I love cheese. I love gin as well, but I particularly love cheese. I treated myself recently to the Guarneri Brothers (of London Fromagerie, Androuet) book “A Year in Cheese” which explores the seasonality of cheeses, suggests a cheese plate for each changing season and is illustrated with wonderful, quirky and innovative recipes to make the most of the cheeses (by Alessandro Grand).
The East Midlands produces some wonderful cheeses, as indeed does England, indeed the British Isles is awash with wonderful cheeses and the increase in seasonality, regionality and artisan production means that the choice, variety and quality must surely never have been higher. So I have set myself a challenge, to explore our seasonal cheeses, inspired by the Guarneri Brothers’ book (well, that is my excuse).
So – why seasonal cheeses? Cheese is like wine, there are endless varieties, nuances of flavour, changes with age, the earth the vines are grown in, the type of grape, the weather, the geography and topography, the texture (ok wine is clearly “wet” but you get my drift) and so on. Like wine, the seemingly infinite variety and diversity of cheeses depends on so many local variables, the pastures and the grass-types, the terrain, and the cow, sheep, goat or Buffalo that has provided the milk and, of course, the skill of the cheese maker.
As summer fades and the nights draw in, the days are cooler and the quality and flavour of the pasture begins to diminish. It is traditionally the time when the fresher, “young” cheeses give way to the mature harder cheeses and distinctive earthy flavours that pair so well with sharp Autumn apples, pears, home-made chutneys and the last of the blackberries.
So I am starting my year-long cheese odyssey with a local, award-winning star – Lincolnshire Poacher. This is a hand-made, open-textured, cheddar-like cheese from the eastern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It is made from unpasteurised spring (Holstein) Cow’s milk (also known on the farm as “the girls”), with a cylindrical shape and strong grey/brown rind, it is aged around 14-16 months (there is also a vintage variety, matured up to 24 months). I bought mine from my local Gonalston Farm Shop (thanks to the lovely ladies that helped me with seasonality questions!) – and while I was there I couldn’t resist the 2-year-old Gruyère – but more of that later.
So here is my Lincolnshire Poacher, made with milk from Spring 2014. The tastes are complex and distinctive. I am pretty sure I could recognise a Lincolnshire Poacher on a blind test (that isn’t a challenge). It is nutty, intense and earthy – mushroomy even – and has quite a strong tang to it that lingers in the mouth. I ate enough to give myself “mouth burn” (not for the first time). Alessandro Grand suggests a Parmesan, Cardamom and Lincolnshire Poacher crisp, which looks lovely, but I am going to have what is left of mine, with a nice bottle of something. I can imagine this goes quite well with a sweet wine, but for me, I am cracking open the Cabernet Sauvignon.