“Don’t disrespect the Cheddar”

25 September 2019, 10:45 am
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

Recently an old friend, now resident in France, forwarded a local newspaper piece to me (thankfully in English), that told the sorry tale of a Michelin-starred chef who had asked to be removed from the Michelin Guide because they’d accused him of putting Cheddar in his soufflé.

My initial reaction was of outrage that he could disrespect that most British of cheeses, and furthermore, that as he could still boast a two-star rating, he was overreacting somewhat. I believe Cheddar to be one of our most under-recognised cheeses, as even in this country most people’s experience is of indistinctive mild block Cheddar, with none of the complexities of a cloth-wrapped trad. At its peak, such Cheddar can hold its head high in the company of any of the wonderful cheeses from around the world.

Another friend had briefly worked with the chef, Marc Veyrat at his La Maison des Bois in the Alps (near Annecy), and commented that he had always been volatile, but an outstanding chef. My initial disgruntlement over, I looked more deeply at Veyrat’s statement. He said that he’d suffered a six-month long depression as a result of the judge’s comments; his region had been insulted and his employees were furious. His soufflé was made using classic local cheeses: Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme. My attitude began to shift – I’d made a name for my shop by championing local cheeses, and had a reviewer claimed that my Dorset Blue Vinny actually came from North Korea, well, I’d be livid!

I visit a fair number of restaurants and pubs each year as a judge for an awards scheme, and always note and respond positively to local sourcing. Of course, it has to be of the finest quality, but even in large cities, that need not pose a problem, and a growing number of diners are prepared to pay a premium for the use of such ingredients. Many food connoisseurs are provenance geeks; excessive food miles are frowned upon and with import tariffs possibly waiting in the wings, not to mention uncertain exchange rates, great local produce makes ever more sense.

Fine dining establishments in this country now recognise the great quality and variety of British cheeses that they can offer their guests. I love travelling and seeing what small artisan producers get up to in other regions. The British cheese world is constantly changing – new entrants experimenting with different recipes on the milks from their particular geography to create new and exciting tastes. Consequently, I’m disappointed if I see a predominantly French cheeseboard at a ‘modern British’ restaurant. So, I think I’ll cut Marc Veyrat some slack and respect his desire to be recognised as using ingredients that celebrate his terroir. Get well soon, Marc – I’d love to taste your local cheese soufflé. I’d also be fascinated to see what you could do with Cheddar.

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