The Joy of Cheese
Cheese is a big part of most people’s lives. Cheese is ubiquitous. Think cheese and wine parties, cheese boards at Christmas and even cheese wedding cakes! Cheese sandwiches are still one of the most popular sandwiches in the UK . Meat eaters and vegetarians alike share a deep love for cheese. ‘Real’ cheese; local, artisan cheese, used to be common but due to an increase in convenience supermarket shopping availability has declined. Despite this, local cheese offers the taster a fresh sense of how cheese can really be. Many people have devoted their lives to making cheese. It is not only making the cheese but also looking after their bovine, ovine and caprine workers that are essential to the satisfying taste of cheese.
Why Eat Local Cheese? Is There Enough?
Here in Northumberland, we have a wide range of dairy producers in the county. We are also lucky enough to have a selection of locally made cheeses which come in all shapes, sizes and smells!
What is so good about buying local cheese is that you can trace back to where it was made and to the animals themselves. You are also supporting a local enterprise, which in turn helps the local economy. These local cheese-makers are renowned not only locally and nationally but globally through various cheese awards such as the prestigious Nantwich International Cheese Awards, situated in Cheshire, which this year is hosting 5,000 cheese entries from 27 countries  and the World Cheese Awards which prides itself of promoting fine food and drink.
The focus in this article is on Doddington, The Northumberland Cheese Company and Blue House Goats Cheese. These three businesses alone have around 20 different cheese varieties and all produced from cow, sheep and goat milk, such a delicious array to choose from.
Choosing And Enjoying Your Cheese
The best thing about buying local cheese from your local shop is the confidence and assurance of knowing that someone knows what they’re talking about and is happy to assist you. You want to know what you are buying. A general tip is to buy little and often so that you can enjoy the cheese when it is fresh.
Storing A Cheese
Fresh cheese doesn’t like to be put at the back of the fridge. As soon as it’s opened wrap the cheese in greaseproof paper, rather than cling film to stop it from ‘sweating’. For most cheese, store it in the salad area of the fridge where is it least exposed to varying temperatures.
A cheese, like a lot of foods, is best enjoyed at room temperature to really tickle your taste buds. It also makes it easier to cut or spread and your flavour-filled cheese board will not disappoint. A soft cheese will be tasteless and a hard cheese will feel dry in the mouth if served straight out of the fridge. Remember that cheese is made of fat (fat= flavour, that old equation). You are indulging so do it properly! When fat is cold the molecules contract hence the flavourlessness, and when they are warm they relax and allow the fat to ‘melt’ the flavour around the cheese. Mmmm!
What do you like with cheese? A bit of nostalgia and I’m thinking water biscuits, a slice of cheese and topped off with a slice of apple. Delish! Soft cheese is always delicious smeared over fresh bread. Why not try some goats cheese on top of Bread and Roses 40% rye and caraway seed bread. Other welcome additions include oatcakes, redcurrant jelly and pickle. Or how about grapes and crusty bread chunks, especially for the runny, gooey cheeses.
9 Local Northumbrian Cheeses to Try
Milk production at Doddington Farm began in 1950, and in 1993 an artisan cheese business started, followed by an ice cream and yoghurt making enterprise. Doddington cheese is well-known nationally. The cows they have at Doddington are made up of Friesian and Ayrshire crossbreeds; typical patched cows you expect to see on a dairy farm. The cows’ pasture is in the Glendale Valley, looking out to the Cheviot Hills. They are outside for the majority of the year; weather permitting. At the dairy farm, there isn’t a shop or public access, but you can purchase their cheese and other produce at a variety of outlets.
Doddington cheese is made from raw milk from one herd of cows and made by one person which adds even more to the speciality and care that goes into these products. Doddington cheese is made the traditional way using iron cheese presses and stored on wooden shelves in their stone-walled balls for up to 18 months. Most cheese made at Doddington also contains traditional rennet so check to see its suitability for vegetarians. What is a nice touch at Doddington is how they name their cheeses after local heroes and places. Really keeping history and food alive together.
