Where there's a curd there's a whey
My second interview for Newick Food Fair is with Lucie Inns from Cheesology. I first came across Lucie about three years ago when she sold me some stunning brie so I was delighted when she came along to our first food fair. This is Lucie's third year with us and I cannot wait to see what new cheeses she will have in June.
What did you do before selling cheese?
I worked in advertising for a customer publishing agency in London. A high pressure fast-paced environment.
What made you decide to become a cheesemonger?
A friend sent me a box of artisan cheese as a gift. I was blown away by it. It was so totally different from the kind of cheese you find in the supermarket. And I was amazed that it was all from the British Isles.
How do you find out about new cheeses and will you have new cheeses for Newick Food Fair?
I do a lot of research into new cheeses. Much of it from the food press both in print and on-line. I contact cheese makers and follow the various annual cheese awards (International and British) closely. There are new cheeses being launched all the time, so I’m bound to have some for Newick.
What is the rarest cheese you have sold?
“Rarest” is a bit ambiguous but perhaps “unusual” is a better term. I’ve recently stocked a hard blue cheese made from water buffalo milk – alas not made in the British Isles on this occasion but made in Lombardy. In this country we are used to water buffalo milk being mozzarella or burrata, so it was very different for my customers.
Can you tell us an unusual fact about any cheese?
Most people imagine that soft creamy cheeses like Brie are higher in fat than hard cheeses like Cheddar but it’s the other way around. Soft cheeses have a greater water content so less fat.
How do you choose what wine or beer to have with a cheese?
In an ideal world you would try and choose them both from the same region of production – what the French call “terroir”. That way they have a connection from the soil (that the grapes or hops grow in or the pasture that the animals graze on) and the climate/weather (which affects the style of the wine, ale or cheese). But also, opposites attract – so a salty blue cheese with a sweet desert wine or a chocolaty Porter style ale. And similar styles work - a fresh young goats cheese with a light fruity style white wine. White wine is much easier to match with cheese than red wine contrary to popular belief. The tannins in the red wine often “fight” with the fat in the cheese which can be quite unpleasant.
Is cheese seasonal (apart from Stilton) and can you taste the difference?
All cheese is seasonal. There are so many aspects that affect the taste, style and texture of cheese. What the animal has grazed on for example and that will change depending on the time of year (outside on fresh pasture or inside on special feed). The temperature and humidity in the dairy can also have a huge bearing on the cheese. Also, morning or evening milk will influence the character. People also tend to prefer lighter fresher cheeses in the Summer and heavier stronger cheeses in the Winter. A cheese such as Vacherin Mont D’or is only available from October to March. And don’t forget Stilton is for life NOT just for Xmas.
Are there any qualifications to be a cheese taster?
Yes, if you’d like to have a formal qualification then there is a cheese qualification from the newly created Academy of Cheese. The Academy has been set-up to promote cheese knowledge and provide career development, both within the industry and amongst the wider public. It culminates in the highly qualified and industry accredited role of Master of Cheese. There are also international cheese maturing courses (Affinage) and cheese grading courses.
How many cheeses do you sell at anyone time?
I generally keep around 16 cheeses on the boards and they change weekly. (That's me in the hat!)
What’s your best most popular cheese?
If only it were that simple! I’d say there are many popular cheeses – Tunworth soft made in Hampshire (a Camembert style), Quickes Vintage Cheddar made in Devon, Mrs Bell’s Blue (a Roquefort style) made in North Yorkshire and Shorrocks Lancashire Bombs to name but a few.
How should a cheese be stored at home?
Alongside your wine … in the cellar of course (ha ha). Assuming you don’t have a wine cellar then in the refrigerator wrapped in waxed paper and in a sealable box. NOT in cling film as this allows it to sweat. Cheese is a living breathing thing.
Can you freeze cheese?
Yes, you can. Harder cheeses with a lower water content work best.
How do you know if a cheese is ripe?
Buy cheese from your local deli or cheesemonger who will be able to supply your cheese at exactly the level of ripeness you require. Supermarket cheeses rarely ripen well.
Does hard cheese have more flavour than soft cheese?
Not necessarily. Depends on the style and maturity of the cheese. A vintage Cheddar would be stronger than a fresh ewe’s milk cheese, but a hard Caerphilly could be milder than a ripe Camembert or soft washed rind pungent cheese.
What are the different way cheese are made?
In its basic form, all cheese is made in much the same way. Removing the solids (curds) from the liquids (whey), pressing into moulds and ageing for a certain amount of time. Of course, there’s more to it than that - pasteurisation or thermisation. The addition of bacteria starter (like bread and yoghurt making), brushing with a brine or alcohol in some cases. Wrapping in cloth or cold wax dipping. It’s a combination of science and alchemy.
Can you tell us the difference between Cow, Sheep and Goats Cheeses – does the different milk type affect the flavour?
Yes, the species of animal determines the flavour, colour and style of the cheese as well as the levels of lactose and the structure of the fat. Ewes’ milk is much sweeter, goat’s milk can be tangy. The structure of the fat can make them both more easily digestible than cow’s milk cheese. It’s up to the cheesemaker to utilise the attributes of the milk to make the best cheese.
Bread and Cheese or Biscuits and Cheese?
A matter of personal taste. Whichever you choose should be good quality and not overpower the cheese.
If you were marooned on a desert Island what would be the one cheese you would want to have with you? I’d be dreaming of toasted cheese like the marooned Ben Gunn in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, so I’d go for Mayfield Swiss from Sussex cheesemakers Alsop and Walker which melts beautifully. Maybe I could build a tiny raft with the leftover rind?
I have heard that “Bubbles” are always good with cheese – would you agree?
Bubbles are good with everything!
What’s the worst cheese you have ever had?
A ewe’s milk cheese with lavender mixed into the curds … like eating your Grandma’s soap. Some people really like it.
Can someone ask you to order in a particular cheese?
Yes, I will certainly do my best to supply it - and you can always order a Cheesology Cheesebox.
For more info: Cheesology.co.uk
Interview: Alex Harrison