Last night Susie and I had the pleasure of attending the first night of ‘Homage to Fromage’ an evening that aimed to celebrate cheese by bringing together fellow cheese lovers, filling them with fromagey facts, feeding them with oodles of the real stuff, and bringing to Leeds unique artisan creations to truly widen our cheese perspectives. Run by lovely cheese geeks Vickie and Nick it was held on the shop floor of Millies where we milled around with glasses of wine and fistfuls of cheddar.
The event looks set to become the monthly place to be to try new cheeses and meet the people one normally only sees on the tiny twitter pictures. I almost loathe to talk about the club here as I don’t want anyone else to go, it’ll now be impossible to get future tickets given its popularity last night!
Last night’s theme was cheddar, a cheese that has been our national icon since the Romans bought hard cheese to the UK all those years ago. It gets its name from the cheddaring process, which evenly distributes acidity through the cheese by a method of cutting, stacking and turning. This gives it the firm texture we know and love. This also means it has a low moisture level and a long shelf life (not that it lasts that long on my shelves). Vickie talked us through the process of ‘tasting’ cheddar, which involves warming it by rolling it in your hands – not the best thing to be doing in a room full of strangers – especially when we came to shake hands!
Five anonymous cheeses were laid out for us to taste test. We started with what transpired to be the ‘Little Black Bomber‘ from Snowdonia. Its tang got my mouth watering and I even started to sweat a little bit under my eyes – a true sign of a good cheddar to me! It was creamy, yet slightly crunchy from the lovely crystals in it. It is matured for 12-18 months and is vegetarian, not that I knew that cheese could eat meat anyway.
This cheese was the best one for me, it completely blew my taste buds away (a good thing!) so the others did not really compare. I still had a good munch though and I was pleased to have discovered my new favourite cheese. The others included a 24 month old Lincolnshire poacher (perhaps not entirely a cheddar), an Orkney coloured cheddar (from Asda!), a cheddar with ale and mustard (which although I love cheese and I love mustard, the combo was a bit much for me), and finally a very pleasant ‘best ever cheddar’ made by a secret guest (more about him below)…
Now, days before the event took place tweets started flying around about a special secret guest descending upon us. I immediately worried it was ex-Blur bass player Alex James who, as we know, has been seen on the covers of the Observer Food Monthly poncing around making cheese with very clean wellies on and a pristine tweed jacket.
Those who know me well will understand the bile I feel for him everytime I have to look at his smug face on the ‘One Show’ or on the panel of ‘8 out of 10 cats.’ He just doesn’t do it for me! So, I was slightly alarmed at the prospect of being in close proximity to him at a cheese evening I was so very much looking forward to. Especially seeing as I’d already had a couple of pints. I was under strict instruction from Susie not to be naughty.
That aside I went open-minded and whilst it pains me to say, he was actually a very nice guy. He popped in on his tour of Asda shops in Leeds (lucky fellow!) to showcase his new wares that will be on sale at an Asda near you. Tweed jacket and floppy hair were in place – check! It was apparent from the outset that he had a very keen passion for cheese, that was entirely genuine.
He told us a bit about how he got into it all and how his cheeses had been too strong and smelly for a family market. So wanted to make cheese that was reminiscent of childhood, cheeses that everyone could enjoy. We tried his mixed grated cheeses, which he melts on jacket potatoes and toast. (Which can be poured on – like raclette!) They were pleasant but after the amazing artisan cheeses they were a little bland. His tikka masala cheddar I will not even go into, it makes me feel sick even now (I did try it though, just for the record!). However the star of the show was his Blue Monday, which is like a cross between a Stilton and a gorgonzola. It comes as a huge cube of tasty goodness, which he promptly chopped into generous chunks for us to try. It was soft and creamy, quivering and glistening temptingly!! He drizzled with honey (usually a big no no for me, mixing sweet and savoury). However it completely worked and I went back for more. I hope they’ll be selling that one at my local Asda!
Ultimately I haven’t changed my opinion of Mr James. But it was nice to try his cheeses and to see that he hasn’t entirely sold out to globalisation. I guess, at the end of the day, he’s still a businessman. Apparently, and you heard it here first, Blur may have a revival. Watch out for their reality documentary on a Sky Living channel near you!
Hats of to Vickie and Nick for putting together a stunning and fun evening. A reet bargain at £4.75. I can’t wait for the next one, and will be barging everybody out of the queue to get my tickets. I left full and happy, clutching my new cheese club membership card (actually I remember handing over a tenner but no card, that must come later!) which will get me 10% of all delicious cheeses at Millies, yippee! I did have quite weird dreams last night though, oops!
Follow Nick and Vickie on Twitter @Homage2Fromage