“Will that guy from ‘Coronation Street’ be there again this year?” asked the taxi driver as we wound our way through the early morning traffic from Crewe to Nantwich. I was on my way to the International Cheese Awards and it was an early start because I had been invited to be a judge this year.
“I thought it had been cancelled,” said the chatty taxi driver. “No,” I explained. The Nantwich Agricultural Show, a one-day event that takes place alongside the second day of the Cheese Awards, had been cancelled because of concerns about the state of the show ground and the car parks after all the rain we've had. “But the Cheese Show is ON!”
And it was, with a record number of entries: 3,928 cheeses. And wouldn’t you know, the weather was the hottest and driest we've had for days, for weeks, for months even.
I made my way to the judges’ area to meet the other 155 judges, including the great and the good from across the cheese industry, along with several cheese judge novices like myself.
I found myself in a team with experienced judge Bob Savage from DSM, Camille Miletto from French cheese company Isigny Sainte Mere and our steward Justin Burton from Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, who kept us supplied with bottles of water and plastic beakers, apples to cleanse the palate and copious quantities of kitchen towels, and then made sure the judging forms were all completed correctly, duly signed and delivered to the judging office.
Our team had four classes to judge:
- Hard-pressed goats milk cheese from the UK
- Whole cheese, truckle or wheel, white or coloured, UK and non-UK
- Hard French cheese
- One of the Retailer Classes for Hard Territorials.
Each team, we were told, would have around 52 cheeses to taste. We tasted around 76 different cheeses. It wasn't surprising then that I wasn't very hungry when it came to lunchtime. I studiously avoided the cheese board!
The ‘taste’ experience ranged from the sublime to the ... not so sublime.
In the 'whole cheese' category, we came across a fabulous Red Leicester – the taste, the texture and the look of this Territorial hard cheese were just as you would expect. This was indeed a ‘standout’ cheese. Contrast that with the Retailer Class of Hard Territorials and an eminently forgettable bunch of Red Leicesters, at least in my opinion. Plastic, dull and lifeless; cheeses that did little to give ‘own label’ a good name.
It was a great, new experience and I'm grateful to the organisers for the opportunity to be part of it.
And the guy from Coronation Street, former TV soap actor Sean Wilson? Yes, he was there, with his cheeses from the Saddleworth Cheese Company.
Geoff Platt is editor of Dairy Innovation magazine.