Cheese is, unofficially, the new rock and roll. New cheesemakers are popping up all over the place, and here in the Cotswolds we’re home to one of the most famous cheesemakers of all: former bass player for Blur turned independent cheesemaker and gent of the land, Alex James. Who’d have thought that such a hellraising popstar, known for allegedly camping out under the pool table of The Groucho in his Champagne-swilling and spilling days, is now a regular writer on his country life and an acclaimed cheesemaker. Working with the world-renowned cheese expert Juliet Harbutt, James launched Little Wallop this year from his farm in the Cotswolds. He only makes 200 of the vine leaf-wrapped goats’ cheeses a week, but it’s already won awards; such small levels of distribution and availability are typical of these small-batch, independent cheese-makers.
The revival of olde worlde cheese varieties, like the Double Gloucester here in the county, and further north the Stichelton in the land of Stilton, have been credited with saving traditional cheesemaking techniques which normally would have been lost; Double Gloucester’s resurrection apparently even saved a rare breed of cattle used in the making of this region’s most famous cheese.
Another Gloucestershire-based cheesemaker of note is Simon Weaver, whose award-winning organic bries even sell well in France; beautifully packaged, Weaver has managed to harness this region’s passion for food in his rich, creamy, expertly-made cheeses.
If you’re a fan of cheese and are hoping to purchase some hard-to-find varieties for this traditional cheese-munching season, then two must-visit cheese emporiums are the Fine Cheese Company and Paxton and Whitfield in Bath, where you’ll find a nose-twitching, mouthwatering display of cheeses from all over the world – including an impressive array of locally-made cheeses – served by passionate experts. The Foodhall in Dobbies on the outskirts of Cirencester also stocks a good selection of local and South-West cheeses, including Weaver’s bries, some excellent organic Cornish cheeses (the St Endellion is wonderfully creamy) and the superbly sharp Cerney Pyramid (a supreme champion at the British Cheese Awards).
If you want to make a seriously good impression at a dinner party this Christmas, take along a round of Little Wallop, small individual size Simon Weaver blue bries for every guests, a packet of Fine Cheese Company biscuits and a bottle of Port to wash it all down with.
Image of Alex James and Juliet Harbutt courtesy of The Guardian. Go online to see Alex James’s exclusive cheese-making blogs for guardian.co.uk