Modern British Classics
Cheesemakers are reinterpreting classics and pushing the envelope. Consider following suit when freshening up your cheese counter.
Invigorating, innovative, exciting – there's a myriad of descriptions which can be used to articulate the energy surrounding the artisan cheese industry at the moment. The scene is awash with fresh ideas, whether it's infusing a classic style with an unexpected flavour – Quicke's Elderflower Clothbound Cheddar, for example – or simply looking to established recipes and letting their signature nuances develop, one cannot complain about a case of cheese ennui nowadays.
Both options illustrate the modern British classics movement – cheeses created with a nod to the past, but with a keen drive to conjure something for the future. It's this school of thought that cheesemongers need to harness and transfer to their counters. A diverse array of cheeses is key to inspiring your customers to want to know more about the contemporary cheese world. A clearly labelled 'modern British classics' section with a spread of blue, soft, hard, washed rind and soft cheeses, explaining how they're noteworthy, will work wonders for piquing shoppers' interest – the same approach would transfer well to a designated sample section, too.
To create a variety which can challenge perception and elicit excitement from consumers is a fine art for cheesemakers, says Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy. “When it comes to reinterpreting classic styles of cheese, I think it's important not to get too bogged down on how it has to be at the beginning,” he says. “Using classic cheesemaking recipes and guidance to start the process is great, but then you'll have to see how the recipe adapts to your milk, farm, constraints on your business and working day, and finally, what your customers want. Reinterpreting these recipes is a great place to start, but cheese will evolve to become something new and unique.”
There are lots of cheeses which draw inspiration from this formula, and Andy lists, “Old Winchester, Ragstone, Cote Hill Blue, Rollright, Haford and Young Buck” as ones which “really stand out as British modern classics.” And when it comes to the makers testing expectations and flavour, Andy says, “The ones really pushing the boundaries are Martin Gott of St James Cheese up in Cartmel and Haydn Roberts of Lightwood Cheese, who are playing around and coming up with some really clever stuff.”
Find your Niche
A cheese which epitomises this approach is Wild Garlic Yarg produced by Lynher Dairies Cheese Company. Managing director Catherine Mead explains, “Modern British tends to describe a cheese that's made to a familiar or traditional recipe, but developed more recently with a twist. The Garlic Yarg is ostensibly a Caerphilly recipe; a young, fairly lactic cheese, slightly acidic and light and fresh. Unlike Caerphilly though, the Wild Garlic Yarg is aged and the garlic leaves that coat the cheese enables the flavour to permeate through the body of the curd giving it a point of difference. It's for these reasons that it would be considered a Modern British cheese rather than a territorial.”
Distinctive cheeses like Wild Garlic Yarg can be utilised expertly on a cheese counter to draw in a consumer which might not have experienced such a novel appearance before. Pungent washed rind cheeses can be used in the same manner, too – we've all heard someone with what they describe as a layman's knowledge effervescently describing the potency of these cheeses. And there are lots of modern British classic washed rind cheeses to choose from, as contemporary cheesemakers experiment with the liquid used to develop the cheese's smell – for instance, Doddington Dairy's use of Baltic Summer Ale to wash its Baltic semi-soft cheese. It's imperative to keep up with the trends, so make sure you're visiting cheesemongers and makers across the country and asking questions. It really pays to do your research.
Holly Shackleton, Editor, Speciality Food