WELL SEASONED

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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 1 2017 10:00AM

If you're searching for an eccentric British celebration which serves no discernable purpose and whose original roots were lost, long ago, in the mists of time, look no further than the Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling.


This event, which takes place each year on the early May bank holiday, dates back to the 1800s. Essentially it consists of a round of local cheese being rolled down the hill with a large crowd running after it. Whoever holds the cheese when it reaches the bottom of the hill is the winner.


There is little formal organisation or safety around the event and, given the obvious dangers, it has officially been banned for many years now. Since 2009 the Gloucestershire authorities have tried actively to discourage people from attending, though to no avail. (You've got to be proud of living in a country where our idea of civil disobedience is to throw a nine pound round of dairy product down a moderately steep (1 in 3) incline.)


It's true that the event is essentially spontaneous and unmanaged with few formal health and safety measures. Nevertheless some 15,000 people usually attend and it is an entertaining day out whether you are participating or (rather more safely) just spectating.


Given its questionable legal status, we would advise you definitely not to go to Coopers Hill at noon sharp on the early May Bank Holiday Monday and definitely not to find further details on the (unofficial) cheese rolling website. Searching for the hashtag #cheeserolling is right out.


Since we're on the topic (and since this is essentially a blog about food), it would be a shame not to mention the cheese itself. There are two types of Gloucester cheese - Single and the Double (the latter being used in the cheese rolling). Although no one is completely certain about the origin of the "double" part of the name, it's likely to be either because double skimming of the Gloucester cattle’s milk was needed to make this creamier cheese or because cream from the morning milk was originally added to the evening milk (also with added creaminess in mind). It is a hard, orange cheese with a slightly nutty flavour and flaky texture. Single Gloucester used to be made from the partially skimmed milk left over and so was smaller, crumblier and less creamy. It now has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 28 2016 09:14AM

As I strolled past our local cheesemonger over the weekend I was reminded (courtesy of a large sandwich board on the pavement) that, whilst we don't usually consider cheese as seasonal, some of it most definitely is.


Vacherin (meaning literally and simply “cows cheese”) is a creamy, soft and usually unpasteurised cheese made in France and Switzerland. The Jura region in particular is famed for it. Traditionally (though, in fact, not strictly) it is made from 15th August to 15th March in each year and then sold between 10th September and 10th May.


The reason for these specific dates and its distinctly seasonal nature? Well, during the summer months the Vacherin cows (the "cows cheese cows"?) are grazed at high altitude on alpine pastures. It's a unique diet of grass and wild flowers. As the cooler weather arrives. and before the snow threatens, the herds are brought back down to lower ground and fed instead on a hay diet. Historically, this change in diet led to a reduction in milk and producers could no longer make their preferred cheese – comte (a sweet, nutty hard cheese). The comte’s connoisseurs’ loss is the vacherin lovers’ gain and this rich, seasonal cheese was born.


Strict rules and recipe now apply to preserve the cheese’s numerous protected statuses and designations. Including, for example, the fact that the hay on which the cows feed must be made from grass grown on the same farm. You'll find it in good cheese shops (including the Cheeseboard in Greenwich – our local who deserve a plug for prompting this piece) until the spring.


Give it a go on your Christmas cheese board. ‘Tis the season to be cheesy.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 21 2015 03:49PM

This weekend there are two fantastic festivals of cheese to look forward to.


First, as you probably know, is Eurovision (BBC1, 8pm Sunday night). Future generations of social anthropologists will no doubt analyse our attitude towards Eurovision in order to explain our love/hate relationship with our continental cousins. But, whilst we might scoff a bratwurst or two (and enjoy seeing Nigel Farage's worst nightmares come true in camp technicolour glory) we couldn't really claim it has anything to do with food.


But the second event (and probably the smaller of the two) is Coopers Hill cheese rolling in Gloucestershire.

This event dates back to the 1800s but has officially been banned for many years now. Since 2009 the Gloucestershire authorities have tried to put people off attending by saying that that it is dangerous and unmanaged.


