I could live without chocolate; I could live without wine (but I wouldn’t want to); and I could live without hair colour; but I could never have a complete and meaningful existence without cheese. Luckily, I have made the acquaintance of a company called Sharpham Cheese, so I won’t need to.
There is so much cheese out there and most of it is good. Some of it is excellent, and Sharpham produce outstanding cheese – and it’s British. I am not anti food products from beyond these shores, but in these tough times why would we not support more local companies who are offering cheeses every bit as good as the overseas competition and with far fewer miles from your own kitchen?
From 1981 the 18th century coachyard of Sharpham House was home to the creamery where the Sharpham range of handmade cheeses was produced. Using the rich milk from their Jersey cattle and vegetarian rennet, their unpasteurised cheeses have been a huge success. In April 2003 they transferred production to a new purpose-built creamery. The company still holds to the same traditional techniques, and their products are free of GM ingredients.
Rustic Garlic and Chive
I will happily taste my way through every Sharpham cheese style, but I am starting this series of reviews with their Rustic Garlic and Chive. It’s a semi-hard cheese and versatile. Try it first with some crusty white bread and savour the herby and rich flavour and texture. Allow its smooth character to contrast against the firm bread. Crumble some on hot pasta and mix in a beaten egg which will cook in the heat.
The chives and garlic are added before the cheese is formed. After hand-pressing into basket moulds, the cheese is drained for 48 hours before being dry-salted. As the cheese ages, it is rubbed by hand to form the thin, natural rind, and the cheeses are turned each week.
A full-size cheese will have a maximum shelf life of up to 2 months; the smaller cheeses have a shorter shelf life as they will ripen faster. The mini or medium cheeses will have a shelf life of 2-3 weeks from the date of dispatch.
Sharpham Brie is my second cheese for review, but it is in no way second class. This is more of a Coulommier-style cheese which is almost indistinguishable from the usual Brie apart from shape. It is hand-made to the company recipe at Sharpham and is a traditional mould-ripened cheese. I look forward to the time when British cheeses are no longer compared to French varieties, but rather the French might aspire to our heights of cheese perfection. Sharpham cheeses are already setting that benchmark.
This Gold Medal winner at the 2019 Food & Drink Devon Awards is a classic. It’s the go-to cheese as an element in a well-rounded cheeseboard, but it’s a wonderful baking cheese as well. Think about a festive lunch when one wants to impress with a bit of smart innovation and nifty presentation. Simply slit the cheese across the middle and smear on a thick layer of fruity chutney. Wrap the cheese in puff pastry and bake. Serve with slices of cold thin-cut cured ham and a green salad. It looks delightful and tastes so rich and creamy.
Sharpham Ticklemore Goats Cheese
The last of my Sharpham three-cheese-fest is the charming Ticklemore. Sharpham Ticklemore Goats cheese was first made by Robin Congdon in the mid-eighties and takes its name from a street in nearby Totnes made famous by its cheese shop. One might initially buy this just for the name, but one is sure to buy again and next time it will be simply because it’s delicious and full of personality.
Goats cheese has a distinctive flavour. This Ticklemore is so characterful that I might consider this as a stand-alone cheese, instead of being part of a more extensive cheese board. Try this with a selection of breads or crackers and a few grapes. It’s rather good with a glass of Port. This would be a classy dinner-party finale!
Ticklemore is made from goats’ milk from three local farms. It has a milder flavour than some goats chesses and it lacks that wet wool taste which blights other examples. It also works well as a melting cheese with tomatoes and pasta. It’s my goats cheese of choice for its texture and taste qualities. This will convert even those folks who insist that they hate goats cheeses. It’s a winner.