“Waxing lyrical”

12 February 2019, 06:45 am
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

On a family holiday to Normandy in 1965, my parents and their adult friends were hugely excited by Livarot and Camembert – seldom seen back home in Hampshire.

While their sophisticated palates savoured such artisan classics, my young chums and I got addicted to – Babybel. It may have been the inherent sweetness, but I think the activity of unwrapping the cheese, stripping back the red wax to reveal supple paste was at least 50% of the appeal.

Small waxed cheeses don’t generally attract the same positive reviews as rind-washed or cloth-wrapped cousins, but from shop owners’ perspective, they can be a massive boon. While cutting and wrapping 200g from a larger truckle can take a couple of minutes, a 200g waxed cheese takes mere seconds to pop in a bag and present with a flourish. Most shops have Godminster or Snowdonia 200gm waxed cheeses in stock and they have won a place in consumers’ hearts, creating strong, recognisable brands in the process.

Large cheeses, such as Parlick Fell or Curworthy, seem to benefit from moisture retained in the paste as a result of the wax exterior, and when cut, the coloured wax makes a pleasing colour contrast when displayed in the counter. Somewhat irritatingly, when cut with a cheese wire, wax finds a way of secreting themselves until the next cut leaving scarlet, burgundy, green or black traces. Diligent cleaning of the wire after each cut is essential!

Waxed cheeses make excellent gifts, and in my small seaside cheesemonger we sold lots of them to people who might otherwise have taken sticks of rock back home for their friends and neighbours.

We did this by branding them as our own, with local place names and “Lyme Regis’ blazoned prominently on the top stickers (produced on a printer in the shop, although a more professional look could be achieved via a commercial label firm). We had lots of fun with special editions to celebrate events and got national coverage for some of them – particularly a Royal Wedding duo.

Through Ford Farm we acquired flat 900g black waxed Cheddars on which we placed replica 45rpm record labels, earning us coverage on both BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music. A cricket ball-coloured cheese also got us onto Radio 4’s Test Match Special!

A nearby dairy farm has specialised in creating the innovative Black Cow vodka from the whey by-product of cheese manufacture and a few years ago launched their own black waxed cheese of the same name. This is a brand extension that makes perfect sense and which has captured a lot of attention from chefs, who like pairing it with the vodka as a premium alternative to a predictable cheese board.

I can’t generalise about the flavour of waxed cheeses – even the Cheddars – and lovers of a clothwrapped Montgomery, Westcombe or Keen’s are unlikely to be fans. But waxed cheeses have a legion of followers and it’s vital that our staff know more about them than the writing on the label.

I believe that cheese counter staff should taste everything that they stock, and waxed cheeses are no exception.

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