Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Cheese of the Month - Berkswell from Neal's Yard Dairy
I will only ever buy cheese I know I'm going to like. If this seems like a rather obvious statement, just think of the number of things you regularly consume that you have little or no idea if you're going to enjoy - books, movies, plays; you can read a handful of reviews and make an educated guess, but really, once the money is handed over and you've taken your seat, whether you will consider the transaction worthwhile once the metaphorical fat lady sings is anyone's guess. Restaurants, too - believe it or not, I don't (with one notable exception) deliberately seek out terrible places just because it makes good copy; it's my money and my time, and my desire to have an enjoyable evening vastly outweighs any self-righteous catharsis gained from a negative review.
But cheese - ah, cheese is different. If you find yourself a good cheese shop then all the risk and uncertainty is removed, and your purchasing experience is satisfying, stress-free and enjoyable. Sadly, at certain cheese shops in the capital my experience hasn't always been thus, and on more than one occasion I've felt pressured into buying more than I needed or made to feel like an inconvenience for asking to try more than one type of Stilton. At Neal's Yard, though, you won't get any of that. Staff are so pleasant and helpful you just feel like spending all day working your way through the vast collection of British and Irish cheeses, each handily labelled - a favourite hobbyhorse of mine - with a short bio of the cheese including whether they are made with pasteurised or unpasteurised milk. If I sound like a paid shill for Neal's Yard, and I can understand that with all the freebies floating around these days, then I can only assure you I'm not. As the old saying goes, the best products make salesmen of us all.
Of the haul of superb cheeses I came away with from Neal's Yard, I'm going to focus on Berkswell, an unpasteurised sheep's milk cheese from - of all places - the West Midlands. I'm not sure if it's an insult to our native cheesemongers say that it doesn't really taste like an English cheese at all - dense and salty, with a good crusty rind and deep nutty flavour, it brings to mind a fine Manchego (also sheep's milk) or soft aged Parmesan (at least in texture). At £36 a kilo, too, you'd hope it would be good - even the artisan Stichelton is only £27 a kilo - but for quality like this the price seems very reasonable, and the gorgeous grassy, "farmy" notes from the unpasteurised milk, as well as the complex musty aroma from the rind make a complex and hugely enjoyable result. The slightly unusual shape of the whole truckle, by the way, is because the cheese is formed inside a plastic salad spinner - a lovely homely touch to this most lovingly crafted of products.
I'm not sure where else in London stocks Berkswell - there's not much on Google so perhaps Neal's Yard is the only supplier after all - but if you live anywhere within travelling distance to Covent Garden or Borough I can't recommend a visit highly enough. When shopping is as much fun as taste-testing free samples of the country's best cheeses, and you end up with a bag containing a chunk of one as good as Berkswell, battling the crowds of central London really is no hardship.
Berkswell cheese 8/10
Neal's Yard Dairy 9/10
Thanks to Neil Davey for the fascinating factoid about the salad spinner