Saturday, 08 May 2021

Oxfordshire cheese is queen of curds

IMAGINE. Harvey Nic’s are opening in Henley. They’ve found an unreleased Beatles album. Jaguar have unveiled

IMAGINE. Harvey Nic’s are opening in Henley. They’ve found an unreleased Beatles album. Jaguar have unveiled the new E–Type.

As a foodie, I’m more excited Oxfordshire has a new artisan cheese using local organic milk. A healthy cross–bred herd of Friesian/Swedish Red/Montbeliard which can cope organically without the drugs, happily grazing at Merrimoles Farm, Nettlebed Estate.

I’m an honorary Henleytarian, a commis in Eighties Tyneside where Austrian smoked (brown plastic), Danish blue, Edam, dollop of Pan Yan and TUC biscuits got Michelin’s thumbs–up. A catheter of wine, Port Salut and Sage Derby with your cream crackers was the height of sophistication in an Eighties Newcastle bistro. Egon Ronay bistro â?? expect a Vandyke tomato with your cheeseboard and one of those pronged cheese knives that turns left at the end.

With the resurgence of British food we now have some magical local cheese, including Nettlebed Creamery’s new St Bartholomew. Barkham Blue, Oxford Isis, Laverstoke Park, Rosethorn Blue and Anne Wigmore’s gorgeous unpasteurised offerings from Spencerwood â?? Wigmore, a semi–soft ewe’s cheese; Waterloo, a buttery Guernsey using Henley milk; and Spencerwood, a hard ewe’s cheese.

Locally, cheese shopping is a kerfuffle. Machins Butchers, Falise Square, have a decent limited artisan selection which includes two or three local offerings. Greys Cheese Company, Pangbourne, is excellent, with more than 100, as is Oxford Covered Market’s Cheese Shop. Neal’s Yard at Borough Market is worth the trek.

Waitrose have some artisan stock â?? the star on their cheeseboard is the local–ish Laverstoke Park, organic buffalo mozzarella and organic brie.

It’s a shame about the daft obligatory supermarket “best before” sticker. Laverstoke founder Jody Scheckter has printed on his label “I often prefer our brie just after its best before date”. Parmesan Parmigiano is matured for three years, supermarkets give it seven days in its “best before”!

Those residing in Oxfordshire when Spandau Ballet last hit the charts might remember Wells Stores of Streatley, who single–handedly rekindled a passion for British farmhouse cheeses. Patrick and Hugh Rance stocked 100–plus regional artisan cheeses in their wonderful time warp shop â?? like something from a BBC period drama with its flagstone floors, marble counters, cheese wires, truckles, smocks and cloth caps. Food writers loved it, magazines gushed about Wells Stores, grocers and restaurants championed British cheese. Boursin, Dolcelatte and holey Swiss were retired from the board.

Rose Grimmond opened Nettlebed Creamery earlier this year using her family’s extra creamy organic milk to produce St Bartholomew. The creamery is hidden behind St Bartholomew’s Church. Bartholomew is also the patron saint of the cheesemongers of Florence.

I shouldn’t pigeonhole St Bartholomew’s, but it has a lush Taleggio texture and note. It’s wash–rinded, gently honeyed and earthy, buttery, unctuous and oozing, heavenly and scrumptious. Besides, pigeonholes are for pigeons, categories are for cats. St Bartholomew’s cheesemakers Anne Hastings and Tee Schotthorne take 20 litres of Nettlebed milk to produce 2kg of cheese. That’s unpasteurised milk â?? additive free and full of healthy lactobacilli.

I appreciate we’re cautious of unpasteurised milk but with Nettlebed’s organic grazed herd and laboratory–sterile hygiene, I’d choose drug–free, additive–free organic over pasteurised milk any day. I had the privilege of helping at La Foire Internationale aux Fromages, Coulommiers, France’s largest cheese festival. Despite being warned which cheeses were unpasteurised, pregnant French girls went out of their way for the organic, unpasteurised samples.

I’m privileged to have Nettlebed Creamery’s St Bartholemew’s on the Crooked Billet cheeseboard. See

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