In our house we are, first and foremost, cheese lovers. At age five, our daughter was shocked to find that she was the only child in her class that liked blue cheese. Now a teenager, she got some Gruyere in her Christmas stocking this year. Don’t get me wrong, cheese is still rationed – good cheese is expensive after all – but it is always top of our shopping list.
Unsurprisingly, our holidays will include a visit to a cheese producer if given half a chance. They aren’t action-packed destinations, but over the years we’ve seen it all, from milking to making to maturing in caves. I particularly loved visiting an Auvergne milking barn at dusk as the cows found their customary places, with the smell of hay and iodine and the swish of milk along the lines.
Some people probably think we are obsessed. We once threw a party that centred around a 6 kg truckle of cheddar. And we were very nearly turned out of an art gallery in Rouen for having a ripe camembert in our backpack. The first thing my aunt will ask if she knows we are coming is ‘Have we got enough cheese?’ She needn’t worry – we’ll normally bring some with us, and it will probably be from a producer local to wherever we happen to be at the time.
Twenty years ago we were buying more French varieties than English, but our local cheesemonger only stocks cheeses from the British Isles, so Christmas and birthday treats are now Stichelton, Baron Bigod and Stinking Bishop. And now, for everyday cheese, we are proud to be buying Westcombe cheddar direct from the cheese maker. Hooray for online shopping!
Re-discovering Westcombe Dairy was one of our small joys of 2020. Apart from being one of the tastiest cheddars available outside the supermarket, I think the important fact is that Westcombe is focussing on their pasture. They have developed such good, varied meadows that they no longer have to buy imported soy feed, they don’t need to grow corn and they use minimal chemicals. They even make charcuterie from their unwanted bulls. To my mind, they are achieving true sustainability with soil, wildlife and plants by farming this way, without even having to go organic. Hopefully more farmers will be doing the same soon.
Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.
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