Thursday, 31 May 2012
Cheese of the Month - Bermondsey Spa
Last night I found myself searching in deepest SE16, through dark, dripping railway arches and anonymous industrial estates, for a man who washes cheese in beer. A few years ago I might have considered this rather out of the ordinary but of all the strange places this blog has led me over the years, from a Finnish church in Rotherhithe that had an attached sauna, to a meal involving the dissection and consumption of an entire roasted sheep's head, this almost counts as normal. I was looking for Mootown, a company that imports small-farm Welsh cheeses and distributes them to the best London cheese shops but has recently launched its very own product and invited me along to learn more.
The story goes that Mootown once shared "office" space (actually just one of the aforementioned railway arches with a door on the front) with brand new craft brewery Kernel, who were making quite a name for themselves with their punchy, hoppy IPAs. As with any brewery, there's inevitably some wastage with bottling issues and technical problems, and at the same time Mootown noticed that one of the cheeses they were selling, Golden Cenarth by Carwyn Adams, tended to arrive quite young. So in one of those wonderful moments of serendipity, Mootown decided to start ageing and triple-washing the rinds of the Golden Cenarth in the Kernel spoils, and selling the result on as Bermondsey Spa. It's a fantastic story, of course, but would mean little if the new product wasn't worth all that extra effort.
Fortunately, Bermondsey Spa is a great little cheese. The rind is orange and sticky like a fine Epoisses, but interestingly (possibly due to the pasteurised milk; Epoisses is raw) the taste of the flesh is more like a Camembert - it has bags of creamy, salty flavour but it's not harshly sulphuric, nor does it smell like a dead animal. It's very well balanced, refined and carefully constructed and whilst isn't demanding in the way that some of the stronger versions of this style are (Stinking Bishop perhaps, or Ardrahan) is nevertheless hugely enjoyable and dangerously edible. The two of us polished off the best part of an entire 250g box in about half an hour, a task that I'm not sure would have been quite so easy with a similar amount of anything stronger, although I've been known to underestimate my abilities in this department somewhat.
So, Bermondsey Spa comes highly recommended; your next job is finding it. I know of two shops that may stock it on occasion - Neal's Yard, and also posh butchers Moen's in Clapham - but with such a small rate of production, limited both by the rate at which the original base cheese arrives in London and the rate at which they can be washed by hand and stored in that railway arch in Bermondsey, it will most likely remain a rarity. But I imagine that will just add to its appeal; keep your eyes open and a space on your cheeseboard, and if you ever see it for sale (RRP is £10-ish I believe), snap it up. Oh, and it probably goes without saying, it matches very well with a bottle of cold Kernel beer.
Many thanks to Brad of Mootown for showing us round, and for the free sample.