As a native of Somerset and someone whose working life is preoccupied with the origin and provenance of comestibles I am often struck by what a raw deal Cheddar cheese gets in terms of geographical protectionism. Proper Cheddar is one of this sceptred isle’s most outstanding products and yet we happily let outrageous interlopers, making vastly inferior cheese, sully its good name. Go into practically any supermarket and you will find ‘Cheddar’ from all manner of places, including Canada for crying out loud, that is not worthy of the title and ought not be allowed to use it. If we started to claim to make ‘Parmesan’ we would be laughed out of the EU so we jolly well ought to look after own.
Good cheddar is really the King of cheeses, a claim which is supported by the evidence that even the French, who are understandably proud of their own culinary heritage, concede that it is something we should celebrate. I am regularly visited by discerning French wine makers who always appreciate being served mature, tasty cheddar and often insist on taking some back home. Keen’s (from Wincanton), Godminster (Bruton) and Montgomery’s (North Cadbury) are 3 of the finest that should be easy to source through any reputable cheesemonger, such as my local, Sagebury Cheese, in Frome (www.sageburyfinefoods.co.uk).
During a wine tasting trip to Australia last year I was served some Montgomery’s in Cutler & Co in Melbourne (www.cutlerandco.com.au), which was delicious with a bottle of Dan Buckle’s Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz. That serving may have had maximum ‘food miles’ but it does show that fine cheddar enjoys a healthy international reputation. It also touches on the thorny question on what wine one should drink with cheese which is what, after a rather rambling prelude, I was intending to write about. Personally, I think light and fruity red wines like Beaujolais or Saumur Champigny go well with creamy soft cheeses such as brie and more mature, full-bodied wines are a better option with hard, stronger tasting cheeses. Blue cheeses have a natural affinity for sweet wines and there can be few better combinations than a salty Roquefort paired with an intensely sweet Jurançon or Monbazillac.
The distinguished wine journalist Michael Broadbent, who has been writing about wine for over 50 years, dislikes drinking any red wine with cheese and asserts that palate-cleansing sweet white wines, like Chenin Blancs from the Loire, are always a better bet. The Financial Times wine guru, Jancis Robinson, (www.jancisrobinson.com) is more open-minded on the subject and concedes that a robust red with a bit of bottle-age can be a fine accompaniment to a hard cheese. We met up recently to taste some wines for a gala dinner being held at her alma mater St Anne’s college Oxford and Jancis selected a Bandol: Mas de la Rouvière 2004 to accompany the cheese. This is a bold, herb-scented, briary Provençal red, made from the Mourvèdre grape, that has a wealth of dark, sun-kissed fruit over rugged tannins.
Well if it’s good enough for Jancis and the friends of her youth it’s good enough for me. This weekend I shall procure some vrai Somerset Cheddar a bottle of the aforementioned Bandol and some rough oatcakes and thoroughly road-test the combination.
(This piece by Jason Yapp first appeared in Country Calling - www.countrycalling.co.uk)