At this time of year I did presume I would write all about super healthy plant based cooking, but then I had a change of heart and decided to talk about many people’s favourite comforting indulgence – Cheese! During these cold & gloomy months, there are few things that hit the spot better than an oozing grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of red wine. Good for the soul if nothing else.
Prior to setting up The Southsea Deli, I was definitely less picky about which cheese I bought, and often it was whatever seemed the best deal in the supermarket. Obviously running a deli has taught me a lot about cheese, and it’s an important part of the deli’s identity.
Since the very beginning, I decided to focus 100% on British cheese. Partly because it’s a great point of difference from supermarkets, and partly because we have so many incredible cheeses, I didn’t see the need for imports. Our primary cheese supplier is Westcombe Dairy, based in the heart of Somerset. I’ve visited several times, and always come away inspired by their dedication and total obsession with the three main cheeses they produce.
At Westcombe they do everything themselves, from managing grazing land and milking the cows, through to making and ageing the cheese in caves. They focus on cheddar, caerphilly and ricotta, all of which are made with their own unpasteurised milk. These guys are purists, and they know that by not pasteurising the milk, you can truly taste the uniqueness of their dairy process from grazing through to the finished cheese.
Westcombe cheddar is a particularly strong tasting cheese with fruity, earthy flavours. It stands up particularly well to full bodied wines and punchy IPA’s. They also produce a smoked version of their cheddar, totally unique and very smoky. My personal favorite is their caerphilly. This cheese is less strong, with a dry crumbly texture and a creamy, almost nutty, flavour. The ricotta is also incredible and I use it widely in savoury tarts, and also as a pasta filling.
Independent British cheese makers such as Westcombe are unique, and vital to the survival of small responsible agriculture in the UK. I hate the idea that one day all of our countryside could be managed by the multinational corporations such as Muller and Arla, who incidentally make most of the branded cheese you find on supermarket shelves.
I am a huge advocate of buying British cheeses, and here in the South of England we have cheeses to rival the French and Italians, including the incredible soft cheese from the Isle Of Wight Cheese Co, organic buffalo mozzarella from Laverstoke Park Farm, and the incredible rival to Camembert – Tunworth Soft Cheese from Hampshire!
Whether it’s for filling a sandwich, topping a pasta dish, or indulging on a Friday night, give a local cheese a try and discover how delicious supporting a local producer can be.
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