1. Use organic raw milk
Tim Jarvis and Dave Holton are young, bearded and deeply into fermentation, but they don’t get their kicks from craft ale. Their obsession is organic raw milk, which they turn into a soft feta-style cheese called Graceburn that is marinated in rapeseed oil, peppercorns, thyme and garlic.
The co-owners of Blackwoods Cheese Co in Kent are part of a new wave of young artisan producers, who are following in craft brewers’ footsteps by taking British cheese in exciting and unexpected directions, much to the approval of chefs (Graceburn has appeared on the menus of Hawksmoor and Trinity among many others).
“It’s a good time for cheese in this country,” says Holton, who hails from Australia where, ironically, punitive legislation means raw milk cheese is rare. “These things come in waves and each generation does something different. There’s some really good new cheesemakers on the scene and there’s a lot of dialogue about the science of cheesemaking. It used to be people followed a recipe, but now they understand better how to adapt what they’re doing as the milk varies.”
First set up in 2013 in a unit in South London, Blackwoods moved to its new home on the Commonwork Organic Farms last October and has plans to double production this year. Watching the cheesemakers in action as they ladle wobbly blobs of curd into plastic moulds and taste test experimental products, it’s easy to see why their cheeses are popular with chefs. They are handmade artisan products that express the Kent countryside (through unique microbes in the raw milk) in much the same way wine reflects terroir.
(Photo: Blackwoods Cheese Company)
2. Embrace innovation
At wholesaler Harvey & Brockless, category manager Owen Davies says the dynamism of British cheese stands in contrast to what’s happening across the channel. “Young British producers are coming through that are making some really innovative products at a time when French cheese is barely changing,” he says. “In Britain we’re not restricted by AOCs in the same way as on the Continent, so our cheesemakers can take inspiration from around the world and create their own unique cheeses.”
Recent additions to the company’s range of artisan cheeses include Rollright, a washed-rind cheese made in Oxfordshire by twenty something producer David Jowett, plus a raw milk Brie-de-Meaux-style cheese Baron Bigod, made by young couple Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore in Suffolk. Harvey & Brockless’ own cheesemaking operation, Cheese Cellar Dairy, has also developed a range of delicate raw milk goat’s cheeses, including Ashlynn and Blanche.
“It used to take several years for a cheese to be perfected, but there is a better understanding of the science of artisan cheesemaking now,” says Davies. “Young cheesemakers are able to draw on all the experience and knowledge that has gone before them and create really good cheeses quite quickly. They are open to pushing new boundaries and trying new things. We see that with our own cheesemaker, George Bramham, who studied at the School of Artisan Food. He developed our new cheeses after spending time in France learning from producers over there.”
(Photo: The Clara cheese, which is sprinkled with ash / Harvey & Brockless)
3. Welcome the wash
Wholesaler Premier Cheese has also developed its own products by buying young ‘blank’ cheeses from small producers and washing them at its Bicester HQ. The range includes Tipsy Billy, a goat’s cheese doused in cider; Windsor Blue washed in whisky; and the beer-treated Boxer. The rinds of these cheeses have a pungent whiff, but the interiors are relatively mild and creamy to create a balance of flavours.
“We wanted to create something unique and different using regional cheeses and ingredients,” explains co-owner Amnon Paldi. “Demand for these kinds of artisan cheeses is going up, but they are tricky to make. You need the know-how, the space and the time.”
Harvey & Brockless launches three raw milk goats cheeses
Who knew a log of goats cheese could be so darn sexy?
Sporting a wrinkly alabaster coat, underneath which lies a mousse-like paste that is as white as snow, Blanche is a sensuous little cheese. At two weeks old, there’s a perfumed aroma of dark forest honey on the nose, which carries over in the inal lavour – think honeysuckle, herbs and a peppery tingle. But the cheese intensifies as it matures, with a gooey layer just beneath the rind.
Blanche’s dark, brooding sister is sprinkled with a layer of ash, which makes a telling contribution to the final flavour and texture. The paste is slightly denser and much creamier with a buttery flavour cut through with lemony notes and hints of freshly cut grass. The dark grey rind contrasts with the white paste, making Clara a star of the cheeseboard.
Ashlynn has a striking monochrome appearance thanks to a pure white interior set against a dark ash-coated rind and thin line of charcoal running through its centre. Ashlynn’s delicate appearance belies a sultry complexity. The paste is fabulously buttery, but a spear of lemony sharpness pierces the richness and opens up intriguing savoury depths and a tingle of spice. The breakdown that develops beneath the rind becomes increasingly runny and intense as it matures.
4. Familiarise your customer
While new-wave British cheeses offer restaurants plenty of opportunities, they also present challenges. Staff and customers are familiar with Stilton, Cheddar and Brie, but are unlikely to have heard of Rollright and Ashlynn. The answer, says Ann-Marie Dyas, co-owner of the Fine Cheese Company, is communication.
“The British are up for trying new cheeses,” she says. “It’s one of my pet hates that on a menu you find lyrical descriptions of the dishes and the wine, but it just says ‘selection of cheeses’. It’s essential there are at least two people on duty who know the cheeseboard really well. They need to present the cheeses and talk to customers. We supply information and tasting notes for all our products.”
She adds that new cheeses should be introduced in stages rather than all at once with a familiar core range regularly supplemented by fresh additions.
This is something also recommended by Rhuaridh Buchanan at Buchanan’s Cheesemonger, which supplies restaurants including Galvin at Windows and Elystan Street.
“If you look at high-volume restaurants with dozens of staff, you’re less likely to introduce lots of new cheeses in one go, but there is still room to include one or two as long as people are able to explain them,” he says. “With small indies and restaurants that can manage a cheese trolley there’s more opportunity to change the board more frequently and have that one-to-one time with the diner.”
(Photo: The Ashlynn, with its charcoal centre / Harvey & Brockless)
5. Know your cheeseboard
Improving cheese knowledge across the hospitality sector is a key aim of the newly launched Academy of Cheese – a set of qualifications that works along similar lines to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, building up to the Master of Cheese.
Harvey & Brockless is a key backer of the initiative and Owen Davies says the one-day Level 1 course is a good introduction for chefs and front-of-house staff to learn how cheeses are made, the different styles, flavours and textures, and with what to pair them.
“It will be exciting to see how that develops and improves knowledge across the industry,” he says. “Restaurants need to empower someone in their front of house team to be responsible and really know their cheese.”
This feature originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Restaurant Magazine. Subscribe here from only £63 per year!