Rennet & Rind from Cambridge was crowned Affineur of the Year on Wednesday 27 April, following a live judging and tasting event held at the China Exchange in London. This trophy announcement marks the close of the first ever edition of the competition, which was founded by us and the Academy Of Cheese to celebrate the underappreciated art of maturing cheese.
Pictured below Mary Quicke, Perry James Wakeman and Patrick Spinazza.
The winning truckle was aged in Rennet & Rind’s maturing rooms by head of cheese, Perry James Wakeman, a Certified MonS Affineur, who worked and studied under the highly respected Hervé Mons, Meilleur Ouvrier de France. As specialists in selecting, ageing and grading British artisan cheese, Rennet & Rind used the opportunity to push the boundaries of cheddar maturation, taking meticulous measurements as they experimented with temperature and humidity levels, while the cheese also benefited from the unique microflora within the shop’s maturing room.
The end result was praised for its grassy and buttery aroma, following through to grassy butter notes, spikes of cheddar tang and deep savoury notes on the palate. Big, bold and beautifully balanced, the winning cheese also delivered a long and satisfying finish. London’s Neal's Yard Dairy was awarded runner-up, taking both second and third place with its two separate entries.
Perry James Wakeman, head of cheese at Rennet & Rind, commented: “I’m almost speechless. There’s so much hard work, graft and effort that goes into maturing cheese, but you don’t often get much in the way of recognition, aside from the odd great review from a customer. So for my peers and so many wonderful people from within the cheese community to recognise a cheese that I’ve worked hard on feels really good. I named the winning truckle Priscilla, so I look forward to making more Priscillas with Mary Quicke very soon!”
Tracey Colley, director of the Academy of Cheese, commented: “We’re delighted to have delivered the UK’s first ever affinage competition and couldn’t have hoped for a better winner. Maturing and refining cheese is at the heart of Rennet & Rind’s business and I know Perry put his all into the contest! Better still, the event delivered 10 remarkably different cheeses that had all started from the same batch at Quicke’s, which we hope will begin to shine a spotlight on the incredible work being done by Britain’s affineurs in the cool quiet of their maturing rooms.”
Mary Quicke MBE explains: “I’d like to thank all of the competitors for making the first ever Affineur of the Year possible! It’s a huge honour for us to have provided the ‘base cheese’ for this wonderful experiment and I was blown away by what these incredible cheese minds have produced. Every single truckle was interesting, unique and technically excellent and we had some really out there entries among them. We’ll be taking so much inspiration and learning back to Home Farm. I hope this is just the beginning for Affineur of the Year, as there’s so much fun we can have with softs, blues, goats and everything in between!”
This brand new experiment in cheese aging began in May 2021, when 10 3-month old 27kg truckles of our cheddar arrived in maturing rooms across the country. While seeking to bring out the best of the milk from our lush pastures, the competitors have brought their decades of experience to bear on each truckle, using a combination of science and artistry.
The unique microflora of each maturing room was a key factor for many, including Paxton & Whitfield, with its Jermyn Street cellar filled with cheeses from the Savoie, Jura and Belgium, and Buchanans Cheesemonger, where the cheese was moved periodically to help manage the fluctuating temperature if its maturing room. At No2 Pound Street in Buckinghamshire, owner James Grant even took his truckle out for an occasional walk.
Others went even further to bring out new textures and flavour profiles, including Brindisa, who employed the Spanish Mahon-style aging technique, rubbing its truckle in olive oil and paprika to create a new rind. Lincolnshire Poacher stripped the cloth bandages from one of the cheddars and replaced it with the ‘platiscoat’ which is used to mature Lincolnshire Poacher, while Rennet & Rind, Neal's Yard Dairy and Heritage Cheese all decided to push the boundaries of temperature and humidity.
These diverse approaches produced a truly remarkable line-up of truckles for the Affineur of the Year judges, who included Noemie Richard from Savencia, Ruth Raskin from The Fine Cheese Co., cheese writer and journalist, Patrick McGuigan, Matt Abé, co-chef patron at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, baker and author, Martha Collison and Jon Lilley, development chef at Lexington Catering.
The panel judged each entry on sensory characteristics like flavour, aroma, texture and appearance, as well as aspects such as innovation and cheese structure, before crowning the first ever Affineur of the Year.