I’m looking forward to the Great British Cheddar Challenge. Designed by inspirational restauranteur and cheese retailer James Grant of 2 Pound St, it’s putting 6 of the classic clothbound small batch cheeses up against each other in a blind tasting. This will be judged by some amazing cheese industry gurus at the astounding Slow Food Event CHEESE where half a million Italians and the world’s cheeserati meet up to taste and discover some of the world’s wonderful cheeses over the weekend 15th to 18th September at the little Italian hill town of Bra. The best cheese parties all in one place!
The blind tasting will be hosted at the Slow Food base in Bra. The judges are Marcus Brigstocke, comedian and cheese judge, Hubert The Cheese Concierge from America, and Shane Holland, Slow Food lead in the UK.
British Clothbound cheddar is one of the ultimate slow foods. It’s hidden in plain sight. Everyone all over the world knows cheddar. Cheddar is Britain’s favourite cheese. And clothbound small batch handmade rinded cheddar makes up less than 1% of cheddar, so that as a nation we are forgetting what authentic cheddar is. Our most common complaint will be someone who has bought a piece of our cheese and they’ve eaten the rind not expecting it. People find hand made cheddar expensive compared to industrial versions.They don’t realise the work that goes into making handmade cheese with all its taste of place and uniqueness with the milk of just one farm, hand cheddared and clothbound. All of that gives complex, savoury cheeses with a more brittle texture that release flavour in layers. Increasingly industrial (made in a plastic bag by machines and computers) cheddars are made using Swiss starters that give a sweet candy note, a flavour that is simple and one-hit, and very little conversation with the place that they are made.
Handmade Cheddar makers don’t help themselves. If we were Parmesan or Comte makers, we would all have agreed a protocol of who is in and who is out, rule that with a rod of iron and shout about what we do to the world. There is no designation that all those who make these wonderful cheeses can agree on. Should it be raw milk? What about most of us in areas where bovine TB is rife? Should you use lard as a primary coating (what about vegetarians and those with a religious dislike of lard? Deal with cheese mite, that corollary of natural rind with plasticoat? I tried to bring a group of us together several years ago, and it was like herding cats. Put it down to Anglo-Saxon independence or bloody-mindedness, a desire to do it my way rather than subsume into a group and lose any self determination even if that means that as a group we do less well.
We’ve just gained the Product of Designated Origin (PDO) accreditation for our cheddar. In the past I have been a holdout, not made my way. And I can hardly complain about the non-joining nature of cheddar makers if I don’t join the accreditation we do have. Westcountry Farmhouse Cheddar defines that our cheese is made in the 4 SW counties of England, is hand cheddared, is made in a specific way, with some milk from the farm, and with a characteristic flavour. So I’m delighted to announce we have now achieved PDO accreditation for our cheese.
It’s wonderful that James Grant, celebrating the restoration of his palate after a devastating year of not tasting after a diagnosis of neck cancer, is choosing to celebrate one of most distinguished and easily overlooked British foods.
Slow Food celebrates food that are endangered in the race to industrialise our food system. It celebrates foods that are good to eat, clean for the environment, and fair to all participants in the food system. It finds the middle path between gastronomy, which can be self-indulgent and elitist, and ecological concerns, which can be hair-shirted and give boring or highly processed foods, and instead celebrates eco-gastronomy: great food, mindful of the environment. It’s lovely that Shane Holland, UK guardian of those commitments, chooses to highlight handmade clothbound cheddar.
And a big part of the Great British Cheddar Challenge is the ‘People’s Choice’. You will be able to order the set of 6 cheeses from participating retailers and they will arrive anonymised in time for the online final screened from Bra. Marcus Brigstocke will host each of the cheesemakers as they tell us about what they do and he’ll ask them questions. Then the cheeses will be judged while you are tasting the cheeses at home (already around 1000 people have signed up for the tasting boxes, 6 x 100-150g of glorious handmade cheddars, in all their myriad differences). The judges will come to their favourite, and so will you at home, and we’ll find out who tickles the judges and your palates most.
For details of participating cheeses and how to order your tasting box, and to get your link to take part in the judging, please visit No 2 Pound Street's website (https://2poundstreet.com