The British Cheese Awards are the Oscars of Britain’s cheesemaking industry, and though there isn't quite the same level of glitz and glamour as one can expect in Tinseltown, the sheer number of talented cheesemakers, and the trestle table-bucklingly large amount of artisan British and Irish cheese on display more than makes up for it.
Over 800 cheeses from 120 different cheesemakers were in attendance at the Royal Bath and West Showground on the 29th May for this year's Awards. Since their inception, 26 years ago, the British Cheese Awards have borne witness to a remarkable and sustained renaissance in British cheesemaking. Such is the quality of our cheese, a number of those that were up for the British Cheese Awards have previously collected prizes on the world stage. The rude health of our industry can in large part be attributed to the tremendous community spirit found in British and Irish cheesemaking circles, as makers freely share their hard-won wisdom with their peers. This ethos is particularly apparent at the British Cheese Awards, and everyone involved shares the same keen interest in supporting young up-and-comers.
In this spirit, we were delighted that our Maturation Room Manager, Alex Kiely, entered the Young Cheesemonger contest at this year's Awards. All competitors were determined to show they had the necessary chops for slinging cheese in their shops, and had paid their dues looking after their blues. The ‘mongers’ mettle was tested over the course of four rounds, and, after a close run thing, Alan Watson took home the highly deserved first prize.
Alex put in a strong performance, and though on this occasion he was placed third in the charts, he will always come first in our hearts.
The fact that the ‘Young Cheesemonger Award’ has become such a popular fixture amongst the cheesemakers in attendance at the British Cheese Awards, is a testament to how supportive cheesemakers and cheesemongers are of one another. The more that expert cheese knowledge can be shared with those who venture into a cheese shop, the better it is for everybody. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats in the harbour, an upswell in British talent only enriches the larder.
Aside from the Young Cheesemongers competition, the rest of the awards were just as hotly contested, with the 70 expert judges ( including our Cheese Specialist Ben Hildreth, and Bath shop Cheesemonger Nick Bayne) appraising the entries for their quality. As one of the sponsors, we were delighted to be a part of the awards, and proudly provided the aprons for the event. Congratulations to Pete Humphries and Roger Longman of White Lake cheeses for winning the Ann-Marie Dyas Award for Best Sheep's Milk Cheese this year, the award created in memory of our founder.
As ever, we are thrilled to report that the cheesemakers we work with were rightly rewarded for their tremendous skill and talent.
Congratulations to this year’s winners:
Our Westcombe Cheddar is hand-selected by us, together with Tom Calver, the different batches are tasted until we find the ones that match the perfect flavour profile. These are chosen to be matured and released when they hit their peak, when a deeper, fuller flavour has developed. The cheese has a wonderfully full and complex savoury flavour, with a slightly tangy finish.
Steeped in oil and infused with thyme, garlic, bay and pepper. The rich and creamy cows’ milk makes Graceburn softer and more melt-in-the-mouth than traditional Feta.
Best Modern British
Silky smooth and supple in texture, with a paste that is lightly honeyed, delicate and distinctly more-ish. A new favourite from Debbie Mumford and the team at the Sharpham Estate.
Best Traditional Cheddar
The birth of a traditionally made, raw milk, clothbound Somerset Cheddar is an extraordinarily rare event. Brothers Todd and Maugan Trethowan set about achieving this feat when they moved the making of their Gorwydd Caerphilly to Puxton Farm, just seven miles from Cheddar Gorge. Cheddar is ubiquitous throughout the world, but precious few have truly earned the name. Pitchfork joins a select band of authentic, Somerset Cheddars. Moist and succulent in texture, it is full-flavoured with a hint of tropical fruit.
Best Cheddar & Best Cheese from a Member of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association Award
Keen's Raw Milk Traditional Extra Mature Cheddar
Made using raw milk from the Keen family’s own herd, to a recipe that has been passed down through the generations. Matured for over 12 months to ensure that each cheese develops the characteristic moist texture, tangy bite and full-bodied complex flavour so typical of a Keen’s Cheddar.
