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Blessed are the cheesemakers: Bermondsey Frier

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A British-born and made alternative to halloumi found at Neal’s Yard Dairy

It’s sunny and, moreover, it’s actually warm, after what seems like an eternity of wind, rain and hailstorms. Across the country dads are dusting down barbecues—and that, for vegetarians and cheeselovers, generally amounts to the emergence of only one type of cheese: halloumi.

Now don’t get us wrong; halloumi’s got a lot going for it. It’s hearty, salty, browns on the grill and makes a mean burger. But what if there were similarly cookable cheeses out there? What if, in a railway arch just down the road in Bermondsey, a Swiss cheesemaker was making the perfect, British, barbecuable cheese? Well there are, and Bill Oglethorpe is.

In fact, Bill’s been making Bermondsey Frier for Neal’s Yard Dairy for some time. “We make it in the same way we make our Bermondsey Hard Pressed”—the raclette cheese Bill’s best-known for—“but it’s not aged and it’s not quite so salted. It’s really a stage before it,” he explains. “We can make the Frier and sell it immediately if there’s demand and if there isn’t, we can make it into Hard Pressed.”

Cooking cheese
It’s a win-win situation, one which most makers of hard-pressed cheese in Europe have been savvy to for centuries. In Italy it’s known as formaggio cotto, or cooking cheese. The people making pecorino have a version; Bill got his recipe from a small town near Treviso, called Breda di Piave. “My sister lives there and when I went to visit her, we had this cheese. I went to the cheesemaker and asked him to show me how to make it,” he says simply.

It’s quick: a matter of mere hours between Bill collecting the milk to the moulds being filled and pressed. Yet for all its youthfulness, when it comes to cooking, the aptly named Frier reveals a surprising amount of flavour.

“The quality of the milk and adding a starter to the churn as soon as I pick up the milk makes a difference, I suppose,” Bill says. The starter culture has time to get, well, started on the journey back and indeed continues to work its magic up to 24 hours later.

Another dimension
“Adding salt before cooking adds another dimension.” Bill recommends frying it up with some salt in the pan, or sprinkling some on both sides of the slice before slapping it on the barbecue. 

Little has been done to adapt the century-old recipe gleaned from that Italian master, but there are subtle differences between the formaggio cotto of Treviso and the Frier. For one thing, the milk is sourced from grass-fed cows in Kent. Bill has his own starter and while the technique he applies is the same at every other step, there is one small change.

“Because we wanted a ‘squeakier’ cheese, we scald the milk to a slightly higher temperature.” Strange as it sounds, that squeaky texture is what makes the Frier—and halloumi—so palpably moreish when cooked until golden and served “on a portobello mushroom or atop tomato-bread soup”.

Meat-like
It’s that reassuring sense of biting into something substantial that gives vegetarians and non-veggies alike such salty satisfaction. It is, whisper it, almost meat-like: “Treat it like steak in how you slice and cook it,” Bill continues.

Pay strict attention: the Frier is slightly more delicate than halloumi and unlike the Cypriot cheese, becomes less robust with age. “Halloumi is made to last a long time. It is brined and cooked in whey to preserve it”; the Frier is perishable and, once you bite through the salted surface, “creamier. There are flavour layers. It’s like entering a new dimension,” Bill smiles: a dimension in which you need to exist pronto, along with your barbecue.