By Edward Hancock
Mar 2, 2023
Last week we were delighted to welcome Jake and Kayleigh from Village Maid cheese to cheese HQ in Raynes Park.
A large part of my role is getting out to meet our cheesemakers and farmers in order to learn about and understand the land that the milk comes from. Experiencing first-hand the amazing craftsmanship behind turning that milk into cheese is fascinating as well as crucial in terms of allowing me to pass on that knowledge and information to our customers.
This also enables me to get a better understanding of the seasonal variations in the cheese, and the ideal ripeness and maturity profiles of each cheese we work with, as well as the flavour variations based on different starter cultures (cheesemakers often have to rotate starters to avoid page – but that’s for another Ed-it!!).
But equally important for many of our cheesemakers is to come and visit us, to see how we have built our business, and observe the processes that ensure every piece of cheese we are entrusted to sell is enjoyed in the condition they have intended and would be proud of. As cheesemongers, we are very much custodians of their practice, and bear a huge responsibility to do justice to their hard work.
Jake is the son of Anne Wigmore, who started making cheese 35 years ago at Village Maid - making Village Maid now a second-generation cheesemaker! Operating from Berkshire, the Wigmores and their team make a range of fantastic cheeses, ranging from hard to soft, and sheep’s milk to cow’s milk. Spenwood could be considered their flagship cheese, both in terms of endurance and accolades. It was first made in the 1980s, the oldest of the cheeses they still make, but it also recently won a Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards, finishing in the Top 16 of over 4,500 cheeses from all over the world. Quite an incredible achievement. (Spoiler alert: we very much look forward to showcasing Spenwood for Mother’s Day later this month!)
But the title of this Ed-it is ‘Trending cheese’, something we are well positioned to keep a keen eye on at cheesegeek.
Artisan cheese is a wonderful thing, and whilst taste is subjective, what is certain is that variation in artisan cheese is what really sets it apart from mass-produced cheese. The greatest artisan cheesemakers achieve a variability (whether seasonal, batch to batch or sometimes ‘random’) that operates within a range of always being highest quality.
Within this variability though, we also see cheeses that seem to trend, or hit patches of really fantastic form. The truth is, our cheesemakers are constantly striving to make better cheese, or to benchmark the ‘perfect make’ and hit that as many times as they can. Given that we taste every batch of every cheese every single time we send it out, we sometimes notice that a cheese, adjusting for seasonality, is getting consistently better and better over a prolonged period. Sometimes this is ‘luck’, an unknown, or a freak patch of weather leading to a few special batches. But what we really love is seeing a prolonged trend. In these cases, we know the cheesemaker must have made a tweak or change to their process (which we then badger them to get the details of, of course!).
There are a few cheeses we have seen these prolonged upward trends with, and one is Waterloo.
Waterloo is a brie style cheese, made with Guernsey milk (a rarity) that over the past year, has gone from a really good cheese (with moments of magic), to one of the best cheeses in its style in the UK, and very consistently so. Guernsey milk is very difficult to work with due to its high fat content, which can lead to some unwanted flavours such as bitterness. But when executed well, Guernsey milk produces cheese that is rich, buttery and decadent. It also produces the most wonderful golden yellow colour, that contrasts so nicely with the bloomy white rind.
Another relatively unique characteristic of Waterloo is that it’s made using a ‘washed-curd’ method, meaning that hot water is reintroduced to the curds once the whey has been drained. This heat removes more moisture from the curds and reduces acidity (as more lactose is washed away, leading to a cleaner, more gentle flavour -perfectly balancing the richness of the milk).
Waterloo is the perfect example of a trending cheese that is getting better and better. It is also why we always encourage cheese lovers to go back and retry cheeses over time, as the artisan cheese world is far from static!