Call myself a foodie* and never been to the home of the pork pie? Shame on me!
Luckily, an invitation to attend the Artisan Cheese Fair in Melton Mowbray gave me the chance to fix this oversight and Pete and I made our way North on the first Saturday in May.
Held in the Cattle Market, which itself is in the heart of this ancient market town, the Artisan Cheese Fair is now in its fourth year and bigger and better than ever. We spoke to organiser Matthew O’Callaghan about how he came to create the event.
Unlike other cheese festivals we’ve attended, entrance is just £1 and there are no hidden costs to worry about. Free on site car parking is available and the various talks and musical entertainment don’t require additional payment.
The majority of the stalls were given over to cheese, as you’d expect, though of course, the famous local pork pie was represented by a couple of producers, as was locally produced beer. There were also a few non-cheese stalls selling fudge, cakes, bread and other bakery goods, a variety of alcoholic and soft drinks, ice cream, jam and samosas (though, surprisingly, no paneer-filled ones!)
As Matthew said, over 50 British cheese makers were represented, most of them showcasing multiple cheeses. We spent a few hours at the Fair so I was able to sample at least one cheese from nearly all of them. Here are my top picks.
Kavey’s Favourites From The 2014 Artisan Cheese Fair
Quickes Oak Smoked Cheddar & Goat Cheddar
Smoked with oak chips from their own woodland and made with milk from their own dairy, the Quickes oak smoked cheddar had a beautifully natural smoke flavour which was perfectly balanced with the cheese itself – in so many smoked cheeses, the only flavour is the smoke itself. The texture of the cheese was lovely with a pleasing creaminess from the fat content and I liked the level of salty sharpness.
The Goat Cheddar was also fantastic, indeed it’s one of three cheeses I purchased to bring home.
Cote Hill Blue
Mary Davenport’s family have been dairy farmers in Lincolnshire for 40 years, but turned to making cheese 9 years ago when the falling price of milk made running the business solely as a dairy less viable.
I loved Cote Hill’s soft mild blue cheese made in particular; though the cheese is mild, the blue flavour comes through clearly and the rind is lovely. The Cote Hill Reserve was also delicious – a semi-hard washed-rind cheese which uses Tom Wood Beers’ Bomber County to add flavour to the rind.
Cheesemakers of Canterbury’s Canterbury Cobble
This stand had a wider range of cheeses on display than most exhibitors, as well as butter and biscuits. It was their Canterbury Cobble that appealed the most. Cheesemaker Jane Bowyer explained that it is made like a brie but then matured into a hard cheese. It was creamy but sharp, with a lovely hint of lemony citrus.
Belvoir Ridge Rutland Slipcote
Jane and Alan Hewson from Belvoir Ridge Creamery were showcasing a new soft curd cheese called Colwick, having recently revived an old 17th century recipe. It was perfectly pleasant but it was the oozing Rutland Slipcote that stole my attention, and was another cheese I purchased to bring home. Slipcote is a white mould-ripened cheese and is delightfully pungent and gooey when ripe. The Hewsons make their cheeses with milk from their rare breed Red Poll & Blue Albion cattle.
Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar
As she cut me a sample, Rachel Holden explained that her father Patrick (who was busy cutting and wrapping cheese) looks after the family dairy while she and brother Sam make cheese. The milk from their brown and white Ayshire cows produces a creamy nutty cheddar with a distinct brassica flavour. It’s the kind of cheese you could accidentally eat far too much of!
Thimble Little Anne & Dorothy
I confess I ended up spending ages chatting to cheese maker Paul Thomas and his wife Hannah Roche. The couple have been in the cheese industry for many years and Paul is also the head cheese maker for Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers. Their own cheese making business is in its first year and currently has just two adorable little cheeses called Little Anne and Dorothy. Little Anne is a fresh lactic cheese and Dorothy is a soft washed-rind cheese; both are made from unpasteurised raw cow’s milk.
Paul also teaches cheese making classes at the The School of Artisan Food.
Hampshire Cheeses Tunworth
I almost didn’t stop at the HC stall, as I’m already so familiar with Tunworth – it’s a cheese a buy nearly every time I visit Neal’s Yard Dairy. But I saw a window of opportunity when the stall was miraculously free of fellow visitors and took the chance to chat with cheese maker Stacey Hedges.
Of course, the Tunworth was delicious as always, but I was particularly excited by Stacey’s news that they started making a new cheese last year. Called Winslade, the new cheese is wrapped in a band of spruce bark, which adds flavour to the rind. It’s currently produced in limited volume, but she told me to look out for it in Neal’s Yard Dairy.
I didn’t mean to make cheese maker Peter Humphries blush when I asked if one of his cheeses was named for someone in particular but his embarrassed expression as he said “yes” was utterly charming. As too was his cheese. It was the oozing yellow centre making a break for it that drew me to the stall – the cheese is (commercially) known as Goddess and is produced (for musician-cum-cheeseman Alex James). Made from Guernsey milk, this is a delicious mild and creamy soft cheese.
Ticklemore Harbourne Blue (no photo)
Ticklemore had three cheeses on sale – Devon Blue (made from cow’s milk), Beenliegh Blue (made from sheep’s milk) and Harbourne Blue (made from goat’s milk). The Devon was a bit plain and the Beenliegh too acidic but the Harbourne Blue was a wonderfully tasty cheese. The balance between sweet, salty and blue was delicious and the rich full fat creaminess was a real delight. This was another of the cheeses I bought to bring home.
Sparkenhoe Red Leicester
I wasn’t able to chat to anyone at this busy stall as they were busy selling cheese but did taste both their hand made Red Leicester and a mild and chalky blue cheese.
Talks & Entertainment
Luckily, we learned a lot about the history of Red Leicester (and exactly how anatto came to be used to give it that distinctive bright colour) by attending one of the free talks, An Unusual History of Cheese. In this entertaining and hugely informative talk, Matthew O’Callaghan shared a light-hearted history of cheese that was perfectly pitched to convey lots of information in a very engaging way. His abiding love for cheese itself and for local and national history was self evident!
Outside, visitors were entertained by the Melstrum Ukulele Band and the New St Georges Morris Dancers.
I was drawn to a recreation of an old milking parlour, set up in an open-sided trailer.
The Melton Cheeseboard
A special thank you to Tim Brown of The Melton Cheeseboard, a local shop specialising in a wide range of British cheeses and local specialities, for his very warm welcome and the generous selection of cheeses and local products he gave us. His shop is located in the heart of Melton Mowbray at 8 Windsor Street and is open 6 days a week.
* Actually, I’m more likely to refer to myself as a greedy glutton than a foodie, but you catch my drift…
Kavey Eats was a guest of the Artisan Cheese Fair. Thanks to Matthew, Lin, Rachel and Tim.