In the last in our series of Cheshire themed blogs, Bronwen Percival, our buyer, reflects on the important and enduring relationship between Neal's Yard Dairy and Appleby's Cheshire.
Neal’s Yard Dairy has been working with the Appleby family since the early 1980s, making them one of our longest-standing suppliers. Visiting the farm monthly to select the cheese is at the centre of this relationship. We aim to sell Appleby’s Cheshire between the ages of 3 to 5 months, by which time its character is fully formed, while at the same time it retains a milky freshness. When we visit the farm, we taste a representative sample of each batch of cheese from the cheese iron, and assess it according to several criteria: Texture: Cheshire should have a characteristic crumble; it should never be mushy or smooth. However, we are looking for a succulent and tender crumb. Overly grainy or tough textures are often the result of poor drainage or runaway acidification in factory-made examples of the style. Colour: we select Cheshire that is ‘bright’ on the iron, showing an almost incandescent peachiness. A bright colour is a sign that a cheese will have a fresh, juicy acidity. Flavour: Cheshire should have a backbone of fresh acidity, always counterbalanced by a gentle savoury warmth. Too far in either direction and it loses its essential character. It is a cheese whose flavour walks a tightrope, but in this paradox is the excitement: it finds its optimum in a place that is somehow both thirst-quenching and meaty at the same time. In our own way, we carry on a variation of the original work of the cheese factors who selected for the London market back in the 17th and 18th centuries, selecting the best cheeses directly from the farm to send all over the world. But whereas aged Cheshire was a dairy-themed version of hard tack, suitable for long sea voyages, we tend to prefer the fresh succulence of the cheese in its first flush of youth.