Cheese – loved by many, loathed by the boy, obsessed over by me.
I remember the day I actually fell in love with cheese: I was three years old and my parents had laid out a classic ‘bits and pieces’ (basically a Saturday night off cooking for my Mum so we had a pic-nic in the lounge – blanket and all) and unusually for small village Wales there was a very ripe, creamy, oozing Camembert included in the spread.
My Dad, being a Dad and rather unmannered in my Mum’s eyes, dipped his finger into the oozing cheese and thrust it into my little mouth (said same mouth that until that moment had only eaten Dairylea, Red Leicester and Cheddar) and I was in love – full blown obsession in fact. (Note: this evening was also the evening I fell in love with kabanos, hummus and tomatoes and developed my life-long hatred for rollmop herrings).
Although I loved cheese, my love for the blue stuff didn’t come for a very long time. I may have eaten myself through all the hard and soft cheeses that the United Kingdom, France and other parts of Europe could churn out (slight dairy-ish pun intended) – but it wasn’t until a cheese rolling competition on behalf of Stilton that I became addicted to this mouldy, smelly milk derivative.
When I first moved to Manchester I became aware of the North’s fine cheeses, mostly helped along by visits to the old Love Saves the Day delis (remember them?) and it was here I first tasted Blacksticks Blue – much to my delight this is no longer a cheese confined to delis; but instead has won both critical acclaim (indeed Glyn Purnell just used it on the Great British Menu) and the love of the masses too and can now be found in the cheese aisle of the larger supermarkets, along with other Butlers stablemates.
Blacksticks Blue is an unusual cheese – it’s blue yes, but it’s also not creamy white, but a rich amber colour. The taste is subtle to start, with a soft and creamy mouth feel, then the nutty flavours start to creep in and by the end of the mouthful you have a delicious tangy punch and are begging for more.
Blue is a cheese that makes a wonderful addition to a cheese board – it’s a wonderfully unusual colour, doesn’t stink the house out and has a sharper, tangier flavour than some of the conventional blues on the market. My favourite way with Blue is usually just on it’s own snaffled out of the packet, but it’s equally good on oatcakes or paired with fresh apple (a sweeter one) or even pear.
If the thought of a tangy blue cheese isn’t your thing, then Butlers have jigged about with their original white blue cheese and brought out Blackstick’s Creamy. This cheese has an even softer and creamier mouth feel than the Blue – it’s almost decadent how the cheese melts on your tongue. Once again the flavour of the cheese creeps through, but there is no punchy tang, rather a sweet flavour that caresses your taste buds. This is the Butlers cheese to add to sauces, or to toss through pasta, add to salads and melt in the tops of frittatas (very good actually).
You don’t just have to cook with Creamy; the cheese also lends itself well to the cheese board and is again great with fruit or even celery. There’s nothing I like more than squashing Creamy into the middle of a stick of celery and crunching my way through it (it’s got veg in it so it’s one of your five a day!).
Butlers isn’t all about blue cheese (though it is what they’re famous for) – on my travels to my local retailer (read Tesco) I picked up some Butlers Creamy Lancashire – it certainly is creamy; it’s also buttery and very smooth. This wouldn’t be a cheese I’d usually eat as if I’m going for a hard cheese I tend to opt for a Cheddar that’s going to blow my head off, but this made a welcome change. Unlike other low strength hard cheeses Creamy Lancashire still has plenty of taste and isn’t a watered down cheap version of something, but a quality product in its own right.
The taste of Butlers Creamy Lancashire is very subtle at first, almost not even there; then a buttery milkiness fills the mouth, coupled with a slight sweetness that makes the cheese dangerously edible (I ate half the block in the first sitting). This is a cheese suited to eating as a cheese, rather than putting in a sauce where the delicate flavour may be lost. I found the best way was with sharp apples or on top of oatcakes and livened up with a small amount of Mr Vikki’s Chili Jam (the BEST chili jam in the world – go get some!) or homemade chutney (I make quite a sharp one, I don’t think it would pair too well with something you buy at the supermarket as they are usually over sweet). This is also an excellent cheese for butties – I made a very good one with the first of this season’s tomatoes and thick slivers of the Lancashire in between some crusty white bread.
I’m glad Butlers are now gaining the success and the distribution that they deserve – hopefully this won’t change their careful production methods. According to their website they hand make all their cheeses in individual moulds using milk from their own family farms and those in the surrounding region (within 10 miles or less) – certainly you can taste the care and attention that goes in to their cheeses, let’s hope it continues.
Ps – Butler’s also produces a sheeps milk blue cheese called Velvet and a goats milk called Silk – I have yet to taste either but will report back when I do.
Pps – Butlers is also running a cheese recipe competition – you can win a break in Lancashire and (more importantly) some of their lovely cheeses! Send your recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website.