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Tried and tested: British cheeses

January 29, 2011

The Telegraph

By Rose Prince 2:38PM GMT 28 Jan 2011

1 Comment

It makes sense that the milk from a grass-fed cow is a healthier food. Give an animal the diet it has evolved to eat and it will be healthy; and healthy animals surely yield healthy food. But the debate rumbles on all the same.

While scientists endlessly dispute the balance of essential fatty acids in both grass-fed, organic and conventionally concentrate- fed cattle. I just carry on eating the cheeses I love, regardless of how wholesome they are deemed to be.

And I have been eating a lot of cheese recently. Melting slabs of it and eating it on toast with clear runny honey flavoured with herbs; or crumbled into salads of winter endives, with thin slices of apple. I grate the hardest cheeses over bowls of broth with vegetables and small pasta shapes, or pare thin rashers of cheese using a hot knife, raclette-style, and eat with crisp pancetta on bread.

There’s a strong Continental bent to my cheese-eating habits. I grew up eating French cheeses – gruyère with its uncompromisingly smooth texture, Comté-style cheeses studded with bubbles; semi-soft creamy cheeses with orchard flavours made in the foothills of the Alps; and fresh cheeses with bloomy rind, whose innards ran all over the cheese board.

When the British and Irish artisan cheese-making revival took off, no one could have been more pleased than I, but privately I hoped the reawakening would include some Continental taste-alikes. It did, though it must be said that the many modern British cheeses that have been created in this time are equally welcome.

I have been eating a lot of Coolea cheese recently. This is a cheese from County Cork that has been consistently delicious since Dick and Sinead Willems began making it as a hobby in 1979.

I visited the dairy about five years ago and was surprised to find a cheese that brought back memories of the best-pressed European cheeses. Small bubbles dot the smooth, firm interior of Coolea. The flavour conjures delicious tones of walnuts and cream.

This is my favourite cheese to shave over hot dishes of sautéed cauliflower or purple sprouting broccoli (though another Cork cheese, St Gall, comes close).

These days, Coolea is made by the Willems’s son, Dicky, and London importer Randolph Hodgson is full of praise even 30 years after it hit our shores.

Hodgson has also had a hand in another cheese: one which evokes skiing holidays. The search for a characterful British melting cheese has ended with Ogleshield; a buttery raclette taste-alike that turns to a fragrant runny cream when hot.

Ogleshield is made by Jamie Montgomery, who also makes an outstanding cheddar at his Somerset dairy. Ogleshield is made with milk from Jersey cows, hence its beautiful buttercup colour. It is a washed rind cheese (the method developed by Hodgson and his colleague William Oglethorpe) and the flavour of the semi-soft inner curd has a heady, fruity power as a result. It is still a lovely cheese when eaten cold, too.

With the Valentine’s fest approaching, the makers of Cornish Yarg have made a heart-shaped version. Yarg is a modern British cheese made by the Mead family, but reminds me of the triple cream cheeses of France with their bloomy outer rind and combination of creaminess and crumbliness inside.

Matured in a wrapping of nettles, the flavour of this cheese rings with fresh herb notes, hand-churned West Country butter and lemon. Ben Mead is dedicated to feeding his cows a natural diet, and has carried out a Nuffield Scholarship-funded study into the health benefits of natural grass feeding on both cows and their milk.

The result is no surprise – it’s better for you. But we always knew that.

Yes, you on that side of the Atlantic have better cheeses, and more of them to select from, than I have access to.  Rub it in.


From → Food

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