“WHEN THE STARS ALIGNED, THE RESULT WAS PURE ALCHEMY – A CHEESE WITH A CLEAN FINISH AND PLEASINGLY LARGE HOLES”
“Would you say it’s the British answer to emmental?” I suggest to Arthur Alsop, displaying what in hindsight was perhaps an overweening level of presumption, given the cheese at hand. Dubbed Mayfield in celebration of a local village in their home of East Sussex, the hard, holey cow’s milk number made by Arthur Alsop and Nic Walker has, in the past few years, won both public affection, and a fistful of gold and silver gongs.
In his reply, Arthur displays all the patience of an artisanal cheesemaker who spends most of his life waiting for wheels to mature in a cool room: “Not really. It very much stands by itself.” It might look like an emmental, in so far as it’s riddled with holes, hard and golden, but every cheese produced by Alsop & Walker is unique to the pair’s East Sussex cheesemaking. If you want emmental, head to Jumi round the corner. If you want Mayfield, you’re in the right place.
“We wanted a cheese with natural holes,” Arthur recalls of the brief they set themselves when he and Nic decided to add a new cheese to their collection. “There weren’t many in Britain, because it’s difficult: you’ve got to ensure the moisture, humidity and acidity levels are right,” he cautions.
Still, being naturally adventurous, they continued apace. Sometimes they’d get the holes, but the flavour would be all over the shop; other times, the reverse would occur. But when the stars aligned, the result was pure alchemy – a smooth, almondy cheese with a clean finish and large holes you can’t help but run your tongue over, as you feel the yielding creaminess of its hard-soft pate.
“It’s very easy going,” Arthur continues. Not one to be fussy, the whens and wheres and wherefores of Mayfield are what you make of them: “Breakfast, with bread, in a fondu or on a cheeseboard.”
Made every morning, from milk which has been delivered the previous night from small farms surrounding the cheesemaking rooms in Sussex, it reflects the seasons: now it’s lighter and creamier, because the cows are out to pasture: come winter, it will be buttery and creamy, as the cows’ diet changes. It’s enjoyable in every circumstance – though having now reappraised Mayfield’s considerable standing, I agree with Arthur: “I tend to have it just by itself.”