Named after the edge of the valley where the cows are taken to pasture and characterised by its distinctive pale orange skin, similar to Dutch cheeses. It won the James Aldridge Memorial Award as the UK’S best raw milk cheese in 2011. It is matured for 12-15 months resulting in a strong flavour and lingering aftertaste.
Named after Admiral Collingwood who was Nelson’s second in command at the battle of Trafalgar – who was local to Northumberland. This cheese was introduced in 2007, winning a gold medal at Nantwich International Cheese show. The cheese is washed in Newcastle Brown Ale adding a masculine sophistication and a penetrating aroma. The cheese has a deep, creamy flavour and there are lingering notes of the Newcastle Brown Ale.
Named after Northumbrian heroine Grace Darling, this is Doddingtons only pasteurised milk cheese. Darling Blue has a naturally moulded rind, it is of medium strength with a creamy texture with hints of saltiness around the palate. It is matured for around 3 months.
The Northumberland Cheese Company is located in Blagdon, Northumberland and was started by Marc Robertson in 1984 when he produced his first cheese Redesdale; a sheep milk cheese. Redesdale is still in production today, thirty years later and is still a regular award winner. The company also has a cafe called the Cheese Loft Cafe which showcases its produce. The company currently handmakes 16 different kinds of cheese made from cow, goat and sheep milk. All of their cheeses are pasteurised and vegetarian. Their jersey cow milk comes from Wheelbirks Farm in Stocksfield.
This cheese has a 30-year history and started The Northumberland Cheese Company legacy. It is matured, giving it a richer, stronger flavour. It has a refreshing sharpness and a velvety, sweet texture. A nice alternative to goat’s cheese as it is less tangy and has a creamier consistency. It won a Gold award at Yorkshire Show in 2014.
A traditionally oat smoked cheese that has been cold-smoked over wood chips for 24 hours giving the cheese its mild smokey flavour. This full-fat matured cows milk cheese is a good starting point on your local artisan cheese journey as it can easily be paired with food and drink accompaniments. It also won the silver award for Best Smoked Cheese at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards in 2017.
Northumberlandia has a crumbly texture with slightly acidic notes. Hinting to North-East’s coal mining past, the rind is coated in a black wax to celebrate the past. From the mine’s ashes, rose the beautiful sculpture Northumberlandia, whom the cheese is named after. Delicious with a cracker and some chutney to cut through the acidity. This cheese won Best Newcomer at the 2016 Yorkshire show and the Artisan Cheese silver award.
(A donation of the profits from the sales of Northumberlandia are donated to the land trust. Please note: black wax is not edible.)
Blue House is a micro-dairy farm located in Lowick, not far from Berwick-upon-Tweed or Wooler. They sell their produce at a variety of local outlets and are familiar faces at Farmers Markets and local Food Festivals. They sell a variety of goat dairy products such as their cheese and a Greek-style yoghurt made from the milk of their herd of 20 goats. Goats cheese is swiftly becoming a popular product as people are aware of its health benefits as well as its lower fat content than from cows. Blue House is aware of this and has strived to make their products clean tasting and an easy switch from commercial and cow dairy products to local, artisan goat products. Here below you’ll find a selection of their cheeses worth trying!
Similar to the Scottish crowdie, this cheese is semi-soft and smooth to taste. Ideal for eating with oatcakes, not suitable for cooking but delicious tossed in salads or topped on a pizza.
Hard Pressed Cheese
This cheese is suitable for cooking with and it keeps well. It has hints of lemon and has a crumbly texture. This cheese is also available smoked. It is coated in honey for 2 days before being apple smoked in nearby Eyemouth.
Probably the most common way to find goats cheese. It is soft, creamy and mild. As this cheese is plain it can easily be matched with other flavours and is especially delicious topped with fresh local strawberries and black pepper. This cheese is also suitable for cooking. This cheese is also available with chives only seasonally.