Owen Davies, category manager at Harvey & Brockless, talks us through his picks of cheeses with more to them than meets the eye
ROQUEFORT LE TROUPEAU, LES CAUSSES, FRANCE
As legend would have it, Roquefort, came about when a young shepherd was distracted from his lunch of ewe’s milk curd and bread by a beautiful girl in the distance. Mesmerised by this beauty, he put down his ‘sandwich’ in the cave where he was taking shelter from the heat and didn’t return to the same cave until a month or so later, when the mould Penicillium Roqueforti (naturally found in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur- Soulzon) had turned his cheese into what we now know as France’s King of Cheese, Roquefort. Whatever the truth of the story, it is believed that the presence of this bacteria in these extraordinary natural caves with their unique microclimate is the key to Roquefort’s renowned reputation.
But it doesn’t always have to be a great tale of folklore and legend that forms the story of cheese, nowadays provenance plays a huge part in how we make our food choices. How are the animals kept, what are they fed, how much of their time is spent grazing outside, what do they graze on, what is their ‘terroir’ like and how does this affect the milk - and ultimately the taste and quality of that cheese?
BARON BIGOD, FEN FARM DAIRY, SUFFOLK, ENGLAND
Take Fen Farm for example. Third generation dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore and his wife Dulcie have gone to great lengths to transform their historical family-run farm into a ‘green friendly’, high animal welfare artisan cheesemaking dairy. With a desire to create a British Brie de Meaux style cheese, their journey began with a period of training and consultation with legendary cheesemaking experts from France (Ivan Larcher and Thierry Lerendu), followed by a whirlwind trip to 35 alpine farms in France to buy a herd of Montbéliarde cows – an ancient breed prized for the high protein and butter fats in their milk. Grazing on the lush green pastures nestled in the elbow of the beautiful River Waveney in Suffolk, they eat a diet rich in grass, homegrown hay and forage. The cows are visibly healthy and deliriously content – not under constant demands to produce more and more milk.
The resulting raw milk that is used to make the cheese means that Baron Bigod (pronounced ‘by-god’ and named after a local 12th Century nobleman) is now a worthy rival to its French muse. The instant popularity of the cheese has much to do with its silky paste and long complex flavours of farmyard, morels and warm earth. Try it grilled on toasted rye with a drizzle of truffle honey.
ST. JUDE, WHITEWOOD DAIRY, SUFFOLK, ENGLAND
A testament to the success and integrity of Fen Farm Dairy’s commitment to excellent animal welfare, happy cows and excellent raw milk is the story of St. Jude. Julie Cheyney has always worked with raw milk and in 2012 she set up her own dairy, Whitewood, in the Hampshire downland overlooking the valley where Gilbert White lived and was inspired by nature. Never 100% satisfied with the quality of the milk that Julie had access to in the area, in 2014 she made a bold decision to move the dairy to North East Suffolk and is now using the raw milk from Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore’s Montbéliarde cows. The diverse grasses of the Fen Farm pastures lead to the distinct, rich milk of the cows, contributing to the complex flavours of this stunning, creamy soft cheese.
WINTERDALE SHAW, WINTERDALE CHEESE, KENT, ENGLAND
London’s local Cheddar, Winterdale Shaw is made by dynamic husband and wife team Robin and Carla Betts on the North Downs in Kent just over 20 miles from the centre of the capital. The couple started making cheese in 2006 after building their own oak-framed barn on the edge of the family dairy farm, which is fitted with the latest eco-technologies from solar panels to ground source heat pumps. They even dug out their own maturing cave from the chalk downs where the raw milk, clothbound Cheddar is matured for 10 months. It means the cheese is completely carbon neutral, but just as importantly tastes delicious. Buttery, fruity and with a pleasing earthy flavour, it matches beautifully with a brown ale.
REBLOCHON FERMIERE DE SAVOIE AOP, MISSILIER AND JOSEPH PACCARD, HAUTESAVOIE, FRANCE
One of France’s prettiest cheeses thanks to its peachy pink rind, Reblochon is made in the mountainous Haute-Savoie region using milk from indigenous cow breeds that graze the Alpine pastures. Our ‘fermier’ fromage is made by the Missilier family on their small farm 1,300m above sea level and is aged by expert affineur Joseph Paccard for five weeks for a deeper hazelnut flavour and smooth, supple texture. The Missilier family milk their herd of 40 cows twice a day and the cheese is made while the milk is still warm. They produce 40 cheeses with the morning milk and 40 cheeses with the evening milk.
During the winter months, cattle are fed on the hay from the farm which is harvested during the summer months; in summer, the family, cattle and dairy move further up into the mountains. It’s here up high that the cows graze on lush pastures filled with wild flowers; moving the cheese production with the cows ensures that the milk never has to travel very far! After making the cheese, it sits for six days on spruce boards in the maturation rooms before it is sent down the mountain to be affineured by renowned second generation affineurs Joseph Paccard, Paccard grade their Reblochon in its fourth stage of maturing: Extra, Surchoix and Tartiflette. ‘Extra’, the highest quality and determined by how well the cheese has softened, is the grade selected for Harvey & Brockless.
Image courtesy of Harvey & Brockless