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Last week, the Virtual Cheese Awards revealed the best British cheesemakers for 2023 in an eight-hour-long live final, hosted by BBC broadcaster Nigel Barden. On Wednesday 17th May, the winners of the seven Virtual Cheese Awards were announced.
Out-competing over 250 British cheeses, Montgomery Mature Traditional Cheddar was crowned Supreme Champion and Best of British Cheese at the Virtual Cheese Awards 2023.
The traditional and handmade Somerset Cheddar, wrapped in a muslin cloth and matured on wooden shelves for 12 months, won over the judges with its sweet, savoury, nutty and caramel notes, which create a complex depth of flavour.
Jamie Montgomery, owner at Montgomery Cheese, commented, “We are really very lucky to be able to produce the interesting flavours here on our farm and very proud to be appreciated and work in such a great community of cheese people.”
Scottish Connage Aged Gouda – an organic pasteurised cheese which the judges noted had a complex sweet, nutty flavour with lots of depth – came in second place. Third place was awarded to Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire, a regional artisanal cheese from the last remaining raw milk producer in Lancashire. It is a two-day curd which is pressed on traditional presses and then cloth-bound and matured for three to four months.
Sarah de Wit, co-founder of the Virtual Cheese Awards and cheese and dairy consultant, said, “Montgomery’s Mature Traditional Cheddar is an iconic British cheese and it consistently scored nines in all our blind judging round. It is an exceptionally complex and delicious cheese and everyone wholeheartedly agreed.
“We had 250 cheeses enter in our 2023 awards from 85 British dairies, which even in a tough economic environment shows that cheesemakers want to celebrate and showcase their expertise.”
Revealing the winners
The winners of best of British cheese across the final seven categories were:
Best Enhanced sponsored by Speciality & Fine Food Fair
Lynher Dairies, Cornish Yarg
Best Speciality sponsored by Speciality & Fine Food Fair
Connage Highland Dairies with Connage Aged Gouda
Best Territorial sponsored by Manor House Consultancy
HS Bourne with Bournes Unpasteurised Cheshire Cheese
Best Artisan Hard sponsored by The Cheese Man
Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire for Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire
Best Cheddar sponsored by Harvey & Brockless
Montgomery’s Cheese Company, Montgomery’s Mature Traditional Cheddar
Best Blue sponsored by Homage2Fromage
Long Clawson, Blue Stilton
Best Artisan Soft sponsored by Neals Yard Dairy
Pexenement Dairy, Devils Rock Blue
Recognising Excellence Awards
Also announced on Wednesday were the winners of the Recognising Excellence Awards.
Cheese Hero: Chris Ashby
Chris has dedicated her life to making cheese and helping people around the world to do it. She started work in Stilton and went as a volunteer to Kenya to teach cheesemaking there. She taught at Reaseheath College where she ran courses in cheesemaking in the Milk Marque pilot plant working with Val Bines, taught many specialist cheesemakers the basics, which enabled them to develop their own speciality cheeses.
New Cheesemaker of the Year: Davide Tani, Velo Cheese
A Sardinian native and engineer, David moved to Belfast in 2015. He was so impressed by the quality of the milk and wanted to add to the evolving artisan food culture, so he started making his own Italian-style cheeses at home. He saw a gap in the market and dismantled the family utility room to repurpose it as a cheese lab where he developed mozzarella, burrata, stracciatella and scamorza recipes. Together with Indie Fude, he took on a small unit in late 2021. With just six months of production under his belt, the feedback has been tremendous and consumers in Northern Ireland now have the opportunity to experience fresh mozzarella and burrata.
Young Cheesemaker of the Year: Keir Walker, Nettlebed Creamery
Keir joined Nettlebed Creamery as a cheesemaking assistant a year ago, with no prior experience in the cheesemaking world. Since then, he has shown true dedication and attention to detail and is now responsible for leading the making of one of Nettlebeds’ three cheeses. He has become a vital member of the team who understands completely the importance of the care and attention needed to make great cheese. He is trustworthy and reliable to a fault not only with the make itself but with the affinage that follows. He has the makings of a fantastic cheese maker of the future having shown so much promise in such a short space of time.
Sustainability Trophy: Mark and Jenny Lee from The Torpenhow Farmhouse Dairy
Torpenhow Farmhouse Dairy was set up in 2019 by Jenny and Mark Lee to add value to their organic milk. The cheese is made on the farm employing a local team and selling to a very local market, the cheese and now gelato is sustained by the regenerative farming practices the Lees have adopted. A third-generation farmer, Jenny has driven the farm back to adopting many mixed farming practices her grandfather used in the 1950s to improve the soil and biodiversity on the farm. They are running a 2-year PHD trial looking at the benefits of a calf-on-cow rearing system within the dairy herd. Pasture-reared pigs are fed on whey produced from the cheesemaking, which in turn regenerates the soil to allow the herd a richer let to graze.
Find out more about all the winners by visiting the Virtual Cheese Awards 2023 website.