I was at the cheese counter in Tesco’s today — not a sentence you ever thought you’d read here... Fear not my faithful fromage friends I remain true to my principles: I was merely picking up some of their Stilton for a tasting I was doing at Neal’s Yard called ‘All Blues’. I thought it might be instructive to compare it with the NYD recipe Colston Bassett and the Stichelton. How do I think that’s going to go? Not for me to say here. Better come to a tasting if you want to find out. Anyway, there I was at the Tesco’s cheese counter, feeling a little out of place and thus casting my eyes about nervously when they alit on something that chilled me to my very marrow. A crime against food so blasphemous as to be nearly unspeakable. Of course, me being me I am going to speak of it. Vodka cheese I mean, who would do this to a perfectly innocent piece of Wensleydale? What sort of perverted imagination could dream up such a monstrosity? Notice that it’s not just infused with vodka, but cranberry vodka. My mind reels at the very thought. Now I’ve nothing against cheese and booze, nor in combining the two in a single product. If you are sceptical go and try Pam and Max’s stunning Barolo aged cheese ‘Testun’ (it means hard headed, how cool is that?) at L’Ubriaco, their stall in Borough Market. Their cheeses are the product of centuries of tradition, of craftsmanship, of the skill of cheesemaking handed down through generations and honed to perfection. This abomination can only be the fruit of a demented intellect, and, you would think, if there were a shred of sanity, of decency left in the world, surely to God this must be a one-off. But no. There is this: Port cheese It looks like nothing so much as a diseased internal organ. Again with the booze-infusing. Port, yes, cheese yes, but not together in one...one thing. No no no. We stopped pouring port into Stilton years ago, we saw the error of our ways, we repented, we begged for forgiveness and were rewarded with Colston Basset, with Stichelton. And then this, from some outhouse of hell: Cheese with chilli flakes This doesn’t even look like a food stuff. It looks like solidified cavity insulation foam. It was at that my inner middle-Englander, an alter ego also known as ‘disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells’ spoke up: “Aren’t you being elitist Ned? Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it,’ and other vapid platitudes to that effect. I realised with a heavy heart and trembling palate that I would have to allow one of these dreadful creations into my life and indeed into my mouth. Also that in the spirit of fairness, and bold adventurism that has made this nation great, I was going to have to try the most appalling, the most awesomely unlikely paring I could find. Then this swam queasily into view: Chocolate cheese Of course, the orange peel can’t just be orange peel; it has to be ‘zesty,’ a description that puts me in mind of an inappropriately salacious elderly relative. And the chocolate, not only have they put chocolate in it but milk and white chocolate. ‘But wait, Ned,’ I hear you cry, ‘aren’t you just being a narrow-minded, grumpy old goat?’ This is an accusation I have weathered many times, and I refute it thus: Chocolate and cheese? Fine, if you’re offering me a lush dark chocolate mousse with a slice of fresh goat’s cheese like Perroche perched jauntily on top. This is a combination of quality foods juxtaposed with consideration and skill, not flung together as when a small child mixes the entire contents of their paintbox to produce a nullifying institutional shade of mauve. Reader, I bought it.
I notice as I begin with some trepidation to unwrap the ‘cheese,’ that it has the date it was wrapped printed, as if with pride, on the label. This cheese has been sweating in its cling film for eight days! It is as if someone has said, ‘not only am I going to foist this heinous creation upon you but I’m going to make sure it arrives in your mouth in the worst condition possible.’ I can delay the moment no longer. Here goes: As I expected the surface of the cheese is dank and sweaty. It gives off a bouquet of sour, stale fruitcake. Its texture as I squeeze it between my fingers is loose and pappy. The flavour is a combination of sweet and sour that is exactly reminiscent of vomit. There are no other flavour notes. When I’m doing a cheese tasting, I tell people that one way to recognise a well-made cheese is that the flavour has length. Unluckily for me this flavour, or rather this sensation has length: it is that feeling you have in the back of your throat after you have thrown up. I cannot in all conscience recommend it. I shall need a glass of something light and hoppy to wash the memory away. If this cheese were a story it would be written by H.P. Lovecraft, if it were a tune it would be by the Butthole Surfers, if it were a bomb it would be dirty (my apologies to Dominic Coyte.)
Contact Ned to discuss your event: ned@CheeseTastingCo.uk