Archives for posts with tag: international cheese awards

This week I have been at the International Cheese Awards representing Laverstoke Park Farm on their stand.

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The Awards are basically the Oscars of the cheese world and whilst I have heard about this event for many years, this was my first time there. I find it quite funny that the cheese Oscars take place in Nantwich of all places. What brought it there? Anyway, instead of this little rickety tent and pongy cheese, I was amazed to see the scale of the whole thing.

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4235 cheeses were entered for awards this year over 226 categories. I didn’t know there were that many cheeses, least of all categories in which to enter cheeses. Madness!

After researching the British cheese world, it is clear that we really are in a league of our own. We now outstrip France in terms of number of cheeses boasting 700 against their 600 and we can certainly see some British classics competing and winning hands down against those old traditional French favourites. Roquefort is a thing of the past with a plethora of great blues such as Shropshire Blue, Colston Bassett Stilton and Stichelton coming from across the country. In fact, last year it was a British blue that won the overall prize at the World Cheese Awards and that was the Cornish Blue….and at this week’s International Cheese Awards, it was blue again with Long Clawson dairy producing the Supreme Champion award for their Claxstone Smooth Blue.

Brie is also seeing competition in the soft cheese world with Tunworth and Waterloo holding their own. But it in the hard cheese categories that we really are leagues ahead with the most wonderful cheddars coming from people like Montgomery’s, Keens Farm and Lincolnshire Poacher plus all the fabulous regional classics like Double Gloucester, Lancashire and red Leicester. It really is something to be proud of.

Cutting the curds

Cutting the curds

Filling the brie moulds

Filling the brie moulds

I actually helped our dairy manager make our buffalo milk ‘brie’ last Friday and had such a wonderful time seeing it from the raw milk stage right through to final product. It was a very simple process, with a lot of love thrown in and there you have it. Now I am waiting for my batch to reach its ultimate maturity and then I can sample the benefits of my endeavours.

Did you know that there are more hits on Google if you search “food” than if you search “sex”!

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It only goes to prove that we are increasingly interested in all things food. We read about it, watch it on telly, idolise those involved in the industry and of course shop it every week, if not every day. In 1998 Henrietta Green decided to replicate the US farmer’s market that she had visited and site one in Borough Market, Southwark. Now it is one of London’s top tourist destinations, setting the pace for literally hundreds of other markets that are popping up all over the country.

And then there is the food fair or festival. I currently work on Laverstoke Park Farm and if I had asked for my salary to be upped by £1 for every event we get asked to support, then I would be a very rich lady. It seems that every school, entrepreneur, local council and general foodie is creating an event to bring together beautiful crafts and foods from around their region. Not only do we have events celebrating seasonal, local and artisan fair but also some that celebrate iconic products that we produce UK-wide: the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, The Dorset Seafood Festival, The Great British Beer Festival, The Cromer and Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival and not forgetting the Galway Oyster Festival, to name but a few.

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My focus last week was on cheese. I volunteered my services to help the farm’s Dairy Manager and expert cheese maker promote our cheeses at a fair in Melton Mowbray. It must be said that British cheese really is up there in world class stakes with varieties like Cheddar, Stilton, Single Gloucester and Lancashire putting the areas they come from on the world cheese stage. The British Cheese Board state that there are over 700 named British cheeses produced in the UK and we host both the World Cheese Awards in Birmingham and of course the ‘cheese Oscars’: the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich of all places.

So our little jaunt up to Melton Mowbray was not to be sniffed at. It was home to the Artisan Cheese Fair hosting over 40 cheese makers alongside other specialists including, of course, the eponymous Pork Pie. Driving up early on Sunday morning, I was struck by just how wonderfully British this all really was. The countryside around there is so pretty and with the sun shining and the early yellow hues of rapeseed cropping up I arrived with a positive spring in my step despite the early start.

