Friday, 7 January 2011

Cheese and Ale

The Kernel Brewery's Baltic Porter
with Stichelton Cheese
Cheese and Ale?  We are now more likely to have a piece of cheese with a glass of wine, but it was not always so.  Both brewing and cheesemaking used to be womens' work, and both would be done in the home.  From this modest start came our taverns and inns. It's no coincidence that the School of Artisan Food teaches both Brewing and Cheesemaking.  So, maybe it's time to think again about this combination. 

Many people are familar with Stilton cheese, nowadays produced under licence by six dairies in England.  This creamy, blue-veined English cheese has, since the 1930's, only been allowed to be made in three counties, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.  In 1989 an outbreak of listeria was linked to Stilton.  Though this was never actually proved, it resulted in all Stiltons being made from pasteurised milk which was considered safer.  A subsequent granting of an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) set these requirements in stone, so few people know or remember what the original stilton tasted like.  You may not, as yet, have come across Stichelton.  Looking similar to Stilton, but with a sweeter, more crystalline crust and creamier texture thanks to being made from raw milk.  To my mind the best of the Stiltons is made by the Colston Bassett dairy, but when Stichelton is at its full-flavoured best it would definitely be my choice.  Made at The Stichelton Dairy on the Welbeck Estate on the northern borders of Sherwood Forest, with milk from a herd of 150 Friesian-Holstein cows raised organically, it's a relative newcomer. 

Around six years ago a conversation over a beer led cheesemaker Joe Schneider and Neal's Yard Dairy's Randolph Hodgson to embark on a  journey together to recreate Hodgson's memory of the creamy, gentle flavours he associated with unpasteurised stilton.  By October 2006 Stichelton was on the slate-topped counters of Neal's Yard Dairy and is now stocked by the Dairy's wholesale customers outside the UK (see website link below).  Essentially a two-man operation - Schneider and diaryman Mick Lingard - the recipe continues to be developed but production is kept deliberately small so as not to compromise quality.

Here then would be my cheese recommendation, a slice of creamy Stichelton.  But what to drink?  Porter was a popular drink in Britain for at least a couple of centuries until the beginning of the 20th century when Stout, given its name because it was a "stouter" or stronger version of Porter, took over.  It's widely accepted that Porter got its name from the food market Porters who were partial to the drink.  Due to the natural ingredients used Stout and Porter were considered nourishing and sometimes replaced a meal for the working classes.  Porter is more aromatic, malty and bitter than stout.  The Kernel Brewery's London Porter is 5.4% abv, and it also brews a Baltic Porter at 7.4% abv.  All of the Baltic states brew Porter, theirs being traditionally stronger than London Porter.  Evin brews his Kernel Brewery artisan beers in small vats under the railway arches of Bermondsey.  The good news is that you can now buy them from various stockists in London and beyond (see the link below, and be sure to check-out the youtube video).

The mellow creaminess of Stichelton goes incredibly well with the dark malty chocolate and fruit notes of Evin's Baltic Porter.  This, of course, is the ideal combination.  If you can't get your hands on either of them, then try a glass of the best Porter you can find along with a good Stilton, like Colston Bassett.  Not quite the same thing but well worth experiencing.