The Cheeseboard – Beenleigh Blue

foodbasket-cheeseboardA QUESTION that I’ve been asked more than a few times in my time as a cheesemonger is for a recommendation of a cheese or cheeses to impress the French. The identity of the person who appointed the French the arbiters of the world’s cheese eludes me, but there are world-beating cheeses from our area that consistently surprise and delight.

Near neighbours of the Sharpham Dairy that produces, amongst others, the Cremet about which I wrote earlier in the year, Ticklemore make three excellent blue cheeses from their base near the River Dart in Devon, all of which use vegetable rennet – vegetarians, read on! This trio of blues is made in turn from cows’, goats’ and ewes’ milks. Beenleigh Blue, their pasteurised ewes’ milk cheese is a particular favourite of mine and one which, like Captain Hornblower, has been despatched time after time to deal with the French!

Ben Harris is the man who now makes the cheese that Robin Congdon started work on about 30 years ago. Robin had wanted to create an English Roquefort, even going so far as to introduce cave mould spore scrapings from Roquefort itself and planting herbs from that area in his pasture. What he developed was something subtly different.

Wrapped in gold foil, the cheese has a pale ivory colour streaked with greeny blue veins. Beenleigh starts slightly salty on the tongue, with a delightful tang. This develops into a fruity, full and sweet flavour. Some compare it to toasted nuts or a fino sherry.

It’s milder than Roquefort and is particularly lovely with fresh figs and a neutral biscuit. Recommended wine pairings include Tawny Port, Sancerre and for red lovers, Bordeaux. There’s a lovely recipe for a simple pasta dish, melting a chunk of Beenleigh into a pool of cream in a pan, then tossing fusilli in the sauce and finishing with finely chopped chives. Sounds good to me.

British ewes’ cheeses are seldom cheap, but Beenleigh is a cheese where even a morsel feels like a rare treat. Long may it continue to wave the flag for British cheesemaking!

Justin Tunstall, Town Mill Cheesemonger, Lyme Regis DT7 3PU