M serves up some samples

M serves up some samples

Laverstoke Park Farm really is one of the most incredible farms in the UK. We are organic and biodynamic and specialise in buffalo which combine to be pretty unique and so we were showcasing our wonderful Buffalo Mozzarella amongst other things. Our Dairy Manager and supreme cheesemaker, M, is one of life’s beautiful people. She has previously been an opera singer, a model, a music therapist and ultimately an award winning cheese maker. She has a connection not only with the buffalo themselves but also with the production process which results in the making of wonderful things in the dairy. Our ice cream, yogurt, cheese and butter all benefit from the natural properties of buffalo milk which is creamy and rich because it has a high ratio of solids and many people who are dairy intolerant find that buffalo milk is OK for them, which is good because it makes everything taste so scrummy. So our little stand was very popular and the 7 hour stint flew by.

Montgomery's cheddar

Wandering around this fair in the old Cattle Market of such a traditional town, you can’t fail to be overwhelmed by the sense of British food heritage. Here are third, fourth and fifth generation cheesemakers who have been running their dairies and supporting their local trade through the ups and downs of centuries. Swaledale cheese dates back to the 11th century in Yorkshire and Keen’s unpasteurised Cheddar was established in 1899. Dairies such as Colston Bassett and Cropwell Bishop have spearheaded the blue cheese tradition and Keen’s are joined by the likes of Lincolnshire Poacher and Montgomery’s in making Cheddar from the early 1900’s.

M also introduced me to some of the newer cheese makers who were there that day. We fall into that category with our mozzarella and my favourite of the others was Lyburn and the lovely Mike Smales. He makes a cheese which is like a Gouda. The Old Winchester is just yummy and deserves all of the many medals it has received. I will definitely be going back for more of that.

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In the afternoon, our experience of British traditions was increased with the morris dancer display which took place just by our stall and also a local band who entertained us with a variety of classic tunes which we jigged along to. The sun thankfully shone and by 5 we were packed up and on the road.

I couldn’t resist popping along to say hi to some great friends who live not far from there in Leicester armed with pork pies and cheese. What could be better? wonderful food, fabulous friends and the sun setting over the great British countryside.

We are all watching gold medals galore at the Olympics this week, so I thought it was time to recognise other award winners this Summer.

Did you know there is an Oscar’s for cheese? And that it takes place in the little known town of Nantwich, Cheshire.

Well, the only reason I did was because my old employers Marks and Spencer always did so well at these awards and I was told that these International Cheese Awards really are the best it gets for all things cheesey. This year it was a German blue cheese that was named Supreme Champion. So a big round of applause for Montagnolo Affine who rose over the other 3927 entries to be crowned the big cheese. Judged for flavour and appearance by some 156 expert judges you know that the winner must be something special. Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar was runner up, Belton Cheese Ltd claimed the highest number of gold awards  and my old cronies at M&S didn’t let me down as they won Supreme Retailer.

So now you know. Look out for the labels on pack and know that you are going to have a truly wonderful cheese-fest.

The hallowed judging rooms at Wincanton

Also announced this week were the final results of the Great Taste Awards. Sadly I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to do loads of judging but you know I did a bit way back in April and now all 8807 entries have been scrutinised by the experts for taste, appearance and texture with 2793 deemed good enough for an award.

The outstanding entries gain 3 stars and this year some 123 products earned that honour, with the prospect of going forward for the Supreme Champion next month. Last year this award went to a Northern Irish corned beef and the year before Kentish cob nut oil so what will it be in 2012?

When I scrolled through the list of top entries, it reflected the current themes in specialist foods with great sourcing, specifically bred raw materials, traditional cooking or preservation methods and classic flavours with a twist. So the trends haven’t really changed too much although there were some more unusual dishes such as bone marrow butter and duck gizzard confit.

Overall there were a lot of craft beers; specialist teas; hand picked, specially roasted and blended unique coffees; seeded and slowly fermented breads; regional sweets like North African Berber cake and Persian nougat; the obligatory passion fruit curd; interesting cured meats; a plethora of well sourced and interesting meats including springbok and roe deer; lots of different smoked fish and a whole range of traditional British dishes.

Look for yourself at all the winners. I will let you know the overall champion as soon as it is announced.

The good news for all those who take the time to enter, as well as judge, is that a simple label on pack really does seem to make a commercial difference and that can only be good news for the food industry. It goes to show that if you do produce something wonderful you will be rewarded. So look out for the medal on pack and try for yourself.