After watching the election results last night and hearing about all of the different states, I decided that I should pick a delicious cheese from across the pond to avoid reminding anyone of any one particular state. The cheese I chose to feature today is the Westcombe Raw Milk Cheddar.
I know that this label is a little small, but if you look right above the "Raw Milk Cheddar" you can see the cheesemaker's name is Tom Calver from Westcombe Dairy in Somerset, England. The Westcombe Cheddar has PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin) as well as being only one of three cheeses allowed the Slow Food Designation "Artisan Somerset Cheddar". To borrow from the Westcombe dairy website, "To qualify for this real accolade, the cheese must be made in Somerset - where the damp climate is recognised as the best for growing lush pastures - from the milk of the farm's own cows, allowing control of quality from start to finish. The cheese must be made using raw milk and traditional starter cultures. By using raw milk, all the natural flavours come through in the final product, giving the Cheddar its full fragrant and earthy character." (www.westcombedairy.com) The cheese itself is a wonderful example of a traditional English clothbound Cheddar and has been aged for a minimum of eleven months, so it is legal to sell in the U.S. as it has been aged more than 60 days.
When I was cutting into the wheel today it was a fully sensory experience. I split the wheel down the middle and I could smell the mustiness from the cloth and a slight fruitiness to the paste. Further cutting down the cheese into smaller pieces revealed the different textures in the cheese. Parts of the cheese were so crumbly that they didn't want to maintain their shape while other parts had a nice firmness. Once I cut the pieces that we needed and after much anticipation I was able to taste it. First, I got a beautiful creaminess and was struck by the fact that this cheddar was not as salty as most of the other English Cheddars I have tried. This is due to the fact that the cheesemakers at this dairy mill (or stir) their curds before they form the cheese. While the curds are stirring they add the salt that they need for flavor and the salt gets disbursed very evenly. The next flavor I got was from the cloth - a bit of the mustiness that I had smelled after I cut into the wheel. This flavor may not sound very tasty, but it adds a depth to the cheese that you can only find from clothbound Cheddars. I promise you, if you try a piece, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about and how tasty "musty" can be! The finish had a slight nuttiness and a hint of fruit. For an extra treat, try pairing this cheese with a nice hoppy IPA. The creamy, fruitiness of the cheese will tame down the bitterness of the IPA while partnering nicely with the fruity, citrusy notes of the hops.
Another fun thing about this Cheddar is how it changes after it has been cut. The picture above shows this Cheddar at two different stages. The piece on the right that does not have any mold streaks through it is a piece that I cut today. The piece on the left with the little hints of mold was a piece that was cut a week or so earlier. Once the interior of the Westcombe is exposed to the air, these little pockets of mold start to show up in the little cracks within the paste. Have no fear! This mold is completely fine and just adds more flavor -a little bit more of the mustiness that I mentioned above and a little more tang. So if you like cheese with a bit more funkiness, try the one with a little bit of mold. Yum.
As an added bonus, this cheese is on Weekly Special at my store! Today through 11/13 it is on sale for $14.99/lb (normally $19.99/lb). Come on by for a sample and a piece for yourself!
A quick note for all of you that happen to find yourself in front of my cheese counter and forget what cheeses I've talked about in the more recent posts, you can easily find them by looking for these signs in the case. My wonderfully artistic coworker Manny designed and made these little signs for me (thanks Manny!). Hopefully this will make it a little easier to find the cheeses that I feature on this blog.
Well, I think that's all I have to say for today. Come back in a couple of days to see what cheese I talk about next. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!