Wednesday, 17 June 2015
My Top 18 Cheeses
This morning I woke up to this dreadful pile of ill-informed nonsense. I try not to let such transparently "provocative" piles of sub-Buzzfeed clickbait get to me, and I know plenty of you will point out it's a tongue-in-cheek bit of fluff, not worthy of the ad revenue it was designed to generate. But whilst celebrity gossip and "you won't believe what happens next" viral videos can wash harmlessly by, cheese happens to be a subject I care deeply about and it's painful to see it treated with such wilful, gurning ignorance. So in an effort to counter at least some of the damage done by the Metro to the reputation of cheese, here is my, very personal, top 18:
18. Brie de Meaux
Nothing too strong or challenging to start with, but this is still pretty much everything you'd want from an everyday soft cheese. Creamy and satisfying to eat, it's also incredibly versatile - try the grilled version at the Dairy, Clapham (above) with truffle grated on top, it's the world's best cheese on toast.
Metro's choice: Brie. Doesn't specify which, perhaps they mean the stuff they get in the basil and tomato sandwiches at Pret. "A bit soggy tasting", they generalise, with surprising confidence.
Like so many washed-rind cheeses, it takes a bit of mental strength to get past the extraordinary smell of Ardrahan to really appreciate the subtle mix of smoky, farmy, creamy flavours in the flesh; all the more impressive since Ardrahan doesn't have the advantage of being made with unpasteurised milk.
Metro's choice: "Cheesestrings"[sic]. Misspelled Cheestrings, remarkable considering the photo of the packet with the correct spelling just underneath. Also, Metro, and this applies to most of your list, Cheestrings are not a "type" of cheese.
Another strong showing from the Irish, Gubbeen isn't perhaps the most complex cheese in terms of flavour, but is an excellent way of convincing the most risk-averse of your friends that washed-rind isn't all about rotting corpses and ruined fridges. Creamy and savoury, with a nice sticky rind.
Metro's choice: Wensleydale and cranberry. Though it's true that fruit in cheese is an abomination, why Wensleydale? Or, indeed cranberry?
15. Stinking Bishop
Can you tell I have a soft spot for pongy washed-rind cheeses? As the name suggests, this cheese can be quite remarkably strong, some might argue rather one dimensionally so. But kept correctly and caught at the right time of year, it has a delicate nutty flavour and a lovely tacky texture on the rind (washed with perry, of all things).
Metro's choice: Swiss cheese "aka Emmental" because of course there are no other Swiss cheeses. At all.
One of the few pasteurised cheeses on this list, but I'll make an exception for Tunworth because I love the idea of some people in Hampshire making a Camembert (sorry Camembert-style) in their kitchen and it being better than most examples of the original. Sweet and nutty, with a surprisingly complex aftertaste.
Metro's choice: Cottage cheese. An interesting choice, because as Vic & Bob informed us, it's not a cheese, it's a residue.
If you can't appreciate the soft, salty notes of this ancient cheese from central France, then perhaps you're better off writing for the Metro after all. A blue cheese that packs a punch without being harsh or difficult, Roquefort is notable for its consistency and availability - an emergency cheeseboard cheese that's available from Asda that can still impress your guests.
Metro's choice: Blue cheese. "Smells a bit rotten" they say, dismissing a thousand years of human achievement in cheesemaking in one oblivious soundbite.
12. Mrs Kirkham's
The catalyst for a UK-wide cheesemaking renaissance, Mrs Kirkham's deserves a spot on this list for its importance alone. Of course, it also tastes lovely - softly crumbly with just the faintest touch of blue cheese pungence.
Metro's choice: Red Leicester. "Just a bit meh", presumably they haven't tried Sparkenhoe but then presumably they've never really given a shit about cheese in their lives.
11. Montgomery's cheddar
A true artisan product, Montgomery's is so different from mass-market cheddar it almost needs a new name. Much like Comte, another unpasteurised hard cheese, its variability is part of its charm, and can range from sweet to nutty, milky to an almost animal stock flavour. Sometimes has a lovely crystalline crunch.
Metro's choice: American cheese slice. Doesn't specify a brand but then if all blue cheeses are the same why not processed?
Reminiscent of a French or Spanish mountain cheese (the Manchego of the West Midlands, if you like), the charming home-made nature of this cheese is reflected in the unusual shaped truckle, formed inside a plastic salad spinner. Dense and salty, with a strong musty aroma and those heavenly farmyard notes of the best unpasteurised product.
