20 Jul The Cheese Shed
I’ve loved cheese for as long as I can remember. In the early days Cheddar featured heavily while cheese strings made an occasional appearance. Further into my first decade I was fortunate to go on Eurostar trips with my aunt and uncle to Paris, Brussels, Brugges, Antwerp, Luxembourg. Many a meal culminated in a carefully curated display of exquisite cheese. Suddenly I discovered a whole new world to explore.
On tour it’s highly likely that you’ll find me rummaging amongst supermarket shelves, pouring over food labels with google translate. Some of last year’s hauls included Gruyère from Lucerne’s beautiful farmers market, an Austrian goat’s cheese coated in dried thyme and in Madrid, an award winning sheep’s cheese with truffle. I always travel with empty tupperwares (a family trait) so these goodies get home unscathed and without stinking out the suitcase. When I’m at home I usually don’t search too far from the supermarket for everyday cheese. The largest store near us has a good selection so it’s super convenient. During quarantine however, I’ve been thinking more about where my money is going and wanting to support more independent businesses. Often these smaller retailers promote local produce which is great for the community. On many levels it’s so beneficial to understand where your food is coming from as well as the dedication and hard work producers put into it.
I first heard of The Cheese Shed when I was gifted a box for my birthday. Founded in 2006 by Ian Wellens and James Mann, their dream was to sell artisan cheese made in the West Country. Just like you might find in traditional shops on the continent, they wanted to promote what was being made specifically in their local area/surroundings. Now they have over a hundred varieties and an Observer Food Monthly award for Best Independent Retailer.
At the moment their delivery service is exclusively online, perfectly placed for the current situation where we aren’t physically going to shop as much as we used to. I like how much thought they put into each order so that you can enjoy your cheese to the fullest. In the box you receive specific information about your purchases, a newsletter with updates, new and seasonal items plus a handy guide to cheese care (storage, wrapping, serving). All safely nestled in recyclable padding and a cool pack for freshness.
The website is simple to use. Products are split into cheese and ‘not cheese’, accompaniments like chutneys, biscuits, fruit cake, cider, wine, the list goes on. On the dairy front they have been arranged in a similarly quirky but user friendly manner. Cheddar, not cheddar, soft, blue, ewe & buffalo and goat. On both occasions I opted for the latter as I tend towards eating less cows dairy which helps my gut. The kaleidoscope of flavours in goats cheeses rivals that of other milks and is much more than just a partner for caramelised onion pizza (not that I’m knocking that, it is a classic). The first three in the list below were excellent choices made for my birthday present. On the back of that I made an order myself, particularly energised by the thought of trying my first blue goats cheese. I didn’t realise that existed! Each of these has a unique flavour, all delicious in their own right.
Norsworthy (250g, £6.75) – I have to start with Norsworthy because it has the most brilliant name, very satisfying to say. Norsworthy. Its flavour is fresh and mild with a smooth creamy texture. My information tells me if it ripens longer the texture becomes more crumbly – it didn’t last that long in my fridge. Goes very well with fig preserve.
Quickes’ traditional hard goats cheese (250g, £9.04) – A nutty, deep flavour and warm golden hue develop during its six to seven month maturation process. The Quickes team are experts in cheddar making and channel that knowledge into the creation of this goats cheese. I imagine it’s like the result of spiking cheddar with parmesan. Especially enjoyable cut thinly on toast, crackers or slices of apple.
Ford Farm cave aged goats cheese (250g, £5.78) – As the only cave aged goats cheese in the UK it’s one to treasure. After being crafted in Ford Farm’s Dorset home the cheeses travel across to Somerset to a place with another superb name – Wookey Hole Caves. Another cheddar style cheese, the maturing process is not dissimilar to what you would find up the road in Cheddar Gorge. Slightly crumbly in texture, wonderfully savoury.
Harbourne Blue (250g, £7.88) – The highly anticipated blue goats cheese, a first for me. Robin Congdon at Ticklemore Cheese first produced Harbourne Blue in the 1980s and it takes its name from a nearby tributary of the River Dart. After so many decades this cheese is still going strong, last year winning silver at the Artisan Cheese Awards. All the salty, umami characteristics I associate with a blue are here. Works well with oat crackers but a rich tea biscuit could be fun, playing on the balance of sweet and salty. Also great served with fruit.
Eve (£9)- You may want to ration yourself or you’ll find you’ve eaten it all in one go. I find it’s so easy to slather these soft melty cheeses onto even the last crumb of bread. Reminiscent of a ripe Brie or Epoisses. Eve hails from White Lake Cheese in Somerset and is washed in Somerset Cider Brandy then dressed in vine leaves to keep her nice and soft. She is tempting indeed.
Pennard Vale (250g, £7.70)- Finishing with another hard cheese in the cheddar style, Pennard Vale comes from the Somerset Cheese Company in Shepton Mallet. It is the most smooth textured of the firm cheeses in my selection and tastes both nutty and creamy. Pairs fantastically with grapes or cherries but equally great on its own as snack in the mid afternoon lull.
From first browse to cheese on your table the whole system is a breeze. In most cases you can choose different size options from 250g to 1kg. Pennard Vale even comes in a 3.6kg wheel should you be planning a major post-coronavirus feast! At the heart of The Cheese Shed is quality and locality. Judging by my experience with the company so far, they are succeeding on all fronts. I was able to try varieties I’d not heard of before and learn about the stories and people who created them. Artisanal cheese will naturally be dearer than your average supermarket fare as they are not intended for a mass market but what you gain in flavour makes it worthwhile. The fact that they are unique cheeses increases my enjoyment and appreciation of them, makes it more of an event when I do eat them. Celebrating independent businesses, supporting their local farmers, showcasing fantastic dairy produce. Sounds pretty glorious to me.
Thanks for reading my cheesy thoughts. Please give it a thumbs up if you enjoyed it! Have you found your shopping habits change since lockdown and if so, what will you keep doing when we’re able to move more freely again? I’d love to hear your views in the comments. In the meantime, here’s my instagram for more #minnsmunchtime fun. Stay safe and mask up!