It's true that the event is essentially spontaneous and no formal health and safety or first aid is on hand. Nevertheless some 15,000 people are expected to attend - you've got to be proud of living in a country where our idea of civil disobedience is to throw a nine pound round of dairy product down a moderately steep (1 in 3) incline.


Given its questionable legal status, we would advise you definitely not to go to Coopers Hill at noon sharp on Bank Holiday Monday and definitely not to check out the cheese rolling website for further details. Furthermore, the hashtag #cheeserolling should most definitely be avoided.


Since this is mainly a food blog, we'd better talk a little about the cheese. There are two types of Gloucester cheese - Single and the Double (the latter being used in the cheese rolling). Although no one is completely certain about the origin of the "double" part of the name, it's likely to be either because double skimming of the Gloucester cattle’s milk was needed to make this creamier cheese or because cream from the morning milk was originally added to the evening milk (also with added creaminess in mind). Single Gloucester used to be made from the partially skimmed milk left over and so was smaller, crumblier and less creamy.


Disclaimer: broken limbs really do hurt so if you do decide to go to the cheese rolling, take care. When it comes to medical skills the Well Seasoned team are "enthusiastic amateurs" at best so it's really not worth calling us if anything goes wrong.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 22 2015 09:00AM

We've twice mentioned Dorset Blue Vinney (or Vinny) on this blog recently. It’s a cracking blue cheese that the Well Seasoned team have been enjoying for years and an obvious choice when we're looking for something a little more imaginative that the traditional Stilton. But our last blog post elicited two contacts from readers who hadn't heard of the cheese and who wanted to know a bit more. Never ones to ignore a polite request, we're very happy to tell you everything we know about DBV (as we're now calling it, to save our typing fingers).


As we (also) mentioned recently, there are more than 700 cheeses made in the UK so you might well argue that no single fromage deserves a homage of its own, but indulge us a little; this cheese has a mysterious story to tell...


DBV is crumbly, like a well-aged, good stilton and has a similarly punchy smell but is slightly more peppery in flavour and deeper yellow in colour. The exact etymological route of the "vinney" part is the subject of some debate. There are two old English words - vinew and fyne - both meaning mould - which might account for it. But it might also be a simpler corruption of "veiny" due to the rich blue-green streaks running through it.


The original recipe dates back some 300 years. Many small Dorset farms made DBV from the skimmed milk that was left over after butter making. In those days it was good butter that attracted a premium price - the cheese was something of a cheap by-product, made only because the market for fresh milk was much smaller in those days (because of the lack of refrigeration).


By all accounts the flavour of traditional DBV was very variable and some didn't taste good at all. The crumbly texture is due to the fact that it is made from skimmed milk and so much lower in fat that other cheeses. As a result of this and other factors, it gained something of a bad reputation.


Two apocryphal stories persist locally - the first is that the cheeses were so hard that they were occasionally used as spare wheels for farmers’ wheelbarrows. The second is that a Dorset cheesemonger with too much stock once left surplus truckles of DBV on his doorstep in the hope that they would be stolen. They duly disappeared overnight, only to be returned the next evening once the thieves has tasted it! Other more plausible (but also unproven) tales suggest that it was Thomas Hardy's favourite cheese.


The DBV story gets darker. It is said that (again, because skimmed milk was used), the cheese didn't develop its mould naturally. Because the required strain of penicillin grows well on old leather, various unsavoury methods were used to encourage its growth, allegedly included dragging mouldy horse harnesses through the milk vats or storing the cheese next to old farm workers boots.


The manufacture of DBV started to die out at some point around the Second World War. The exact reasons aren’t clear but it was probably a combination of factors - the questionable methods of production may have led to health scares, including tuberculosis which was prevelant at the time. Other accounts say that the Milk Marketing Board disapproved of its manufacture. It is frequently claimed that that production was explicitly banned but it is hard to find concrete evidence of this. In any event, it certainly went into significant decline and then went underground. From the 1950s onwards, the cheese was very difficult to get hold of. It was spoken about in hushed tones and available only on the black market, through clandestine networks. Dorset residents would order it through trusted local suppliers and it would be quietly delivered to their doorsteps overnight. Any enquiries from tourists or health inspectors would be met with blank looks and denials. Because of this secret history, the date when production finally ceased is uncertain but certainly by the 1970s it was, to all intents and purposes, extinct.


