Hard Cheese

Last week, against my better judgment and because the choice in my local small supermarket is somewhat limited, I bought a packet of so-called “extra mature” Cheddar produced by one of those frightful cheese factories that churn out millions of rectangular blocks of characterless stuff with a completely uniform flavour throughout*.

Obviously I wasn’t expecting it to be of the same quality as the farmhouse Cheddar I would normally buy but it really was a waste of money. Quite apart from the misleading appellation (if that’s their idea of extra mature I dread to think how appallingly bland the merely mature version must be, let alone the mild one), the flavour was actually bordering on unpleasant. Why is there a market for this rubbish? I shall struggle to find a use for it. And cooking is not the answer, poor quality cheese usually tastes even worse when cooked.

Cheddar is the most abused name in the culinary universe. Sadly it does not enjoy the same Protected Geographical Status (PDO) as Stilton. Virtually any old hard cheese can be called Cheddar regardless of its provenance or quality. Which is a great pity.

Apparently there is a PDO for West Country Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese which must be “Limited to cheese produced, processed and prepared in Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall and Devon, using traditional methods. The product must normally be made from pasteurised cows’ milk from cows grazed in the designated area”. But it doesn’t go far enough – or rather too far geographically – and why the insistence on pasteurisation?

If I had my way, the name Cheddar would only be permitted to be used for cheese produced in the county of Somerset, made by traditional methods from local cows’ milk (preferably unpasteurised), shaped into a truckle covered with cheesecloth and matured for an absolute minimum of 12 months. Anything else that currently uses the name would have to be called Cheddar-style Cheese or in some cases Curd Rendered Abominably Pathetic.

No doubt if this were the law, the likes of Episcopal See and Wayfarers Preference (names changed to protect the guilty) might complain that sales would suffer. Hard cheese! If they made something half decent they would have no cause to worry. For example, Lincolnshire Poacher, an uncommonly fine English hard cheese which stands comparison with the very best farmhouse Cheddars (Montgomery, Quick’s, Keen’s), has no need to hide behind the Cheddar banner, it sells on its own merits.

But they won’t listen to me.

* In a proper Cheddar the flavour typically intensifies towards the rind.


A couple of days ago while skimming through an abandoned newspaper on the train, my eyes lit upon the alarming headline “Spice should be Class A drug”. Hastily I donned my reading glasses and with almost trembling fingers perused the article to discover which of the contents of the little jars in my kitchen might be about to become an illegal substance. No more smoked paprika? Curries without turmeric? Chilli devoid of cumin or even chilli?

False alarm – it transpires that the “spice” in question (aka K2) is a form of synthetic cannabis.  But you can’t be too careful; in these risk-averse times, who knows what innocuous culinary ingredient might be next in line for official censure.

Waste not, want not

I made a resolution this Lent not to waste food – not that I waste a lot but I felt I could be more careful.  I’m keeping to it fairly well although a few bits of stale bread have gone in the bin and I failed to make stock from the chicken carcass after our jerk chicken the other day.

It’s a big issue. I’m increasingly appalled at the amount of waste for which supermarkets are responsible by:

  • rejecting perfectly edible fruit and vegetables for purely cosmetic reasons;
  • failing to promote local and seasonal produce and buying stuff which can be grown here from overseas;
  • switching suppliers at short notice, leaving farmers with vast amounts of unsold (and quickly becoming unsalable) crops,
  • encouraging customers to buy more than they will use with BOGOF and multi-buy offers on perishable goods.

No doubt they would argue that they are only responding to demand, but they created the demand in the first place.  Before we had supermarkets, people knew when things were in season and were quite happy to eat misshapen vegetables; farmers knew where they stood because they supplied their local community.

Having a bit more time on my hands these days, I’ve just signed up to a gleaning programme. When a farm has a glut of surplus fruit or veg which would otherwise go to waste, volunteers are mobilised to pick the stuff and deliver it to charities who will ensure that it is used to feed people in need. It’s a worthy enterprise which I commend to my readers.  It’s time we took our stewardship of this planet more seriously.