I have rather a penchant for the fruits of the cheese maker’s art. Such a huge variety of tastes and textures, even without leaving these shores – and even more once you cross la Manche. Cheese seems to be one area in which the Old World remains immeasurably superior to the new – where, at least across the herring pond, all cheese seems to be called Jack. Then again, lest I start to feel too superior to our one-time colonies, as a wee lad I did believe that ‘processed’ was a variety of cheese.
Yesterday evening, I was in old London town (or at least a modern take there on) and as is becoming traditional, spent some quality time in the work of the Gilbert Scott family. In this case, George’s splendid St Pancras Hotel as opposed to his grandson’s Bankside power station on my last visit. In the rather fine restaurant there, I was able to enjoy a little of the wonderfully named Childwickbury goat’s cheese – from a small village just outside St Albans. However, I don’t fancy my chances of finding even such a relatively local cheese in any nearby supermarket.
Whilst the grocery barons are keen that we should be able to sample some goods, however far out of season they may be here on the outskirts of Europe – for others, they seem rather less keen to offer choice. Strawberries they will ship from the furthest flung reaches of this planet, but gooseberries not so much – I presume this reflects the rather limited international appeal of the gooseberry (though it is indigenous from here to the Himalayas, so many cultures should have had the opportunity to sample its deliciousness). Perhaps, like another favourite of mine – rhubarb – it is considered too tart by a world locked in the saccharine embrace of enamel’s enemy, sugar.
Sadly, cheese is another area where the range on offer in most supermarkets does rather disappoint. Beyond a dozen or so staples, the choices are quickly exhausted – though I have noticed that most do offer cheddar from a a growing number of ex-colonies, which I think they may have mistaken for offering a broad range of cheeses. Cheddar is also pretty much the only cheese offered in a range of strengths – from the utterly tasteless to, what I believe our cousins from down-under would call, biting. True biting cheese would obviate the need for the mousetrap, the lure itself would be sufficient unto the entire task, but I suspect only exists in the imagination of the more outré geneticist (and, as it transpires, yours truly). Talk of which reminds me of the hot dog, the only dog which feeds the hand that bites it – but I digress.
Today, I strayed from my usual supermarket of choice and used a branch of Mr Sainsbury’s emporium to acquire some victuals. Whilst searching the store for various products, I passed the cheese department – which was rather curiously segregated. I first notice a section tagged as ‘healthier cheeses’ – but failed to find the complementary ‘unhealthy cheeses’ or ‘less healthy cheeses’ counter. Instead, the remaining cheeses were divided between ‘sliced and grated cheese’ and ‘recipe cheeses’. I presume that the process of slicing or grating must render cheese less wholesome in some way – it certainly renders it less whole. As to what a ‘recipe cheese’ might be, I’m sorry I haven’t a clue (quick plug there for Radio 4’s finest). Mr Collins (my semantic arbiter) offers three meanings for ‘recipe’ – two of which could be boiled down to the idea of a method and the third of which is a medical prescription. Whilst, I love the idea of cheese on prescription, it often makes me feel better, I really can’t see it happening given current belt-tightening in the NHS. I wonder if perhaps ‘recipe cheese’ is an analogue of ‘cooking sherry’ or ‘cooking chocolate’ – foodstuffs you would not want to consume in their own right, but which are fine for putting into a cooked dish. If so, this seems to be setting very low expectations for the quality of a good third of their cheese department. (It does get worse: whilst researching this ‘article’ using their website, I found that this same supermarket under the heading of British Regional Cheeses offers up that most well-known of varieties, ‘Red Cheese’).
Generally, I do not buy my cheese from a supermarket – preferring instead to purchase it from my local butcher. They don’t have a bad range for a village butcher – and despite being mostly vegetarian (though, I do classify fish and anything lacking a backbone as a vegetable), I feel it is very important to support my local butcher. I suspect I am, by a long way, their most valuable vegetarian customer – especially as I also buy all of my eggs and honey there (I have nothing against animal exploitation, per se) and my oil (of the eating as opposed to the lubricatory variety), in whose production, so far as I know, no animals are harmed – though, as previously mentioned some are deprived of their perches.
So, brie good to yourself! Discover gouda have more fun! (some Dutch pronunciation may be required). Y fenni opportunity presents itself, try something new from the world of cheese – and not just cheddar from a new country! You won’t raclette it!