Every winter, I think of snow. I’m a chionophile, someone who loves the cold, but it’s been a few years since I went to France or Italy in search of the crystalline air and the soft, sparkling drifts in which my children threw themselves. I was never for skiing but for walking, snowshoes – like small tennis rackets – strapped to my feet. And, of course, the cheese.
I discovered several of my favorites – Beaufort, Vacherin and Reblochon – at a hotel facing Mont Blanc that offered a two-tiered cheese trolley at dinner every night. But this year, I am thinking of British and Irish cheeses. So much happened to them that I wanted to catch up.
Over the centuries, the quality of British cheese has had its ups and downs. The 15th century, according to Ned Palmer in his book A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles, was a golden age. Parmesan-type hard cheeses – good enough to impress the Italians – were sold overseas through the wool trade.
Much later, industrialization took its toll, then there was World War II and rationing. For decades after the war, British cheeses had a bad reputation compared to those of France and Italy, but the 1980s brought a real flowering.
Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden originally sold whole foods, but after a few years, in 1979, a cheese shop run by visionary Randolph Hodgson was added. Hodgson discovered that there wasn’t much cheese for sale, so he traveled all over the UK and Ireland trying to find farmhouse cheeses. It was a labor of love, and it shows what love can do; now there are 700 British cheeses.
A month ago I ordered British and Irish cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy and The Courtyard Dairy in Yorkshire. Unwrapping wedges, sniffing and sampling, I couldn’t believe what I had missed, and used some new favorites in today’s dishes.
Killeen Goat’s Cheese, made in County Galway, is a floral, nutty, sweet Gouda-style cheese with a light goat’s milk flavor. Now that I’ve found it, I won’t let go.
I wasted years not eating Old Winchester, a bold big cheese from Wiltshire that’s a cross between cheddar, parmesan and gouda. My family fought for the last piece.
Winslade is a wonderful Vacherin/Camembert cross made in Hampshire and can be cooked, just like Vacherin, to create your own mini fondue.
If you want to go on an adventure with British and Irish cheeses, get A Cheesemonger’s Compendium of British & Irish Cheese, also by Ned Palmer. This pushed my beloved copy of French Cheeses: The Visual Guide… on the side. My British cheese journey has begun.
If you’re looking to get adventurous with your cheese choices, take a look at the following recipes.
The best recipes with cheese
Baked Winslade cheese with charcuterie and pickles
Winslade is like Vacherin, in that you can cook it until soft and runny, then scoop out the hot insides with a spoon or dip small potatoes in it. Accompanied by charcuterie and pickles, it will transport you to a snowy place.
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This notice was published: 2022-03-20 10:50:10