Saturday, January 24, 2009

Across the Pond at the Cheese School - Cheeses of the British Isles

Alex, Cass and I were back at the Cheese School of San Francisco last night, this time with our friend, Yutaka, in tow. Last night's program, "Cheeses of the British Isles," was taught by Judy Creighton, one of the School's regular instructors (with whom we had previously taken the School's "Primer" class). We had enjoyed Judy's prior program and the description of the course sounded interesting:

"Conventional wisdom says don’t look to the British Isles for delicious native foods. But conventional wisdom gets turned on its head in the case of cheese and dairy goods. Cheddar originated in England – and was certainly raised to a high art there. And clotted cream? To die for! From the whimsical (Stinking Bishop and Wensleydale) to the inspirational (the UK has been at the forefront of the farmstead revival movement), this tasting trip to the British Isles will surprise, inform and delight any cheese lover."

Although as previously reported, we have been to several classes at the School, this was the first we had attended which had any focus on British cheeses.

The School is such a pleasant spot to go in the evening and we were warmly welcomed by the Schools staff, Sara and Abby, and also Rebecca who recently joined the School after a stint at Cowgirl Creamery. While we were waiting for the class to start we were served some
Magners Irish Cider which, together with Newcastle Brown Ale, was the accompaniment for the evening's cheeses.

Yutaka in the "Classroom"

Judy started out with an overview of some of the factors that have shaped the current state of cheese production in the British Isles, including the industrial revolution and the two World Wars that resulted in industrialization of cheese making and the loss of higher quality and small-scale artisanal production. However, through the efforts of various individuals and companies - including notably Neal's Yard Dairy (which, among other things, has an excellent website) - farmhouse production of traditional as well as some interesting modern cheeses has revived.

Judy had arranged a selection of 9 cheeses for the evening with representatives from England, Scotland and Ireland. We enjoyed the following (in each case showing the cheese's name, the producer, the production location and milk type):

1. Appleby’s Cheshire Appleby’s of Hawkstone (Hawkstone Abbey Farm) – England (Shropshire) – Cow (raw) -- a "crumbly" cheese

Coolea - Coolea Farmhouse Cheese – Ireland (County Cork) – Cow (pasteurized)

Isle of Mull Cheddar – Isle of Mull Cheese (Sgriob-Ruadh Farm) – Scotland (Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides) – Cow (raw)

Montgomery’s Cheddar – Manor Farm – England (Somerset) – Cow (raw)

Berkswell – Ram Hall Farm – England (West Midlands) – Sheep (raw)

Ardrahan – Mary Burns – Ireland (County Cork) – Cow (pasteurized) - washed rind

Stinking Bishop - Charles Martell and Son (Laurel Farm) – England (Gloucestershire) – Cow (pasteurized) - washed rind

Crozier Blue - J & L Grubb Ltd. – Ireland (County Tipperary) – Sheep (pasteurized)

Colston Basset Stilton Colston Basset & District Dairy – England (Nottinghamshire) – Cow (pasteurized)

Here is a photo of the 9 cheeses we tried last night, together with a map of the British Isles showing the location of their production:

Of the cheese we tried, my favorites (reflecting my sheep milk preference) were the Berkswell and the Crozier Blue. Alex picked the Montgomery's Cheddar and Coolea as his top two and Cass picked the Montgomery's Cheddar and Crozier Blue as her top two.

Incidentally, while the Stinking Bishop cheese is a washed rind cheese and certainly pungent as a result (too much for poor Alex), its name does not derive from its aroma. Rather, it takes its name from a variety of pear which is used to produce a beverage named "perry" which is used as the washing solution for the cheese. The cheese also gained recognition when it appeared in the animated movie, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)," where it is used by Gromit to revive an unconscious Wallace -- happily no such medical application was required last night. There is a very entertaining interview from 2005 with Charles Martell, the cheesemaker, which can be found on NPR.

In addition, here is a very nice post from the FX Cuisine blog reporting on a visit to the Montgomery's Cheddar dairy which has some excellent photos of the cheddar-making process.

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