Six weeks ago, if you’d asked me to describe my “happy place,” I would have talked about my wedding day. Now that I’ve experienced the International Cheese & Dairy Awards media launch, it’s a little too close to call.
If you don’t like cheese, this is where you stop reading (there are plenty of other Fork My Piehole posts that will work for you instead so check those out).
Picture yourself in a white room draped with cloths, grapes, figs, you’re handed some Prosecco, and most importantly there’s more cheese than you could ever eat. Are you in heaven? No, you’re at the International Cheese & Dairy Awards media launch. And yes, this is an event that already happened, but in just two short weeks the real deal is coming to a field near you if you live in Nantwich: the International Cheese & Dairy Awards 2019, and guess who’s been invited to be a part of the judging panel.
Digging straight in, my cheese associate Ashley and I started our churn-ey (because dairy) sampling Belton Farm’s Red Leicester, a smooth yet tangy delicacy which convinced us that Belton Farm are well deserving of their award-winning cheese maker status, as last year their Cheshire was named ‘Supreme Cheese 2018,’ a title which left me in a state of baffled delight.
We sampled upwards of 30 cheese and dairy products during the evening, including our favs – Cricketer Farm’s Extra Mature Cheddar (sounds basic but boy oh boy), Dragon’s Welsh Slate Cavern Aged Cheddar (dear lord) and Sordiaal’s Brie De Meaux (hook it to my veins) – and a few less delicious treats (there was a Red Leicester with mango chutney inbuilt with which I was very much not okay), but the best cheese experiences were introduced to us by Richard Paul, previously part of the ICA team and now Bradburys Sourcing Director, who was running demonstrations on perfect cheese-drinks pairings.
Richard was one of the first people we spoke to during the evening. He was clearly very well inform-ented (because cheese) as well as very friendly and welcoming towards a couple of relatively amateur cheese lovers like ourselves. He showed us a world of magic via a Colton Bassett Stilton paired with a tawny port which just tasted like dreams and an exquisite epoisse with a dry French white.
We also heard from Charlie Turnbull about the history of Cheshire cheese – how salt mines in the area impacted on flavour and how the industry was affected by the wars. Charlie said, “if you think you don’t like Cheshire cheese, you just haven’t tried the right one.” In my case, I am still waiting for my white Cheshire Knight, but I believe he’s comin’, oh lawd he comin’.
This event left me with cheese sweats, a mind boggling volume of samples and a sense of a community who really cared about what they’re producing. When sampling the cheeses, there was almost always someone there with you telling you about the length or method of fermentation, how certain soil in an area might give cheeses made there a little crunch or how, for example, Barbers 1833 cheeses are still made following an old family recipe which is significant considering they say they’re the oldest cheese making company in the world. I feel confident in saying that this experience of community will be no different at the International Cheese Awards main event, only there will be even more cheese, which is almost unfathomable really.
Although I haven’t had to buy cheese since the event (despite several cheese-themed events I’ve held myself), this event has completely enhanced my perception of cheese, its history and my impact as a consumer on what seems to be a lot of small businesses making the best product in the world, each in their own ways. Gone are the days of picking up whatever’s on offer as long as it’s vaguely mature cheddar. My eyes have been opened. Join us.
The ICA hosts over 5,000 cheeses from around the world (including entries from as far as Japan) and takes place on Wednesday 31st July following judging on Tuesday 30th. Tickets are only £16 per adult (less for kids) or £22.50 for VIP treatment which is definitely a steal. You can buy tickets by clicking HERE!
Click for the International Cheese Awards Instagram Buy tickets by clicking here!
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