Only relatively recently (in the 1980s) was commercial manufacture of DBV revived. These days the (very safe but still unpasteurised) cheese is manufactured by milk farmer Michael Davies at Woodbridge Farm near Sturminster Newton (where, incidentally, Thomas Hardy once lived). As a direct result of some imaginative Stilton makers looking for a new marketing angle a few years ago, Mr Davies applied for and got Protected Geographical Status for the cheese, meaning it must now be made in Dorset to bear the name. (The canny Stilton scoundrel originally avoided a prosecution by taking his "Dorset Blue" cheese to the county to be stored for 10 days before sale!)


Woodbridge Farm are as faithful to the original recipe as they can hygienically be, even making the cheese with milk taken at the morning milking (which is lower in fat). Thankfully, there's not a leather boot in sight. You'll now find this version in good cheese shops (although they might have to order it in) and it's well worth a try; the days of variable quality and rock hard texture are also long gone.


Despite the potential health consequences, we'd be interested to taste some authentic DBV. If any reader happens to know someone making it the old-fashioned way, do drop us a line.


Naturally, we’d expect them to deny it…



By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 16 2014 10:53PM

What cheeses will you enjoy after your Christmas dinner this year? OK, maybe you'll be full to bursting before you even hit the main course, but most people who make it through to the final round will enjoy a smidgen of Stilton, maybe a chunk of Cheddar and, if they're really pushing the boat out, some exotic Edam?


OK, that's probably a little unfair - most of us (and certainly the readers of this blog) are a bit more imaginative than that, but it's definitely easy to get stuck in a cheesy rut rather than consciously go out of our comfort zone, especially over Christmas when "tradition" can mean doing the same old thing every year. But we're incredibly spoiled for choice in the UK - did you know there are more than 700 types British cheese? You could discover nearly two new cheeses every day for an entire year (admittedly you'd also clock up a few thousand miles visiting all those local producers, but you get the point).


Even if you're not lucky enough to have a local cheesemonger, supermarkets have an ever-increasing range these day, so, there really isn't any excuse to stick only to the old favourites. Let Granny have her mild Cheddar if she must, but why not also put something a little different in your trolley this year? If you're a cows milk traditionalist, maybe try a sheep or goats cheese? Or if you're a stickler for the Stilton, how about a new blue? The Well Seasoned team love talking cheese so, as you starter for 10, here's our top five blue alternatives:


Stichelton - A round, creamy flavour. Made in Nottinghamshire to the Stilton recipe but with upasturised milk. Stichelton is the twelfth century name for what is now the village of Stilton.


Perl Las - an organic contender from the Welsh valleys. It's name means "blue pearl" in Welsh. Well rounded with lingering blue overtones, it's certanly a pearl of a cheese.


Dorset Blue Vinney - a strong unpasturised cheese with a crumbly texture similar to Stilton. In the mid-Dorset countryside Blue Vinney is still spoken of in hushed tones due to it supposedly once being illegal. We're pretty sure they just don't want it all to go to the tourists.


Cornish Blue - Patrick's favourite. Very creamy and rich owing to the luscious green Liskeard grass the cows feed on. It is designed to be eaten fairly young (unlike Stilton or Blue Vinney) and has won numerous awards (including World Champion Cheese in 2010).


Lanark Blue - An absolutely belter that will blow away your taste buds at the end of Christmas lunch. This unpasteurised sheep's milk cheese is similar to a Roquefort with the reputation of being strong enough to stand up to an Islay Malt. There is also a whiff of scandal behind the cheese following a battle between the cheesemaker and Clydesdale Council in 1995..... one for the cheese trivia buffs.....


We'd love to hear what you're eating this year - if you've discovered a brilliant British blue or a sensational seasonal soft cheese, do your local producer a favour by dropping us a line to tell us about it.


Here's to a cheesy Christmas!


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