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.

17. Ardrahan

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.

16. Gubbeen

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.

14. Tunworth

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.

13. Roquefort

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?

10. Berkswell

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.

8. Livarot

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.

7. Stichelton

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.

6. Epoisses

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.

5. Valencay

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".

1. Comté

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.

Photo credits:

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.


A Little Lusciousness said...

Great post!! And ugh to the Metro, wtf?! If you haven't come across it before, do try Delice de Borgonge - a triple cream cheese that now sneaks its way onto my previously only British cheeseboard at my supper clubs. Because it's that good :)

Rosie xx

Alex T said...

This is wonderful. I want to sue the Metro for defamation on behalf of the worlds cheese-lovers. Instead I shall direct my ire more positively in seeking out St.James which I have yet to try and sounds magical. Thank you for the tips.

Alicia Foodycat said...

There is more than one type of "blue cheese"? Good lord. I'm amazed they didn't take a lead from the Americans and call it Bleu.

Richard Dixon said...

Where's the fucking mild cheddar? FFS.

Mark's Feed Store said...

Awesome post dude I have found some cool ideas from your post!

Chz said...

I helped out with a wine and cheese thingamabob at work the other week. Emphasis was on the cheese, rather than the wine. We tried to cater for more... pedestrian tastes as well as challenging people. To my great surprise, the St. James was far and away the most popular. It was boring old (still nice, mind you!) gorwyd caerphilly and a lovely aged manchego that were the losers of the evening.

I can't agree about Tunworth. Sure it's a winner over mass-market Camembert that you can buy in Tesco, but it's quite feeble next to the real thing.

Tim said...

Now do your top 18 biscuits

Ruduss said...

Great list - I would add Petit Liverot ~

Anonymous said...

Seriously man! Lancashire is top 1 at least! Where is Parmesan, hello! But you have some cool cheeses on your list! Too many French ones, they do good cheese for sure, but UK has overtaken them. Jamie and Jimmy went to France to prove this, independently judged, not on home turf, we still won the cheese contest!
On that note The Lionesses are stronger than the Lions again. You know why? because they are playing like an English Team! No Gaza's and Roonie antics. Like 1966, Big up England!

Anonymous said...

Just read the metro bits, what the ? indeed. Parmesan is one of the winners though. Somerset Brie is illegal, French make Brie, the one you have specified, its fantastic! The Somerset stuff is an embarrassment/insult to us and the French. I would love too see Neal's Yards top 20. Also I love putting a bit of cheese on my Knob! Dorset Knobs once mastered (see Mark Hix) are the business! Go on Put some cheese on your knob!

Graham said...

I would have St Nectaire in my list but it's even more unpredictable than Comté

Brie De Moaty said...

I genuinely don't think the Metro article is for jokes

Donkey Sinbad said...

Not including parmesan (even if you are trying to mock the Metro) is ridiculous.

And while this is obviously subjective it's a bit bizarre not to include any other Italian cheeses given the detail you go into on the UK and French selections.

Chris Pople said...

Donkey Sinbad: There's nothing wrong with Parmesan but it's hardly something you'd sit down and enjoy on its own, it's an ingredient, not a cheeseboard cheese. I've tried some very expensive examples of it too, but they all just taste like Parmesan.

And I like Taleggio and Gorgonzola etc but I've never tried any that make me think they deserve to be in this top 18. Maybe I've been very unlucky but there it is.

Pasta Bites said...

Well as an Italian of course, it's hard to agree with this list, as we're very patriotic with our cheeses, even within the boundaries of our own country we always think our regional cheeses are better than the other regions'. Parmesan (Reggiano of course) aside, there are loads of cheeses way better than gorgonzola or taleggio actually: provolone from the south for example, or the amazing pecorino di Moliterno from the Basilicata region (honestly one of the best cheeses I have ever tasted) to of course, the one and only DOP Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (take heed, Metro) which should be eaten fresh and on its own. We could go on for hours, couldn't we...?

Anonymous said...

Own Goal Last Min. Say no more!

Unknown said...

Metro's post was so disappointing!! Omg I LOVE Camembert! I fell in love with it when I tried it in Paris last year.