I do wish people would stop messing around with perfectly good cheese. Not content with dropping the likes of bits of cranberry, pineapple, apricot or ginger into classic cheeses and then making out they’re just the sort of truckles that should be adorning an artisan cheeseboard, there’s now a cheddar featuring its very own Christmas dinner.
It would never happen here in Yorkshire where artisan producers like Botton Creamery (pictured) are busy putting quality unadulterated cheese on the map, but I kid you not. One mass producer has come up with the wacky idea of ruining a perfectly acceptable cheddar-style offering by infusing it with turkey flavouring, whole sprouts, pieces of carrot and rabbit droppings of festive fruit. So instead of slaving away over a hot oven on Christmas Day you can solve all your culinary problems with the minimum of fuss and simply prepare yourself Christmas dinner on toast.
And when you’ve devoured that, you can have a digestive rest while watching the Queen’s speech before tucking into dessert – Christmas pudding cheese complete with brandy-soaked sultanas, raisins and currants, candied cherries and apple, cinnamon and liqueur. How lip-smashingly delicious will that be?
According to the aptly-named British Cheese Board there are now more than 700 different cheeses currently being produced in the UK with, I reckon, around 80 being made in Yorkshire alone. Such variety provided by artisan cheese makers – many of them working alone on smallholdings or in farmhouse kitchens – has to be testament to the resurrection of traditional cheese making after decades of famine in the post war years. Remember when you could only buy a red cheese or a white one? When Cracker Barrel came wrapped in coloured foil lumps the size of half a house brick? When the only blue was Danish and the widely available soft cheese offering was a minute processed triangle that you spread on slices of white, square Wonderloaf?
Rationing in the Second World War was the death knell to traditional British cheese making with the government taking control of dairy production and giving the masses a one-variety ‘national’ flavour cheese ration of a mere 20z (50g) per adult per week. Anyone who devours cheese like we do in Yorkshire Food Finder HQ will know that’s not enough to adequately grate over a single floret of cauliflower…
After the war the appetite wasn’t there for a return to artisan cheese production and we got used to mechanised mass-produced hard cheese that was hardly a chip off the old block. But the low point had to be the 1981 introduction by the then Milk Marketing Board of the dreadful Lymeswold cheese, created as a marketing ploy to soak up a surfeit of milk.
And at first, because we’d got used to our diet of cheesy blandness we were taken in by it. Luckily though, there were still a handful out there waving the cheese flag and thanks to their efforts we got seriously cheesed off with the rubbish being dished up to us by the supermarkets and we started on a cheese crusade, seeking out artisan pioneers the length and breadth of the nation, with top Yorkshire chefs like Andrew Pern (pictured right) being in the forefront of the charge. Now we have cheese even the French are envious of and nowhere is that more so than in Yorkshire. Why on earth d’you think they chose us for Le Grand Depart of the world’s biggest cycling – nay sporting – event next summer? Because we can match them in the quality food stakes, that’s why. The days of the Gallic lip-curling row big insults are now well and truly over.
But here’s a thought. Is the whole artisan food farmers’ market bubble where many of these local cheese makers peddle their wares, about to burst? Are so many supposed food-focused entrepreneurs jumping on the bandwagon of rigging up farmers’ markets and raking in foodie punters at food festivals that we’re in danger of driving the real artisan producers away or even out of business?
For try as they might, we’re picking up that many small time local producers are struggling to keep up with their more production line-driven brethren who are churning out supposedly artisan food that takes in the discerning but unsuspecting foodie who in turn is being fed a diet of apparent produce exclusivity by mass market food magazines.
The artisan producers that attracted people in the first place are in danger of being swamped by bigger players from afar – bothered more about their bottom line than quality – pushing their way onto burgeoning farm shop shelves where local should be king.
As for that cheesy Christmas dinner, yes please – but let it be a Yorkshire cheeseboard that shows the best of what we have to offer, with not a creamy cranberry or apricot studded number in sight.