Best Goats' Milk
Rachel starts life as a classic goats’ milk cheese, but is washed to develop the characteristic orange rind and sweetness and smoothness of texture. Named romantically after an old flame of Peter Humphries, whom he describes as ‘smooth, curvaceous and slightly nutty’, rather like the cheese itself!
Gold Medal Winners:
From Hampshire Cheeses, the celebrated makers of Tunworth, this is an exceptional cheese with a gooey, almost spoon-able paste contained by a band of spruce. It has a rich, delicate but complex flavour and a wonderful ‘woody’ aroma.
Poor Edmund Tew was transported to Australia in 1829, at just 16, for stealing cheese. Taking a leaf out of Edmund’s book, cheesemakers Dave Holton and Tim Jarvis have stolen more than a little inspiration from the makers of the French cheese Langres, to create this stunning little cheese. Its washed, wrinkly coat pools in the centre of the cheese, encasing a lactic core of real character.
Made to the same recipe as Stinking Bishop, but with a natural mottled coat, the colour of which will vary seasonally. The supple interior is smooth and silky, sometimes runny under the rind, with a buttery richness and a fruity flavour. Named after a 19th century Gloucestershire cider apple variety.
Cloth-wrapped, hand-made Dorset Cheddar, cave-aged for a depth of flavour and a moist texture. It is fruity and tangy with a rich, deep flavour and a hint of sweetness.
Made by Mark Sharman and Debbie Mumford on the Sharpham Estate. The Jersey cows that provide the rich, raw milk for Sharpham Rustic graze on water meadows in the beautiful Dart valley. The cheese is rich and buttery with a fresh, lactic finish.
Rich, buttery, sweet and gentle. The cheeses are hand-pierced to allow small pockets of blue to form in the creamy paste, and tiny blue veins to appear through the spaces between the curds. Claire Burt’s skill in creating a tiny blue cheese is not easily matched. Made in two sizes.
Made by the Cropwell Bishop Dairy, a family company that has been making Stilton for generations, this is a departure from the most traditional of British cheeses. Inspired by softer, milder European cheeses like Gorgonzola Dolce, it is delicate, rich and buttery.
Sharpham Rustic Chive and Garlic
A cheese based on an idea from the cows themselves, that have a taste for the wild garlic where they graze. The cheesemakers add more garlic and chives to the milk, to help nature along. A rich Jersey milk cheese, with a delicious ‘oniony’ tang.
Invented in 1984, Cornish Yarg has gone on to become a modern classic in British cheese. Loosely based on a Caerphilly recipe, the cheese is wrapped in nettle leaves to preserve its fresh, bright, lactic taste. The nettles are hand-picked from the local Cornish countryside when they are a bright, vibrant green, and frozen for use throughout the year. With maturity the cheese develops moulds that encourage the beautiful, almost lace-like, appearance of the rind to develop.
A delicate, rich and complex cheese. Hand-made by Julie Cheyney in Suffolk from the milk of Montbeliarde cows, this tiny cheese is full of flavour. The thin, wrinkled coat encases a dense, lactic core, and the flavour is refined but deep and lingering.
Made to a traditional raw milk Caerphilly recipe. Matured to develop a natural coat, so, while the centre remains fresh, bright and lactic, deeper, more savoury tones develop closer to the rind.
Eat both parts to get the full Gorwydd experience!
A mild and creamy, organic, Brie-style cheese, made to an original 19th century recipe from the milk of the farm’s own herd, by the Padfields at Kelston, Bath.
Made using milk from the Montgomery’s small Jersey herd, the rind is washed to retain moisture. The cheese develops meaty, savoury flavours, has a supple texture, and melts beautifully.
Lightly washed in Somerset Cider Brandy and wrapped in a vine leaf, Eve is sweet and creamy, with only a suggestion of the strength you might expect from a washed-rind cheese.