Metro's choice: Cream cheese. Again, not really a cheese but I get the impression their heart's not in it by this point.
9. Vacherin Mont d'Or
Not one for the weak-hearted, even young Vacherin has the ability to slay a man at 15 paces (metaphorically), but late in the season you'll need to store this bad boy in a different town to escape its penetrative aroma. Persevere, though, and you're rewarded with a surprisingly gentle taste, creamy and complex rather than offensively sulphurous.
Metro's choice: Goat's cheese. "Always a welcome addition to pizza", they say, neatly offending both cheese makers AND Italians in one ludicrous comment.
Much as I love championing home-grown cheese, you have to admit the French often have the advantage of technique and a few hundred years of experience. Livarot is a grown-up cheese, a perfect balance of soft rind and firm, faintly chalky flesh that boasts a deep, rich flavour.
Metro's choice: Paneer. At least it's a type of cheese.
For various stupid legal reasons, Britain's only true, unpasteurised Stilton, painstakingly made to ancient techniques, cannot be called a Stilton. But who cares about titles, because this is a stonking cheese, with a flavour profile so dense and intricate you could write a book trying to describe all its facets.
Metro's choice: Mexican cheese. "Cheese with a load of chillies and spices crushed into it", the Mexicans will surely be staggered to discover.
You know things are getting serious when a cheese is so volatile it can only be served with a spoon. But people who recoil from the admittedly eye-watering aroma are missing out on a complex and satisfying taste; a truly world-class cheese.
Metro's choice: Halloumi. Running out of ideas, scanning the fridges in the corner shop.
Into the top 5, and there had to be at least one ash-coated goat's cheese on the list. I've chosen Valencay over its many rivals because all said and done, this eye-catching cheese with the sweet, citric taste is the supreme example of its kind. Beautiful, inside and out.
Metro's choice: Mozzarella. "Doesn't taste very good when not melted", they say, ensuring any remaining Italians still alive after the goat's cheese comment have now surely also combusted.
4. Camembert from Falaise by Marie-Anne Cantin
I've gone a bit more specific on this one. There are many ways to enjoy Camembert, but affineur Marie-Anne Cantin in Paris and their careful 22-day ageing process has resulted in the finest Camembert I've ever tasted in my life. A beautiful, multifaceted flavour that's powerful without being harsh, this is the Camemberts to rule all Camemberts - if you're ever in the French capital, don't waste the opportunity to try it yourself.
Metro's choice: Feta. Someone's having an M&S salad for lunch today.
3. Cornish Blue
Born of desperation as the bottom fell out of the milk market, that this cheese exists at all is testament to the enormous bravery and industriousness of maker Philp Stansfield. That it tastes as good as it does - salty and creamy with a delicate buttery/vanilla aftertaste - is a wonderful bonus.
Metro's choice: Parmesan. Say what you see.
2. St James
If any French, Italian or Spanish ever need an answer to "can the British really make world class cheese", this is the definitive answer. The washed rind gives with a gentle snap, revealing a beguiling, complex flesh that sings of the seasons, of wild flowers and the rolling Cumbrian countryside. A towering achievement.
Metro's choice: Mild cheddar. As someone on Twitter said, "I'm surprised they didn't specify grated".
There had to be one, and though I love St James from the bottom of my heart and consider Martin Gott to be a god amongst men (blessed are the cheesemakers), Comté at its best still trounces all other dairy. Its unpredictability is part of its charm - every wheel is different, and Comté afficionados mark the attributes of each example on a flavour wheel, noting flavours from leather to coffee. So on an off day it can be little more than pleasant. But when it's good, it's transportative. My Desert Island cheese, and in my opinion, the best in the world.
Metro's choice: Mature cheddar. They're just saying words now. But the good news is, we're finally at number one and so they can go back to writing about, I don't know, puppies and the stars of Made in Chelsea, whatever the hell the Metro usually concerns itself with.
Gubbeen, Stinking Bishop: Stamfordcheese Tunworth: The Food Shortlist
Mrs Kirkham's: Mrs Kirkham's
Montgomery's Cheddar, Berkswell: Murray's cheese
Stichelton, Valencay: Wikipedia
St James: The Courtyard Dairy
Almost forgot: Buy my app.