Saturday, 1 August 2009

One for the dairy

To Nantwich to explore an age-old institution and consume more than my own body weight in dairy produce. Yes, the Nantwich International Cheese Awards this week offered rich pickings for cheese fans.
The Cheese Marquee is the highlight of the Nantwich & South Cheshire Show (right), attracting some 2,655 entries for judging from 24 countries.
On the day an army of judges in white coats stalk the long tables, groaning under the weight of cheese, while trade stands fringe the perimeter with everything from packaging to a new range of Cornish goats' cheese.
My favourite gizmo of the day was a kind of cheese-slicing sonic screwdriver from Newtech, the, ahem, robotic solutions experts.
There was also a frisson of celebrity glamour. A boozy, late-morning reception hosted by Fayrefield Foods included a cooking demonstration by Matt Tebbutt of the Foxhunter in Monmouthshire fame and Sean Wilson, better known as Martin Platt from Coronation Street, who has swapped Weatherfield for life as an artisan cheesemaker in Saddleworth.
The champagne flowed, Sean's Blackpudding Crostini was judge a hit and Matt got busy with a slab of Collier's Powerful Welsh Cheddar.
But one thing really struck me from the day. Aside, that is, from just how much cheese one man can consume when let loose in a big tent stuffed with everything from Edam to Roquefort.
The event was really corporate. I had an image of rustic, ruddy-faced cheesemakers turning up to proudly show off their artisan wares to a chorus of appreciative cries from the cheese-chomping cognoscenti of Cheshire.
But no. Hefty branding for Tesco and Asda, plus a huge stand for supermarket stalwart Cathedral City, lent the country show the feel of an accountancy conference in Swindon.
Thanks heavens, then, for Appleby's, a family business of farmers and cheesemakers from the Cheshire/Shropshire borders, who are now onto the third generation of cheesemakers, use traditional artisan methods and defiantly unpasteurised milk. They were one of the few artisan, local producers in evidence on the day.
At the end of the afternoon, the big winner was the Cropwell Bishop Creamery from Nottingham, taking the title of Supreme Champion for its Blue Stilton.
But, unless next year's event does more to showcase the hard work and expertise of smaller, local produces, the future winners will be those with the biggest corporate spending power.
And that, as a cheese lover, would really leave me feeling really - wait for it - cheesed off.


  1. Nice post! Local colour. Good for you, for sniffing this one out (ark ark). And stick it to the big boys - what are they doing at a show like this anyway? As if nobody's ever heard of Asda. And Cathedral City isn't artisan-made, is it? I thought it was just a industrial, factory-produced supermarket item...

  2. Absolutely. Let's hear it for the little guys keeping up generations of traditions.

  3. Thank you for your support of the specialist cheesemakers. We love making our cheese and hope that our customers enjoy eating it.