The Cheeseboard – Bang the drum for the real thing

food-cheeseboardAS you may have heard, Denhay have ceased production of their illustrious cheddar, following in the footsteps of Cranborne Chase and Windswept Cow, fellow Dorset cheese-makers who pulled the plug on their cheese activity in recent years.

George and Amanda Streatfeild made the decision with a heavy heart, but thankfully the other wing of their business, Bacon, will continue from strength to strength.

It’s sad news indeed, but the wonders of cheese-making ensure that there’s a long tail of maturing cheese once such a decision is made. In the case of Denhay Mature, we should see cheese coming to peak condition until early spring. In the case of Denhay’s other cheddar, Dorset Drum, the next few weeks will see stocks exhausted.

Dorset Drum is a cheese that is really quite special – a mild to medium strength cheddar with flavour galore. It’s long been a favourite of Mark Hix and it’s easy to understand why. There’s a gaping chasm in the market, little to enjoy in the West Country Farmhouse Cheddar world that doesn’t have a real ‘tang’ to it. That tang is the quality that most cheddar lovers seek, whether it’s in hand made West Country Farmhouse Cheddars such as Montgomery, Quicke’s and Cave-Aged from Ford Farm or supermarket mouth-burners that only go well with a few pints and eye-watering pickled onions on a Saturday night.

Dorset Drum is an exception to this – a cheddar that the whole family can enjoy over Christmas, full of buttery, farmyard flavours that’ll satisfy and intrigue a sophisticated palate, but not too strong for the younger children. It comes in 2 kilo truckles, traditionally made, larded and cloth-bound. The unwrapping of a whole cheese is a piece of theatre that all can enjoy. We know several families who have bought a Drum each year, leaving it on a cool shelf for passers-by to graze upon over the holiday. Seldom does it last past the New Year festivities!

If your only experience of less strong cheddar has been bland pale yellow lumps of ”Mild Cheddar” from supermarkets, you deserve to try this fine cheese while you can.

Be careful, though, there’s an export black-waxed cheddar that also carries the same name and which has occasionally ‘leaked’ onto the domestic market. I can’t speak for its quality, but Denhay, it is not. Seek out the real thing!

Justin Tunstall, Town Mill Cheesemonger, Lyme Regis