If your notion of British cheese begins with Cheddar and ends with Stilton, you have some catching up to do. The diversity and quality of wheels coming into the U.S. from the British Isles has been nothing short of remarkable in recent years, reflecting a renaissance of artisan cheese making there. But American consumers don’t seem up to speed on this—perhaps because they have low esteem for British food in general. Wake up, people.
Neal’s Yard Dairy has done so much to raise the profile for British cheese, introducing us to amazing handmade wheels like Lincolnshire Poacher, Gorwydd Caerphilly and Berkswell—all three on my can’t-live-without list. In the last few years, the Fine Cheese Company has helped flesh out the picture. Based in Bath, this business handles cheese at almost every point, as a retailer, affineur, wholesaler and exporter. I love what they’re sending us.
I’ve written admiringly in the past about Katherine, a raw-milk farmstead goat cheese washed in cider brandy. Now meet Rachel (pictured above), its cheesy sibling produced with thermised (not-quite-pasteurized) milk. Both come from White Lake Cheese in Somerset, a region better known for Cheddar. But partners Pete Humphries and Roger Longman operate a large goat farm and creamery there, a bit like making Cabernet Sauvignon in the heart of Burgundy. Longman looks after the goats, Humphries makes the cheese, and their partnership is now in its twelfth year.
It’s perhaps not a great idea to name a cheese after a girlfriend. What happens if she splits? Fortunately Rachel, the cheese, is still around. I’m not sure about the girlfriend, but at least Humprhies feels comfortable enough about the relationship to describe them both as “sweet, curvy and slightly nutty.” Rachel the Cheese weighs about five pounds and has rounded sides and surface indentations from being drained in a colander. White mold bloom on the rind looks like a fine dusting of flour.
The interior is bone colored, semi-firm, smooth and compact, with an inviting sweet scent, like goat caramel. You might pick up a hint of damp cave and lightly roasted nuts, but the cooked-milk aroma dominates. The flavor is mellow, sweet and saline, like a salted caramel.
Katherine, named for Longman’s girlfriend, debuted later—presumably to keep the peace—and is more rustic and meaty, made with animal rennet and washed with cider brandy. Both cheeses speak to the artistry and originality that modern British cheese makers are demonstrating. Rachel is the top seller on the Fine Cheese Company’s web site.
While writing this post, I started a list of the British and Irish cheeses that I admire most. And I couldn’t stop. See how many you know. It’s too early to say what I’ll be serving at my Best of the British Isles class on May 2, but I guarantee you an eye-opening experience. British and Irish Cheeses to Know
Look for Rachel at these retail locations.