Shane Holland is executive chairman of Slow Food UK, a curd nerd, professional cheese judge and food writer. In light of the recent Artisan Cheese Awards, he gives us a rundown of some of the exceptional Borough traders making waves in the artisan cheese world
There was a time, not that many years ago, when the mention of British cheese—notable exceptions aside—would elicit a look of horror on any food lovers’ face. But in the space of a few decades, we have moved from wall-to-wall block cheddar to having more unique cheeses made in the UK than in Italy or France.
Not only do we have variety, we also have absolute quality: our climate means that our number one crop is not wheat or potatoes, but grass. That grass gives rise to some of the world’s best milk, and from that some of the world’s best cheeses.
There are now a number of cheese awards—from the International Cheese Awards (the granddaddy, founded in at 1897) through to the World Cheese Awards—but perhaps the most special of them all are the Artisan Cheese Awards, for cheesemakers producing fewer than 300 tonnes of product a year.
Antithesis of mass-produced
These are cheeses that are usually just made by a handful of people, and very often by hand—the very antithesis of a mass-produced product. It’s therefore no surprise that many of these cheeses are available within the Market, including the supreme champion cheese of the awards: Blackwoods Cheese Company’s Edmund Tew.
This small cheese really packs a flavour punch, with an intensely savoury rind and a clean, lactic finish—a superb winner. Dave Holton of Blackwoods was delighted: “We’re so excited to have won the award against such incredible competition from other British cheesemakers. This award is a real honour, it’s a privilege to receive it.” You can find their cheeses in the Market on their stall on Fridays and Saturdays.
Bath Soft Cheese is another Market favourite, which won not only a veritable confetti of gold awards, but also managed to obtain two best-in-category awards: Bath Blue, a cheese made entirely by hand to a stilton recipe, resulting in a rich and creamy-flavoured cheese with a rounded bite from the blueing, and Bath Soft, a small, square cheese with a white bloom, which has an intense mushroom aroma. Tasting the cheese yields to rich cream, with notes of citrus.
A huge honour
Hugh Padfield of Park Farm, who makes the cheeses, said of the awards: “To be in a competition with the top artisan cheesemakers in the country, judged by professionals at the top of their field, is always a huge honour. We are exceptionally proud to have been voted top of two classes. It is fantastic recognition of all the hard work that we have put into perfecting our cheeses.”
Another medal-toting citrusy soft cheese was Alsop and Walker’s Lord London—also a white-bloomed cheese, but with an intense lemon nose—or if you are searching for an award-winning hard cheese, the superb Bermondsey Hard Pressed from Kappacasein has the deep nuttiness of the finest Swiss gruyere, yet is made from unpasteurised milk in deeply un-alpine Bermondsey.
Awards are important—they shine light on people who toil quietly and methodically day in, day out. But in a way, they confirm what many of us already knew: Borough Market has arguably the finest selection of cheeses—both from Britain and from further afield—of anywhere to be found on the planet.
If that isn’t a reason to visit and explore the vast array of flavours and textures on offer, I’m not sure what is.