Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Cheese of the Month - Redesdale
In common, I'm sure, with many other borderline-autistic foodies, I obsessively crave the new, the rare and the unique. In restaurants I will gravitate towards the more unusual ingredients and preparations, in bars I will order a pint of whichever looks the most likely to be shocking and/or disgusting, and I very rarely say no to any mysterious dark spirit placed in front of me at the end of a long night. These compulsions frequently end in disaster, of course, but that's not the point - for every deep-fried bull's testicle or raw rabbits brains there's that tantalising chance I may discover something really wonderful. And even if I don't, at least I can say I ate raw brains. Breaks the ice at parties.
When it comes to cheese, though, something rather strange has happened - I have become a creature of habit. After spending a couple of years working my way around the spread at Hamish Johnson, I seem to have whittled down my preferences to the same 3 or 4 usual suspects that I pick up nearly every time I visit - an Epoisses, a Roquefort, a Spanish goat's and perhaps some sort of hard Spanish mountain cheese. I know I like them, they work together well on a cheeseboard and I'm never disappointed. It's all rather tragically predictable. So last week, mindful of the effort I usually make to "eat local", especially regarding beef, I made the conscious decision to purchase a board of 100% British cheeses to accompany an autumn barbecue. And amongst them was a lovely little sheep's cheese called Redesdale.
Having already selected a soft, washed-rind cheese (what else but Stinking Bishop) and a creamy Stilton (Cropwell Bishop, review coming soon), I was after something harder and cleaner of texture to provide a happy medium between the other two. The staff at Hamish Johnston first steered me towards something called Berkswell, from Warwickshire, but I wasn't that impressed - it was quite bland and needed something to lift it above its straightforward texture. But Redesdale, from Northumberland Cheeses, was much more interesting. Just the right side of waxy, with a nice acidy tang to balance the dense, sweet flesh, it was impossibly easy to eat. I think it took the four of us barely ten minutes to cut it right back to the rind.
Thanks to a quick Google, I can report that Mark Robertson has been making Redesdale at his farm in the Rede Valley since 1984, and over the years it's gathered quite a collection of prizes. All richly deserved, of course, and as I've mentioned it was definitely a hit on my cheeseboard, but I have two issues with Northumberland Cheeses. Firstly all their offerings seem to be pasteurised, which probably makes them easier to deal with (and export) but I've begun to really notice the lack of that deep, farmy flavour from a pasteurised product. I'd really like to try an unpasteurised Redesdale - I'm sure it would be even nicer. Secondly, and less forgiveably, they in common with some other otherwise reputable small-scale producers, seem to have a bizarre compulsion to bring out special "flavoured" editions of their flagship product. As well as displaying a worrying lack of confidence in the cheese itself, it reeks of lazy opportunism to add (bleugh) apricot or (aargh) garlic instead of expanding your range in more inventive ways. After all, why go to the expense and effort of creating a new cheese if you can just chop up some cherries into the one you've already got?
That minor rant aside, there's no reason why anyone wouldn't enjoy the unblemished and un-meddled-with Redesdale sheep's cheese. Ignoring for a moment any of the more esoteric varieties from Northumberland Cheeses, this definitely stands up in its own right as an interesting and moreish member of a cheeseboard. I do warn you though, if I ever see a kiwi-flavoured Stinking Bishop or a galangal-infused Stichelton, I'm starting a campaign.