The Cheeseboard – Fosse Way Fleece

foodprod-cheeseboardTHERE’s a slightly odd question that I’ve been asked more than once: “I’ve never had sheeps’ cheese before – is it very goaty?”

Many people assume that anything other than cows’ milk will give a strong flavour of goat that they’ve experienced, perhaps on holiday on the continent, or as part of a recipe. Recipes that merely specify generic ‘goats’ cheese’ rather than hard, soft, smoked, blue or washed-rind are a particular bugbear of mine, but I’m straying off-topic here. Often the reality is that people have tasted sheeps’/ewe’s milk cheeses, the classics being Roquefort and Manchego and nowadays most of those have enjoyed them. However, the milk source has not been the dominant characteristic that they’ve registered and consigned to memory.

The sheeps’ gem that I’m featuring this time is Fosse Way Fleece, a hard cheese from the Somerset Cheese Company in Ditcheat, founded by Phil Rainbow and Anita Robinson in 2005. The cheese is named after the Roman road that stretches from Exeter to Lincoln, the route of which passes the dairy where Fleece, along with a raft of other fine cheeses, is made.

From the pasteurised milk of a single flock, it has a smooth, silky texture and a cheddary nature – a slight sharpness, yet creamy, and finishes on the palate with a good bite. The rind is crusty and grey in colour, while the interior paste has a fine ivory sheen.

Sheeps’ cheeses seem a natural fit with a quince preserve, perhaps a gritty Spanish membrillo, or a smoother English fruit cheese, such as that from Tracklements or the Fine Cheese Co. We find that an oatcake or a crispbread, such as Peter’s Yard, makes a fine vehicle for slivers of this one! It’s made using vegetarian rennet and is suitable for all, even in pregnancy.

Lower yields from animals other than cows mean that this and other sheeps’ cheeses will cost a little more than a cheddar, but the variety of flavour means that Fosse Way Fleece is a cheese that we enjoy as a special treat at home.

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