Friday, April 21, 2006
I was in the town of Somerton yesterday, not far from Glastonbury. There’s a very good delicatessen there called Emma B (+44 1458 273444) that sells a really good selection of local cheeses. The one that caught my eye immediately was Montgomery’s Cheddar. James Montgomery from Manor Farm, North Cadbury, Nr Yeovil makes a cheese that is regularly judged the best in the country, and recently the world.
Cheddar itself, with its limestone caves, and its awe inspiring gorge formed by the release of glacial meltwater after the last ice age, is also in Somerset, but some thirty miles north of Yeovil. Any cheese that is made by the ‘cheddaring’ process, where the curd is cut into large strips, and then turned by hand to allow the last remnants of whey to drain away, can be called Cheddar. But the best Cheddar comes from Somerset, and the best Somerset Cheddar is from James Montgomery.
His cheese is made from unpasteurised milk from his Friesian cows and he uses the same cultures that his family has worked with for over seventy years.
There’s a bit of conflict going on about the use of unpasteurised milk in cheese making, ever since a scare several years ago about the listeria bacterium L. monocytogenes.
L monocytogenes is widespread in the environment. It can be found in soil, dust, mud, vegetation, silage, sewage and most of the animals that have been tested. It has been found in up to five per cent or more of normal healthy people usually in the gut. For this reason exposure to this bacterium is unavoidable. It’s everywhere, including the organic salads we eat, and it has the unusual characteristic of being able to grow, albeit slowly, at temperatures as low as 0oC. So refrigeration does not kill it. It can cause a variety of infections ranging from minor chills to serious illness, affecting pregnant women, infants, and people whose immune response is compromised, but commonly only affects 1-3 cases per million of the population per year. Soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert and blue veined cheeses seem to be most suspect, and hard cheeses like Cheddar have given less cause for concern.
Cheese made with care and with due consideration for hygiene should never cause problems, but the cautious areas of government would prefer all milk for cheese to be pasteurised. This involves heating the milk to 72 degrees for 15 seconds and effectively kills off any lurking bacteria.
This also suits the producers of bland, soap-like slab cheese that line the supermarket shelves because large cheese producers, selling to the mass market, are interested in shelf life, price and, above all, uniformity of flavour, and that uniformity is what pasteurisation gives to the cheese. The artisan cheese maker, on the other hand, is interested in preserving the flavour given to him by the elements which make up his milk. The breed of animal, its age and feeding routine, good hygiene, the soil and the season all have a bearing on the quality and flavour of the milk. The artisan cheese maker does not try to standardise those elements and, as a result, he can produce a cheese with character which is full of flavour. He knows that to blend the milk and, in particular, to pasteurise it, destroys many of the elements which give the cheese its unique character.
This may not matter to you if what you want is some dairy protein for a sandwich or a cooking ingredient, but if you want a cheese to savour on its own the complexity of the flavours of the unpasteurised version opens up a whole new palette of tastes. Montgomery’s Cheddar has clean balanced acid flavours, with the pronounced nuttiness of aged Cheddar, rounded and full. A perfect English cheese.
Posted by June at 4:40 PM