Westcountry Cheesemakers say Sack the Stilton
PUBLISHED: 17:22 24 October 2007 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013
The British Christmas cheeseboard is as predictable as stockings, satsumas and socks. So why not add a little sparkle to your yuletide cheese selection and send a little festive cheer to our region's fantastic cheesemakers? The region is home to a...
Choosing and tasting cheeses
Most good delis will let you 'try before you buy' so if you want to get the most from your nibble here are a few tips to help you sum up quickly whether a cheese works for you.
* Look at the cheese - is it inviting?
* Touch it, break it, smell it - texture and aroma are important factors
* Put a piece in your mouth, chew it and press it against the roof of your mouth. What can you taste? How does it feel? Does the taste have different facets?
* Swallow and think what's left behind? Does it have a lingering and complex flavour?
Why not give a cheesy gift?
There's always someone difficult to buy for. What could be more unusual than unwrapping a wedge of the finest West Country Farmhouse Cheddar or a wheel of Devon brie? So nip down to your local deli or cheese counter and put together your own selection. It would certainly beat another pair of socks.
A good deli will usually wrap the cheese in pretty, old-fashioned paper that needs little titivating. Pop the cheese into a traditional wicker hamper or a nice old wine crate, add a bottle of decent plonk and perhaps some trucklements and biscuits too. You could even give a selection of West Country Farmhouse cheeses. They can all be ordered online through the West Country Cheesemakers' website: www.farmhousecheesemakers.com
Parkham Mature West Country Farmhouse Cheddar
(hard, cows' milk, medium)
Parkham Farm is close to the sea on the North Devon coast, where the Willes family make authentic West Country Farmhouse Cheddar with milk from their own and their neighbours' cows. Parkham's Cheddar (like all real West Country Farmhouse Cheddars) is made by hand using a traditional recipe, producing a cheese with a distinctive creamy flavour and texture. It's available in Waitrose under the West Country brand. (01237 431 246 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keens' Unpasteurised Extra-mature West Country Farmhouse Cheddar
(hard, cows' milk, strong)
All Cheddars are not the same. Because West Country Farmhouse Cheddars have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and are handmade, each farm produces a cheese with a character all its own. Cheddar has been made by the Keens family at Moorhayes Farm since 1899. The Keens use milk from their own Friesian cows to make this flavourful, rich cheese. The cloth-bound cheeses mature for more than 12 months in the farm store. They are regularly turned, cleaned and sampled to ensure that each one acquires the characteristic robust but subtle nutty flavour which has real appeal for fans of stronger cheese. Available in Waitrose under the West Country label. (01963 32286; e-mail: email@example.com
(semi-soft cows' milk, medium strong)
A semi-soft blue-veined cheese with a buttery taste, its texture and flavour come from rich Jersey cows' milk with herbal undertones. The blue is just strong enough to give a little tang without overwhelming the subtle background flavours.
The home of Exmoor Blue is an old stone dairy that lies in a lush valley on the eastern fringe of the Exmoor National Park. Ian and Ruby Arnett maintain a hands-on approach to cheesemaking, using only traditional methods. Exmoor Blue is a real Devon treasure and something a little different for dinner guests who appreciate a blue cheese. Available in many delis and good food stores. (01984 667328
(soft, white-rind cows' milk, mild)
The Sharpham dairy is based at the Sharpham estate near Totnes. Debbie Mumford has been making Sharpham by hand to her own recipe since 1980 from fresh Jersey milk, which creates a rich golden curd. Sharpham is a mould-ripened 'Brie'-style cheese with a unique flavour and creamy texture which makes the most of Devon's great milk-producing pastures. Widely available from good delis and the estate shop. (01803 732600; www.sharpham.com
(soft, washed-curd ewes' milk, medium)
The newest creation from Tamaracott Cheeses, Boyton is quite tangy and 'lemony' but has a creamy, lingering aftertaste. It has a firm texture with small holes typical of a washed-curd cheese. Although it has a naturally moulded rind, the rind is scrubbed prior to sale to reveal an orangey hue and interesting pattern which will add colour to your cheeseboard.
Milk is sourced from a neighbouring flock of Friesland ewes and turned into Boyton by the family-run business in a converted barn overlooking the River Tamar. Available from Bideford Farmers' Market, Market Cheeses, Holsworthy and the Cheese Shop, Barnstaple. (01409 271439 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
You could also visit www.TheCheeseShed.com.
Good cheeses are best stored in a cool, damp environment. Keep it in the warmest part of the fridge (usually the top shelf unless it has a freezer compartment, in which case use the salad drawer at the bottom) - if it's kept too cold the cheese will lose flavour. Cheese that becomes too dry will start to crack and wither, so keep well wrapped.
To enjoy them at their best, remove hard cheeses from the fridge and stand at room temperature for at least an hour before serving to allow the full range of flavours to develop. Serve softer cheeses straight from the fridge.