At the talk on our tabletop tombstones in St Cyrs a few months ago, a couple of people asked me about the local cheeses that were served. As Christmas is coming, and with it the need to consume vast quantities (just me?) of port and Christmas cake, which both, as we know, taste even better with a little cheese, here is a bit more information about those local cheeses.
One of the original goats cheeses produced in the UK and has won numerous awards, including the 2015 World Cheese Awards’ Best goat Cheese.
Cerney Cheese was started and continues to be run by Lady Isabel Angus. Having developed a love for French cheeses, she persuaded a local French farmer’s wife to teach her the basics of cheese-making. Armed with the basics, and aided by her two goats, she began experimenting. The intention was never to sell to the public, just to make use of land and enjoy some self-sufficiency. But when she moved to North Cerney in 1983, a local villager persuaded Isabel to let him sell twelve cheeses. They flew off the shelves and Cerney Cheese was born.
Like the goat cheese story above, people tend to think of soft cheese as a French import but the soft Bath Cheese was well known in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was even recommended to Admiral Lord Nelson in a letter from his father, written shortly after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Copenhagen:
“My dear Horatio,
On Tuesday next I intend (God willing) to leave Bath and tho’ not very strong, yet, hope to reach Lothian on Thursday, as I must remain a few days in London. As let me not interrupt any of your engagements.
Recollecting that Sir William and Lady Hamilton seemed gratified by the flavour of a cream cheese, I have taken the liberty of sending 2 or 3 cheeses of Bath manufacture.
I am my dear son, your most affectionate
In 1990 farmer dairy farmer Graham Padfield tracked down the recipe for Bath cheese and revived his grandmother’s cheesemaking business at Park Farm near Kelston, Bath. The recipe stipulates that the cheese, soft and covered with white mould, must be made with full cream milk, that salt be sprinkled on the young cheeses with the aid of a feather.
Bath Soft Cheese is sold in blocks and is delicious, especially if you leave it a couple of weeks to ripen fully.
But they found a quirk in making the cheese into a deeper rounded shape: the original mushroomy flavour of Bath cheese and becomes lighter and more citrus. They call this Kelston Park and it is delicious.
Bath Soft cheese Company also make Bath Blue. Likened to Stilton, it is a classic blue veined cheese, ripened for 8-10 weeks. In the 2014-15 World Cheese Awards, it beat nearly 2,600 cheeses from 33 countries to be crowned overall champion.
In 1994 single Gloucester was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. It can only be made on Gloucestershire farms which have a herd of Old Gloucester cows, one of the rarest cattle breeds in the country. Jonathan Crump at Standish Park Farm near Eastington is one of only six cheese makers producing Single Gloucester. He is the only one that uses ONLY Old Gloucester cows’ milk and both his cows and his cheeses have won awards.
To taste, Single Gloucester is creamy and buttery with a fresh citrus finish and I have heard people say that it is so much better than Double Gloucester and that is why it is so rare. Which is quite funny because, being quick and easy to produce, taking only 8 weeks to mature, traditionally it was used as part payment to farm workers. The good stuff was the Double Gloucester which takes three months to mature and was the cheese that commanded the highest price.
Jonathan Crump says this taking twice as long to mature as its cheaper sibling is the reason for Double Gloucester’s name but there are other theories: that the creamy milk had to be skimmed twice; that the cream from the morning milk was added to the evening milk; that the truckle is typically twice the height. Whatever, this was the cheese that was sent to markets and shops for people to display on their dinner tables. The addition of carrot juice gave it the Wow factor colour.
And for extra Wow and probably ‘ouch’ and the sound of ambulance sirens and much jollity, Double Gloucester is the cheese used every year at Cooper’s Hill for the cheese-rolling and wake. The first person to reach the bottom of the 50% gradient 180m slope wins the cheese.
If you have only tasted supermarket Double Gloucester, you are probably thinking ‘meh’. Try some of Jonathan Crump’s. It is unpasturised and made from organic milk from cows grazed on permanent pasture with hay only for winter feed. Once tasted, you’ll probably be tempted to run down Coopers Hill in the hope of winning the truckle. Safer, although not so entertaining for the spectators, is to go and see if they have some for sale in Leaf and Ground.
What’s YOUR favourite Local Cheese?
Please add your favourite local cheeses in the Comments below and why and where you can buy.