cheese. Also peaking at 3 months, this 13 week old piece was buttery, spicy with a dark cocoa flavour on the finish. You can see the beautiful, and typical “shattered porcelain” veining in the piece Julia is holding at the top. Stilton is a dense cheese so the blue veining spreads in a finer, spidery pattern than seen in a looser blue like Roquefort.
Finally, if you’re looking for a great reference book of the cheese sort, The World Cheese Book edited by Juliet is great. You can just have it sit by the bedside and nightly flip through pictures and well-written, succinct information about the world’s major cheeses.
Then you will hop out of bed for a midnight snack.