Ian Wellens of The Cheese Shed talks Devon Cheeses
PUBLISHED: 17:35 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013
Taste your way through an all the Devon Cheeses this Christmas with Ian Wellens
We can't put this off any longer. It's time to tackle the key problem posed by the imminence of the Festive Season. No, not the traditional v real tree debate, or whether you dare seat Auntie Vi next to Grandma (after last year). No, I'm talking about a subject which is, of course, far more important. I'm talking about cheese.
The thing is, there's just too much to choose from: all the traditional cheeses from home and abroad, plus a stack of great new British cheeses. So here's my solution: go local with an all-Devon cheeseboard. Stunning examples of all the main cheese types are made right here on your doorstep. Here at TheCheeseShed.com we're busy telling people all over the country about Westcountry cheese, and even selling them a kilo or two. But we find that even locals aren't always totally aware of the range and quality on offer.
So, let's start at the very beginning... by talking Cheddar. It's the Westcountry's great contribution to world cheeses, and we're blessed with one of its premier makers in Mary Quicke of Newton St Cyres. Quicke's Cheddar has quite rightly won more awards than you can shake a stick at, and is available in a strength to suit everyone, from Mild right up to the 24-month-matured Vintage (not to mention the smoked version). Top Cheddar to be sure. Incidentally, why wasn't there any cheese in Maria's list of Favourite Things?
For an alternative, lighter-tasting cows' milk cheese we can turn to North Devon's Rachel Stephens, one of the best pioneers of the great revival in artisan cheesemaking that we've seen over the last 25 years. Rachel makes Curworthy and its more mature sibling Devon Oke, along with several flavoured versions like Meldon (mustard and ale) and Chipple (spring onions).
You'll want a brie, and here we have another winner. The dairy at Sharpham on the River Dart pioneered brie-style, 'mould-ripened' cheeses in this country and their eponymous cheese is a superb example. And if that's not luxurious enough, try Elmhirst, a double-cream-enriched cheese which is truly the last word in luxury. My favourite, however, is their firmer cheese, the creamy and gorgeous Sharpham Rustic.
Another type of cheese that's associated with France is the group known as 'washed rind' cheeses (Pont L'Eveque and Vacherin are examples). They tend to have a springy, semi-soft texture, a sticky rind, and are - ahem - pungent. Last Christmas there was no washed rind cheese made in Devon. But, I'm happy to say that now there is. Called Buckland, this great little organic cheese is produced up near Ilfracombe and is definitely worth seeking out. Speaking of organic cheese, Bryony Copsey of Ridgewell Farm near Tiverton is forging ahead with an organic soft cheese (Ridgewell) and Devon Belle,
a new semi-soft based on an Italian recipe.
Mustn't leave out goats' cheese, increasingly popular despite what, to my mind, is a rather bizarre lingering prejudice. People tell me they're against it on the grounds that it 'tastes goaty'. Now, let's be honest, it is true that goats' cheese tastes like goats' cheese, but that doesn't seem entirely unreasonable! For the enlightened, both Quicke's and Sharpham make excellent hard goats' cheese, and Dave Johnson is a goats' cheese specialist whose Norsworthy Dairy has an ever-expanding list, including the excellent Gunstone. Cheeseboard variety, however, might demand Oakdown. Made by Max Pilar and his happy free-range goats in the Teign Valley, this is a super-soft, fresh cheese that just melts in your mouth. Equally nice in its plain, or garlic-and-herb- flavoured versions.
But what's that lumbering towards us? Ah yes, the proverbial elephant in the room. You know, the thing that's blindingly obvious but no one dares to mention. And this pachyderm is distinctly Stilton-shaped. Because you have to have Stilton at Christmas, don't you? Well, no! Not when there's Robin Congdon at Ticklemore Dairy turning out some of the best blue cheese you'll find anywhere. Robin makes a trio of great blues: Devon Blue (cows' milk), Beenleigh (ewes') and Harbourne (goats'). When The Cheese Shed was featured on Gary Rhodes' Local Food Hero show last year, we sent a box of cheeses for Gary and co-host Michael Caines to try. What did they pick out? Beenleigh Blue. But Ticklemore's blues are all lovely! Try any one of them and suddenly Stilton won't seem quite so essential.
Ian Wellens is owner of The Cheese Shed, 01626 836762 or visit www.thecheeseshed.com