Since returning from my trip to Nantes in April, I have been haunted by memories of that fantastic butter. I mentioned at the time that a quick Google had revealed at least one UK supplier to be Teddington Cheese, and I've had it on my wish list since then to put an order together. Well, last week I finally managed it and on Wednesday a huge polystyrene box arrived with three or four hefty cheeses nestled in straw, alongside a rather disappointingly tiny medallion of the butter.
The first thing I noticed that the label on the butter said 'Doux' where the godlike-cheese-from-heaven we had in Nantes said 'Demi-sel'. I had specifically picked the 'salted' option on the website so either the Demi-sel is not available here or somebody packed the wrong item. I'd like to take this up with Teddington Cheese, but they weren't answering their phone this morning so it will have to wait for a postscript. Besides, this wasn't the only thing that disappointed about the order, as it turned out.
Along with the butter, which was the real point of the whole venture, I had chosen three unpasteurised cheeses based largely on the descriptions on the website - Banon, a goats cheese from Provence, Chanteraine Poivre, a cow's milk cheese coated with peppercorns, and Tomme de Marc, a frightening looking thing coated in "marc", or grape pressings. The first I opened was the Chanteraine.
I knew something was wrong even as I lifted it out of the polystyrene box. It was soft - far too soft for a refrigerated cheese other than those which are supposed to be served in a pot such as the Epoisses. As it started to warm up I was worried it was just going to dissolve completely and run all over the place, so I took a gamble and ate a slice before it had reached room temperature. Even slightly cold it was heavily sulphurous, like an inferior supermarket Camembert that had been left lying around too long. The burn of the flesh killed any other flavour - it could have been coated in cat poo and vinegar for all I know - and the bitterness and heat of the sulphur lingered unpleasantly in the mouth. According to websites a well-kept Chanteraine should be rich and buttery, not burn like concentrated acid, so I can only imagine this example had been sitting around a Teddington basement for many months before it worked its way to me. Pretty nasty.
The next cheese was little better. Tomme de Marc is all mouth and no trousers, visually impressive but rather uninteresting in terms of taste. Get too many of the dried grapes into your mouth with the cheese, and that's all you taste. Scrape them off and it becomes just another dull mountain cheese, which may go well melted on toast but can't really justify a place on a cheeseboard.
At this point I would have opened the Banon but I was still feeling rather sick from the Chanteraine and I decided to leave it for another day. Of the two I did try, Tomme de Marc was the clear winner and gets the Cheese of the Month, but being better than that rancid old Chanteraine is really no recommendation. All hope of Teddington Cheese redeeming themselves rests on the shoulders of the chestnut-leaf wrapped Banon, and I will report back on that as soon as I can. In the meantime, I can only say that my first experience of mail-order cheeses was a bit of a failure.
Chanteraine Poivre 1/10
Tomme de Marc 3/10
Update: I got through to Teddington Cheese and they are going to send me out a replacement salted butter next week. As for the Chanteraine, they say that another from the same batch looked OK but it could have been a bit older than normal, which may explain the taste. I think this is one cheese I'll be avoiding in the future, even so...