I’ve just got back from a fabulous day of judging at the International Cheese Awards. These awards are held annually and the judging takes place in the cheese tent at the Nantwich Show. I have fond memories of Nantwich as one of my uncles has a farm on its outskirts and I spent many happy days there playing with my cousins. He was a dairy farmer, didn’t make cheese, but produced lovely milk and I used to help out with the milking when I went to visit. But that’s a bit by the by!
The cheese awards attract entrants from all over the world and this year there were 5500 cheeses waiting to be judged by a team of 250 cheese experts. My judging partner and I were given 4 different categories to taste and score – mature coloured block cheddar, halloumi, traditional farmhouse cheddar and Canadian cheeses. Unusually for cheese tastings the two of us agreed completely on every cheese we tasted and there were no differences of opinion at all with regards to which cheeses in each category to award medals to.
The most interesting cheese we tried was in the halloumi category and possibly it’s one that I will source to sell in the shop. It was a farmhouse made cheese and instead of being sprinkled with chopped herbs as is the norm, the paste of the cheese was wrapped around a fresh mint leaf. This gave it a lovely flavour and as we were tasting the halloumi fresh rather than cooked it really made it stand out from the others.
Once all the classes have been judged, the gold medal winners are taken forward to the top table where another team of judges try them all and have to decide on the various trophy winners as well as who to give the title of Supreme Champion to. This year’s overall winner was the fabulous Wyfe of Bath cheese, made by the Bath Soft Cheese Company. This is a semi hard cheese which is succulent, nutty and creamy. It’s name hails from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and you really get a sense of Olde England when you try it. It’s not a cheese that we always have in stock but we do have it in as a guest cheese every now and then.
After my judging commitments were completed I had some spare time to be able to look round the rest of the cheese tent. If you are ever in the area when the Nantwich show is on the cheese tent is really worth a visit. It is open to the public on the day of the show which is the day after all of the judging has taken place. Inside the tent you’ll find a large variety of cheesemakers who are all ready to talk about their cheese whilst you taste it and they also have cheese you can buy and take away. I like to be able to wander around and talk to our existing cheese suppliers as well as meeting new people. It’s a great opportunity to discover new cheeses as well as a chance to catch up with colleagues from within the industry.