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Cheese roll anyone?

March 25, 2010

Cheese has been a theme this week, in more ways than one.  I won’t document the whole cheese-rolling ban affair here, but I played a tiny part in the protest and was quoted in the Gloucestershire Echo (see here) which made my Mum in Cheltenham very excited.  The whole outcry was about keeping traditions and freedom of choice and it seems that people in the UK have become more vehement about cheese, whether chasing it down a hill at break-neck (or break-limb) speed or popping it under the grill on toast.

Tavistock cheese festival

Unpasteurised cheddars

I plan my summer visit to England around the Tavistock Real Cheese Fair which is held in a small room upstairs in Tavistock town hall.  You wander in off the street and immerse yourself in tasting cheeses displayed on trestle tables by over 25 artisan producers.  It’s a bustling affair with a jazz band on stage and local cider and wine on tap.  These cheese makers are passionate about what they do and share secrets such as why Montgomery, Keen’s and Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddars all taste different, even though they are made with milk from the same breed of cow and all within a 20 mile radius. I just found a funny account from the cheese sellers point of view (mentioning some of my all time favourites Harbourne Blue and Gorwydd Caerphilly made by Kim who is a delight to talk to).   I pray that no-one checks my suitcase when I arrive in Dubai laden with carefully wrapped hunks from Country Cheeses.

I want to find more about local cheese as although cheese making dates to pre-history it is thought to have originated in the Middle East when milk was carried in goat’s stomachs and it reacted with the residual rennet.  These early cheeses would have been salty, sour and crumbly similar to feta.  So, with a fair bit of trepidation, I took a closer look at  the dark vats of liquid, bobbing with white globes that I usually bypass in my local supermarket.

There were four types of arabic cheese which all looked a bit grim but the very nice Emirati lady on the cheese counter let me taste them all.  Akawi is very similar to halloumi and quite salty although slightly less squeaky on the teeth.  Nabulsi is milder with flecks of herb (mint?) in it – no real distinctive character but pleasant.  Arrish is mild, tangy and soft – like a firmer version of labneh.  Labneh is a cream cheese, almost yoghurt-like, which is often eaten for breakfast.  I buy this regularly and often use it instead of creme fraiche in dips.  It’s heavenly.  All the cheeses looked a lot more appetising when I got them home (see below).

Middle Eastern cheeses

From left akawi, nabulsi & arrish.

By coincidence, the latest post from Thring for your supper popped into my inbox with an Ode on the Mammoth Cheese.

‘We have seen thee, Queen of Cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze –
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.’

Click here to read more about dreadful cheese poetry etc.

I’ll continue my Middle East cheese hunt  in May when I visit Lebanon although I don’t think I’ll be chasing it down hill.  And, can anyone tell me, why do we describe a joke as cheesey?

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