Part 2 – What we nearly lost

Alexander our Farmshop Buyer, has a huge passion and love of cheese. Here is part two of “Personal Reflections of a humble Cheesemonger” we hope you are enjoying the read.

Part 2 – What we nearly lost 

Written by Alexander Evans our Farmshop Buyer 

What we nearly lost

What Major Rance should be most remembered for, was his advocacy of cheese made with unpasteurised milk, at a time when there was pressure from larger dairies and supermarkets to have the practice banned. There had been a case of Listeria traced to Stilton cheese made at the only dairy still to use unpasteurised milk and such was the public pressure upon them that the dairy switched to pasteurising their milk shortly after. His assertion that so much heritage, taste, texture and wonder would be lost by the standardisation of cheese finally won the day. From memory, it was at this time that the Guild of a Fine Food Retailers was formed, to fight the call to pasteurised cheese and to give voice to specialist shops.

When milk makes you dance a jig

A few years back, I took some of the team from our Tebay Services Farmshop to see some of our producers. We had a fantastic day, travelling north into Northumberland, visiting Heatherslaw Flour mill, then onto Doddington Dairy.  At Wooler, the Maxwell family make the most of their wonderful milk: Neil and his wife make a fantastic Newcastle Brown Ale ice cream, whilst in the cheese room , Margaret Anne lovingly hand ladles the delicate curds of  raw, warm, rich milk into colanders. This is the beginning of a process that results in a range of cheeses, my favourite of which is the Berwick Edge, a robust looking mature, Gouda like cheese.

Flog it!

The January Harrods Sale always passed us by in the Food Halls. Life for us carried on whilst in the rest of the store, people went mad for a bargain. Mr Taylor decided he wanted some of the action and the first ever cheese sale was born. All the Stilton pots that we hadn’t sold were brought to the shop floor and a Harrods hand painted Sale card was displayed. Several dozen whole Stilton and even more bay ones were halved or chopped up and offered to the people rushing buy. The cheese Sale was a huge success and grew bigger each year: pallets of bries, Dolcelatte, Bel Pase & Cambazola, whole 260 lb wheels of Emmental, were sold over each 10 day Sale. It was great fun, like the East End had come to Knightsbridge: people packed the counters looking for bargain cheese and as the temperature in the Hall grew with the crowds, the Brie flowed, the Stilton softened and the Emmental sweated. Brilliant.

The horror of Lymeswold Cheese

1980 was a great year: I stared in the cheese department at Harrods and Cambazola was launched to the great British public. Apart from Brie de Meaux and Camembert, our most popular Continental cheeses were the new kids on the block: Chaumes saint Albray, Vignote and Cambazola by the case; we would sell at least six whole wheels a day, often twice as much. It was so successful that our own Milk Marketing Board thought that they should create their own modern British blue to combat this devilish Jonny foreigner. The result was the most disgusting cheese know to man. We were given loads of stock to sample but we were too embarrassed to sell it. Instead of a large plump blue Brie, with buttery, golden paste, Lymeswold was small, thin and grey. It was akin to a seven stones encounter with Charles Atlas. We soon dubbed it Slimeswold and we didn’t mourn its passing. I think that it must have been made by committee rather than a person with a love for cheese. Thirty years on and there is an embarrassment of brilliant modern British blues. The first I remember was Judith Bell’s Yorkshire Blue. I had just moved up to Penrith to run James and John Graham which had, and still has, an extensive cheese counter. I was invited to join the Northern group of the Guild of Fine Food Retailers on their outing to visit Shepherds Purse at Thirsk. I remember looking at her wall planner and seeing a visit pencilled in from one of the supermarket chains. My most favourite British blue has also the best name: Barkham Blue from the Two Hoots Dairy. The making of this cheese coincided with the opening of our Farm Shops. Firstly, I love the shape; the cheese is shaped by the sieve-like mould the curds are drained in, making a crusty rinded cheese the size and shape of a   cheese. When cut, the rich, golden blue paste is revealed, like sun bursting through grey clouds. We very often run out of this wonderful cheese because production is limited, but the best things are worth waiting for.

Part three coming Thursday…


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