Forget the Pepsi Challenge. Have you ever tried an artisan cheddar against a supermarket best-seller? Trust me, Cathedral City – the UK’s number one – comes off badly in the taste test.
That was one of the discoveries of my day at the School of Fine Food, learning all about cheese, how best to keep it and, importantly, how to sell it.
We tried over 30 cheeses during the day, six of which were cheddars. First up was Cathedral City – or the MacDonald’s of the cheese world, as my course trainers called it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve bought Cathedral City in the past. In fact, it’s hard not to have: apparently, one third of British fridges have a wedge of it in them at any time.
But I’d never appreciated before how soft it is. If you put a piece between your finger and thumb, you can squeeze it like Play-Doh.
The farmhouse cheddars we tried – Quicke’s Mature and Keen’s – were different in both taste and texture. They were firmer and had more bite.
For our final cheddar of the day, we tried Quicke’s Vintage Cheddar. Wow! This is the kind of cheese, the trainers said, you should offer that customer who comes in and asks for a cheese to blow their socks off.
They also had plenty of advice about how to present cheese – there is an art to laying out a cheese counter. Just as milk is always at the back of a supermarket, you should put your most popular cheeses furthest from the door, I learned.
You should also think of your counter as a piece of theatre, and use variety and improvisation when necessary.
“Something very exciting is happening on Friday. Let’s just say it involves seeing a notaire and collecting some keys…”
As you’d expect, we also got to try a range of cheeses over the course of the day – starting with a fresh goat’s curd and finishing with Époisses. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would come away with homework.
I now have six weeks to answer 83 questions about cheese and write two 1,000-word essays. When I’ve done all that – and assuming I get the answers right – I’ll get a diploma in cheese.
Sadly, ahem, I won’t have time for any of that this week. That’s because something very exciting is happening on Friday.
Let’s just say it involves seeing a notaire and collecting some keys…
Cheese tray photograph © School of Fine Food