Our Events Manager and Acting E-comm Manager Ellen reflects on why cheese is more than just a flavour profile – and how it has helped her through lockdown.
Food has long been linked to emotion. From the eponymous post-breakup ice-cream and chocolate to the post-sickness cream of tomato soup, it holds the potential to comfort us during our darkest moments. However it also often signifies triumph, celebration and togetherness – pizza and beer during a tense semi-final, champagne and steak after a promotion, a Sunday roast over a board game with friends. Whilst we may not realise it at the time, the food we match to our mood holds a greater importance than we give it credit for.
And this importance does not go unquestioned.
As a nation we are increasingly aware of what we are putting into our own bodies and, consequentially, whether it is strictly necessary. Does cream of tomato soup actually help to settle a stomach and soothe a soul, or is this placebo effect so deeply engrained in us from childhood that we never stop to question it?
Whilst we navigate this third lockdown, this is a question that has been whirring in my head consistently in the background. I crave a pub Sunday roast with all the trimmings, a large glass of red in my hand, gravy splodges down my top. Yet I know, deep down, what I really crave is a long afternoon in a cosy pub with friends, savouring every laugh, every bad joke, every touch.
Then I realise the magic of food. Food links our heart to memories, experiences and emotions that – at present – are currently unavailable to us. And, though the real deal is undoubtedly better, that link has been more important than I could possibly have imagined over the past ten months.
Inevitably, having worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy for a number of years, food by now is inextricably linked to cheese.
Feelings previously married to steaming portions of shepherd’s pie are now tightly wed to Kirkham’s Lancashire. As the arms of the government apparently wrap around the nation, the arms of Lancashire wrap around me after a long and stressful day. The fresh, buttery smell reminds me of my Aunt’s farmhouse in Wales, surrounded by far too many cakes and cats and utterly content. As I take a bite, sat alone in my pyjamas in my living room, I’m transported to the fresh air of Goosnargh at 4am, Graham Kirkham’s comforting voice explaining to this novice driver which cheeses to load up in the van and return to our maturation arches.
A high-octane few days surrounding the launch of our new website pages and I am suddenly after a St Cera. Punchy, farmy, powerful – like a drum and bass soundtrack in the background, keeping me on my toes and itching for the next bite of the day. A normal year would include attending several out-of-town markets and, during long and often arduous days, St Cera has been my go-to cheese for a boost of enthusiasm. Despite the astronomically different surroundings, it has had the same effect whilst working from home.
Comfort is not something unheard of when discussing cheese, but companionship is less common and is certainly something of a struggle in the current climate. Chocolate often plays a role in this, a bar sat happily alongside a laptop, ready to be snacked upon when the silence becomes unbearable. For me, a perfect batch of Baron Bigod offers a better alternative. As a cheese that I have watched develop, improve and shine over the past few years, it is difficult not to feel involved in its journey – much like a proud parent, thrilled as it overshadows its French counterparts. But it is a cheese that gives something back, that interacts, that plays. Cat-and-mouse style, left for too long the paste will ooze beyond the realms of the rind, inviting you to ‘just tidy that bit up’: a reminder to take a break, treat yourself and focus away from the screen before the ooze becomes uncontrollable. As relevant to the cheese as to our own wellbeing, perhaps.
Last but not least, Hafod. The taste of what life should feel like. Earthy and grassy, but sweet and delicate – a humble cheese that refuses to be dull. A good batch of Hafod turns my heart into that of a country girl. I stop watching the news, shouting at the politics and wondering why I pay £6 for a pint. Instead, I’m content with the good things in life: nature; simplicity; honesty. All things I can embrace, lockdown or not. Hafod makes no pretence. It is what it is. It reflects the surroundings it is made in: rolling hills in the Welsh countryside; a larger population of sheep than people. A true expression of nature. I cherish my time spent visiting Hafod enormously, savouring the silence of the countryside and the solitude of its location.
And perhaps that is why it is the cheese I have eaten the least of over the last few months. It is a defiant cheese. It doesn’t offer comfort, energy, or companionship. It offers confidence, self-assuredness, independence. None of these are more or less important than the other, but I have been focused on using cheese – and the emotions I draw from it – to support me through the sadness, loneliness and exhaustion of the last ten months.
Looking forwards, I realise this can work both ways. Tomorrow, perhaps, a trip to the Borough Shop for a wedge of Hafod and a new outlook on the coming weeks.