Tastes Change: My Journeys With Cheese

In the beginning there was cheese, good old fashioned British cheese. I was born in the early 50s so by the time I started to eat cheese my first memories are of big blocks of Red Leicester (we called that cooking cheese) and even larger blocks of Cheddar (eating cheese). I can remember going to the village shop with my mother, the smells inside that shop were a veritable treat for the nose.

In those days, butter came in barrels and was cut to how much you required, cheese was in massive rounds, sugar was scooped out of round cardboard cylinders and weighed into blue paper bags, eggs came on trays and placed in paper bags when sold, bacon came as full sides, wrapped in 'stockinet cloth' and biscuits were in tins with hinged glass tops. Tea was sold loose from tea chests and coffee was rarely consumed, but when it was it was ground on site by the retailer. Bacon, ham, any type of charcuterie was cut by a frighteningly sharp spinning disk in a slicing machine. Today we call these shops 'the deli', in those days, it was just the provision shop in my case it was called "Walter Wilson's" or the "Co-op" store; and I can still remember the smell of the place.

The point of the story is, as a young man, I was brought up on Red Leicester, Cheddar, (but I later preferred Cheshire) and Wensleydale. I now know why the range of cheese was limited, it was because of the war and the impact that had on the cheese making industry in Britain also rationing played a part I suppose. Then of course we were introduced to Kraft cheese slices and we also had the infamous cheese triangles? Sometimes my father would have a Danish Blue or Stilton at Christmas, but I hated the taste of blue cheese at that time.

That was the extent of my awareness of cheese right up until I went to work in Europe at the age of 22. Can you imagine the impact on my palate travelling around Europe as part of my job had, it felt, in effect, that I was being paid to just eat food, and incorporate a fantastic range of cheese into each meal.

May I just say, because of my very limited upbringing or experience of cheeses, I often would not try the 'smelly stuff', but just go for the ones that looked like something I might recognise.

In France, I would sometimes eat fresh Brie or Camembert, perhaps a little Cantal Doux, but often it would be a cheese called Kiri which was a cheese for children. However, eventually, I accepted that sometimes I would be caught out by strong cheese, even managing a little Dolcelatte at times if there was nothing else. I was once required to spend some time in Roquefort, France, I hated it, the local cheese was dished up at every meal, how things have changed. In Italy it would be Fontinela, Dolcelatte etc.

Eventually, I came to appreciate that different cheeses, bread and wine all worked well together to produce a delicious part of any meal. My palate started to change and it became more accepting of stronger cheese, this transformation was eventually completed when we moved to live in the Correze region of France for over 3 years.

In the Correze our local cheeses were Cantal, Rocamadour and Saint Nectiare, which, you would think, along with the fact the area specialising in veal, foie gras, walnuts and strawberries it would seem like heaven. At first that was true, but eventually our palates craved Cheddar Cheese, English sausages and bacon, and traditional roast chicken (a lot of French places deep fry their chicken).

Having returned back to England from living in France, my palate had matured and was far more accepting of strong cheese, especially goats cheese; often it was difficult to get the sort of cheese we had become used to eating, hence I started making my own cheese.

Once I started cheese making I realised the vast array of cheeses I would be able to make, hence I am always producing new cheeses. Also, since making my own Stilton style cheese I even eat and enjoy blue cheeses.

Britain, thankfully now has a cheese industry to equal, if not surpass, any country in the world and long may it last!!

I suppose what I am trying to say is never stop trying new cheeses, our palates change, develop and mature as we go through life. Check out my cheese list for 2013, I will be regularly making these cheeses along with others that take my fancy.