When Miss Pond got in touch to see if I wanted to attend the International Cheese Awards tasting night on her behalf, I couldn’t hit reply quick enough. To me, cheese is a main food group in its own right. I’ll jump at any chance to have it for lunch, dinner, as a snack, at a party, as a treat, for a reward, as a commiseration… There’s no occasion which won’t be improved by nibbling your way through a entire chunk!
This particular event was hosted by the lovely folk at the International Cheese Awards. Which are held up in Nantwich every July. The organisers are keen for more London and across-UK foodies to attend, so decided to hold a press day to get us all excited – and boy, did it work!
I walked to the venue after work as we happened to be in the midst of that lovely spring heatwave, which made the strawberry prosecco on arrival taste even better. Without much preamble, I then dove straight in – there were tables upon tables of cheese, wine, more cheese and more wine, and it smelt heavenly!
Each stall represented a cheese maker who is entering the July awards. Most had in fact already won prizes in previous years and brought along their most famed wares. I kicked off with a wonderfully creamy chunk of Cheshire from the Joseph Heler Dairy. Which prides itself on being one of the few remaining makers of authentic Cheshire cheese. According to the stall holder Cheshire has fallen out of fashion in recent decades, and Joseph Heler are on a one-man mission to revamp its image. I see Cheshire as a milder alternative to feta for those who are less keen on strong salty flavours. Theirs was definitely a crowd pleasing salad cheese.
Wanting to try a bit of everything, I slowly shuffled between stalls, picking up salty crackers and sips of wine as I went along (red for the stronger, more smelly cheeses and a fizzy white for the creamier milder cheeses). I sampled a corking extra mature vintage Cheddar from Barbers, an oozing Brie de Meux from Bradburys, a lactose free (yes really!) Gruyere from Le Gruyere and the standout of the night for me – a White Stilton with real chunks of dried mango and ginger from Shirevale. If you turn your nose up at ‘mouldy cheese’ (like me) and hate Blue Stilton, you MUST promise to try White. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and extremely sweet. Shirevale are actually inspired by desserts – to them, White Stilton is the new ice cream, and flavours range from Cherry Bakewell to Mint Choc Chip to Blueberry Muffin!
At every stall, the cheesemakers were passionate and knowledgeable, and keen to spill (some of!) their secrets and wisdom for creating a really good cheese. One thing they all had in common was their commitment to producing small bespoke batches, sold through independent retailers. Their pride in their products won over any desire to break into the mass market, and at the risk of sounding like an insufferable hipster, I was all for it. The cheeses on offer were a little bit richer, a tiny bit more special and definitely more unpredictable than the brands you’ll find at the supermarket, but they were all the better for being so. You’ll pay a bit more to eat them and have to look a bit further to find them, but you’ll practically be able to taste the love and care that goes into each wedge.
Artisan cheese as a whole is a trend that’s been around for a while, and isn’t going anywhere soon – but what does change is the type of cheese that’s ‘in vogue. The Nantwich International Cheese Awards was described by many stallholders as ‘the Oscars of cheese’, so if you’re looking for the next best thing, want to be surprised, or simply fancy a really good version of your ultimate fave, get yourself there this summer!
Have you been to the International Cheese Awards before? What cheese would you like to try? Let me know in the comments,
P.S. The International Cheese Awards is open to the public at the Nantwich Show on 25th July 2018, entrance to the show ground gets you entrance to the cheese tent!
P.P.S. Ms S was invited along as press to the tasting event. All words, photos and opinions are hers.