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It is that time of year again when we get to spend quality time with family and friends. At Christmas, we also remember those that are suffering, or have lost loved ones. We also consider and are thankful for the bounty of food and drink that we enjoy over this important period.
In November I found myself with a bunch of like-minded individuals at the 34th edition of the World Cheese Awards. We spent time ruminating cogitating and deliberating on what cheese would be crowned the ultimate prize.
Competitions are very much an opportunity for small independents to show their produce, and if lucky enough, get to go home with some heavy metal to recognise their hard work. Large competitions help allow small businesses to prosper and gain recognition. It is for this I am thankful, as it has helped me to find delicious cheese.
So here is my Christmas selection board for you to consider, all British and equally sensational. Each cheese has a story, as a retailer or just someone who enjoys cheese I believe it is vital to know where your food is coming from and who makes it.
For my hard cheese my choice is Westcombe Cheddar, Somerset. This is made today by Tom Carver. There is a huge history that shrouds this beautiful Cheese Farm. Todays recipe is based on Edith Cannons from 1890, she was a formidable lady who’s cheddar was exceptionally popular. In the 70’s this cheese moved to block production.
Although the cheese remained good quality it lacked the depth one had been used to. In the 80’s Richard Carver, father of Tom decided to take things back to where they originated. In 2008 Tom, a modest individual with a London restaurant background that includes an apprenticeship at Neals Yard Dairy took over the cheesemaking. He is focused on soil management animal husbandry and a natural work ethic. The cheese is characterful full of savoury notes with hints of horseradish close to the rind and has a delicious fruity and buttery paste.
For my soft cheese I have chosen the little known Pexommier Brie. This is an organic soft cheese from Todmorden in Lancashire made by Carl Warburton. The recipe is loosely based on a coulommier recipe (found on the farm). The farmstead once housed several families. It was built in the 1500’s. In the 1901 census 10 families lived on the farm (tenement farmers) pex we think is old English that means pigs (Pextenement Farmers).
These farms dotted around this area would have little livestock. Life was subsistence and any little food left over would have been sold or swapped at markets. It has been owned by the current family since 1926. Since then it has been mainly a dairy of organic milk. In 2008 Carl started to experiment with cheese. This brie has good depth, is buttery, mushroomy and earthy.
My third Christmas cheese is Organic Cropwell Bishop Stilton. This is made by Robin Skailes whose Great-Great Uncle in 1847 set up a London-based company that supplied cheese, eggs, butter and other provisions. The family became commercial cheesemakers in Somerset. In 1949 Somerset Creameries acquired Cropwell Bishop Creamery. In 1973,
Frank Skailes sold A. Mathews and Skailes, moved Somerset Creameries to Cropwell Bishop and closed down its West Country operations. In 1981, brothers, David and Ian Skailes, took the helm from their father, A few years later they sold North Street Dairy in Melton Mowbray and invested the funds into Cropwell Bishop to make it the world-class dairy it is today.
In 2005 Somerset Creameries became known as Cropwell Bishop Creamery, and in 2006 Ian’s son, Robin, joined the business and now manages the running of the creamery. The cheese is well balanced with a rich fudgy and umami notes on the rind with a delicious piquant herby yet gentle blueing surrounded by a buttery and creamy richness.
I wish all Speciality Food readers a wonderful Christmas. Let us all be thankful for the tremendous efforts that our British farmers take on, to produce great food for us.
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