There’s a card on my wall which sums me up perfectly. A present from my sister, it reads: ‘She just couldn’t behave herself with cheese.’
It’s true. Among the greatest delights of my culinary life, cheese is up there with pizza and pickled onion Monster Munch. If it comes with a smear of Branston Pickle and a hulk of tiger bread, I’m as happy as a Reblochon nestled between floury potatoes and a couple of shallots. Oh my god, cheese. Whoever invented it, give that person a rosette.
Needless to say, when the Winter Tarn Dairy announced that it was launching a cheese club, I signed up for a box quicker than you can say gorgonzola. At a time when my post consists of bills and care home adverts, the thought of a cheese parcel landing on my doorstep brought a small tear to my eye.
And lo, the day arrived and it was good. The marketing blurb proclaimed that ‘each box brings a new discovery, as a curated selection of four outstanding cheeses is delivered monthly to your door…[these] handmade artisan cheeses are sourced from over 37 small independent makers across the British Isles’. I’ve been let down by zealous promotion before (Batman v Superman, anyone?), but this box of delights lived up to the hype.
Along with some Orkney Thin Oakcakes and a page of tasting notes printed on posh paper were four exquisitely wrapped cheeses. I love a good bit of packaging and Winter Tarn didn’t disappoint: thick, waxed (?) paper, brown string, and handwritten tags screamed artisan in the same way as Neal’s Yard if you’re prepared to brave London’s Borough Market with the world and his wife. Winter Tarn Dairy, meanwhile, is based in the Lake District and Manchester – much more civilised. It was founded in 2009 by husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Tricia Jackson, with a little help from their family.
And so to the goodies. After a few hours left to breathe, and out of reach of three cheese-hungry cats, first up was Rachel, a Somerset rind-washed semi-soft goat’s milk cheese with, according to the accompanying notes, a ‘delicate yet moreish mellow, nutty and slightly fruity flavour’. My sister is called Rachael and, now I think about it, she’s rather moreish, mellow, nutty and fruity. But, like this full-flavoured cheese, she’s also gentle and inviting and, as is her namesake, vegetarian. So far, so good.
There was more sisterly love to come. Developed by two sisters at the family farm in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, Harrogate Blue’s come-hither marbled blue veins wound their way through the slab, hinting at a building flavour and peppery finish. Like a 12-inch single, just when you think it’s hit all the good notes, there’s more to come. Blue cheese can be overwhelming but not this one. In fact, I think this is the best blue cheese I’ve ever had. If it was a record, it would be the Debbie Gibson classic Out of the Blue because, Harrogate Blue, ‘it’s like a dream come true, I never thought I’d fall in love with you, out of the blue’.
On to a Winter Tarn favourite: Montgomery Cheddar. In production since 1911, the tasting notes inform me that it’s ‘the epitome of traditional, handmade, unpasteurised Somerset cheddar’ as well as being ‘seriously impressive’. I agree that it boasts ‘deep rich nut flavours’. Its impact is such that, if this cheese could speak, I reckon it would bellow ‘HIYA!’ before heading to the bar. And then there was the Clava Brie. Truth be told, this was my least favourite. But it’s tricky to do a decent brie, even if it has inherited its name from the prehistoric burial ruins of Balnuaran on the shores of the Moray Firth.
In summation, slap me round the face with an oatcake and slather me in piccalilli. Winter Tarn’s cheese club is a society I want membership of, even if it means that, as my sister correctly concluded, I can’t behave myself with cheese.
By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
For more information about Winter Tarn Dairy and its cheese club, click here. Here’s the blurb: For £30 + P&P each month, customers will receive a beautifully and sustainably packaged selection of cheeses, each carefully chosen by the Winter Tarn team, who will hand pick only the best seasonal cheeses for your box, ensuring each has been matured to absolute perfection, before freshly cutting, wrapping and packing your cheese for shipping. Each subscription box also contains a box of artisan crafted biscuits or crackers, and tasting notes for each cheese.