Late last year, I was invited to an event at The Cookbook Store in Toronto put on by Sobeys with Andy Shay (Sobeys’ resident cheese expert) and Juliet Harbutt. Harbutt is one of the world’s leading authorities on cheese, author of 11 cheese books (including the popular World Cheese Book), and founder of the British Cheese Awards and the one of the world’s most highly respected cheese expert. Born in New Zealand, Harbutt moved to Britain in 1984 and founded Jeroboams The Wine & Cheese Shop, a retail and wholesale company, reputably one of Britain’s finest, offering over 250, mainly raw milk, French and British artisan cheeses. She also designed and ran seminars for retailers, wholesalers and the Relais Chateaux Hotels throughout Britain.
Harbutt was leading a cheese class with a guided tasting of select award-winning British Cheeses, providing an overview of each style’s history and production notes along with suggested pairings and discussing current trends. As of late last year, Sobeys stores in Ontario are exclusively carrying 7 of Harbutt’s “Simply the Best” line of cheeses and the event was aimed at introducing Ontario palates to this line of distinclty British cheeses.
Sadly, I was unable to attend the event but luckily for me (as anyone who knows me will know that I am definitely into all things cheese) the kind folks at Sobeys arranged for me to receive a copy of the book as well as some samples of the cheese, which came at the perfect time to share the cheesy love around over the holidays!
It says something about how much we love cheese at our house that this book has been in both Neil’s and my Amazon shopping carts for quite some time now so we were extremely pleased to welcome it into our home.
A guide to over 750 of the world’s finest cheeses, The World Cheese Book is the definitive guide for cheese lovers everywhere. Each cheese is photographed as you would buy it, then in extreme close up, making for a mouthwatering read.
The book covers cheeses from regions famed for their cheese, as well as those from less well-known regions. Each cheese is described in detail, with tasting notes and notes on how to enjoy it (cooking ideas and wine pairings). Included is a map of the region of origin, information about the age at which the cheese is best enjoyed, the ideal weight, shape and size, the producers’ name (up to 3 for artisan cheeses) and each entry includes a handy scale, providing an “at-a-glance visual guide to the approximate size of the cheese in relation to an average-sized hand”. Really, all the cheesy information you could ask for, and so much more!
(I mean, doesn’t that look like THE perfect cheeseboard?)
I really loved the cheese classification section at the beginning of the book where cheeses are divided into: fresh cheeses; aged fresh cheese; soft white cheeses; semi-soft cheese; hard cheeses; blue cheeses and flavour-added cheeses. It discusses their “defining features” (rind, texture, colour, moisture, fat content, age and flavour) as well as how they are made before going on to explain the best ways to enjoy these types of cheeses and showing examples of each category. Did you know that mozzarella and feta come from the same category? (fresh cheeses) I guess if you think about it, it makes sense but unless you consider all features, you might be fooled by their very different textures.
I’m so happy to finally own a copy of this book. Travelling as much as we do, we’re always discovering cheeses we’d like to be able to find a close approximation to when we get home. This book will allow us to find the closest match for those new discoveries as we’ll be able to provide our local cheesemongers with detailed information. It’s also just a wonderful coffee table book. I could read about cheese for hours on end
Now then, onto the cheeses. Just the highlights here because I honestly could go on forever about this amazing bounty of goodness (and so could many of my guests from various gatherings over the holidays!). First up: Special reserve Stilton:
Produced by Cropwell Bishop in Leicestershire, one of only 5 makers of Stilton. A family-run business that uses traditional methods handed down from generation to generation and employing mostly locals, some of whom have worked under the current owner’s grandfather, the original owner, Cropwell Bishop has produced Stilton for three generations and Shropshire Blue for nearly as long. This was a lovely buttery, just-sharp-enough cheese with only a hint of the metallic taste that sometimes puts people off blue cheeses. Creamy and crumbly (and beautifully spreadable) at the same time, this Stilton is one I will look out for in my local Sobeys.
Next up, the Creamy Lancashire.
Despite its mild-mannered appearance (some might say “boring”), this was a huge hit at our annual holiday party. Produced by Dewlay cheesemakers in Lancashire, established in 1957 by dairyman George Kenyon, this cheese really surprised me. I’ve had “creamy” Lancashire before but it’s never really been that creamy – more crumbly, which has always been disappointing. This one is lovely and creamy with a touch of crumble which is rare in a harder cheese. It’s buttery and bright tasting and paired really well with the home-brewed cider we were serving for the holidays.
Another favourite was the Shropshire Blue.
Also produced by Cropwell Bishop, this one really catches your eye with its deep shade of orange streaked with blue. Oddly named, as it was created in Inverness (Scotland) in 1970, this cheese is based on the recipe for Stilton with the addition of the annato seed which is responsible for its attractive mandarin hues. Obviously less crumbly and more creamy than the Stilton, this cheese is a “softer” version of the Stilton and it looks so pretty, who could resist it? We enjoyed this with a tawny port these holidays.
Finally, and not just because it’s got a cool Medieval-type name… Wyfe of Bath.
Though not actually available at Sobeys (this was a bonus cheese in my basket), this was the one that intrigued me the most. Wyfe of Bath is produced by The Bath Soft Cheese Company and is a gorgeous butter colour. According to the website, “Wyfe of Bath takes its name from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and, like the tale, when you cut into a Wyfe of Bath you will get a taste of England.” It’s made by placing the curd in cloth lined baskets and retains the basket shape. It is made with vegetarian rennet. I loved this sharp tangy cheese with a pungent aroma of the farm. A nice change from your sharp cheddar (plus, it’s got a cool name!).
All in all, this basket of cheese and the book produced a lot of excitement both at work (where they were delivered and where I had to hide them from jealous colleagues!) and at home during many parties. It seems all you really do need it cheese and you’ve got an instant party!
Juliet’s “Simply the Best” line of cheeses is available exclusively at Sobeys.
Disclosure: I was provided with a basket of cheeses and The World Cheese Book by Sobeys and Tree of Life (the distributor for Sobeys with regard to Juliet’s cheeses). I was not otherwise compensated for writing this post and writing about it was entirely my decision. All opinions are 100% my own.