Sampling cheese with the ladies :)

One of my closest friends here is originally from England, and–through her–I’ve been learning a lot more about traditional English cuisine in various areas … including their traditional cheeses :)

Let me say up front … I’m a total cheese-hound! In fact, I’ve said many, MANY times that if I was forced to make a choice between meat and cheese … I’d pick cheese every single time! It’s rich! It’s creamy! There are hundreds of different varieties … and it doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have in your pocket … you can almost always find a cheese to satisfy you!

Two of the English cheeses my friend bragged on recently are Stilton and Wensleydale. I’d never tried Wensleydale before … but Blue Stilton and I are definitely old friends. In fact, I love blue-mold cheeses of all sorts!

I decided to do some looking around about the two of them, and–according to–“Stilton has its own Certification Trade Mark and is an EU Protected Food Name.” This EU certification means there are only three English counties allowed to use the name Stilton on their cheeses: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Sounds restrictive, right? Well … in addition, there are only six dairies in those three counties allowed to use that trademarked name: Colston Bassett Dairy, Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson Dairy, Quenby Hall, Tuxford & Tebbutt Creamery, and Websters.

Humm? Interesting. This makes me wonder if I’ve eaten bootleg Stilton at least once in my life 😮

Then I took a look at Wensleydale. WOW! It comes from one town: the town of Hawes in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, England. Interesting … it’s even MORE restricted!

My friend talked longingly of them both–and expressed some difficulty in her own personal search … beyond the tiny grocery counter in a British restaurant nearby, where they charged so much a pound that you thought you were buying the crown jewels–so I went on a personal quest to find some less expensive versions of her two favorites … because I love her, of course … but also because she was looking for even more restricted versions of these hard-to-find English cheeses: the fruited versions.

The idea of fruited cheese intrigued me. I’ve always enjoyed the taste of fruit and cheese together before … everything from a nice wedge of cheddar on a steaming hunk of apple pie to my personal favorite fruit and cheese combo: a thick slice of guava paste (the Goya brand is great) and a few thin slices of a nice sharp white cheddar–Tillamook Vintage White is a good choice—both layered on a good butter cracker, something like a Club Cracker. Mmmmm! It’s creamy and salty and sweet and crispy … all at the same time! Delicious!  :)

I began my quest months ago, and rapidly discovered the same thing she’d found: the only real sources for these sorts of cheeses in our area are expensive groceries like Central Market … and small specialty chops like the one she found in the restaurant in Bellview … both with fruited cheeses in the >$20/lb range. Granted, it’s not that I won’t pay >$20/lb for the right cheese … but that’s usually not the sort of cheese I keep around and eat lavishly … so my quest continued.

I finally found a Lemon Stilton for us to try a couple of months ago–priced at less than $10/lb–buried in a corner of the wonderful cheese case at Double-D Meats in Mountlake Terrace, WA. I love their selection there–of all sorts of things–but their cheese case is always the source of interesting finds! This particular Stilton, however, was just not good. Don’t get me wrong: it was beautiful, with little flecks of lemon peel studded all through it … and the smell was divine as we opened the wrapping and caught our first whiff. However, the best way to describe it was woody! The taste was okay, a little too whangy for my tastes … thanks to all that lemon peel oil … but not totally inedible when sliced thin and paired with something like a rich, salty cracker. The problem was … it was just too woody and chewy. There was just WAY TOO MUCH lemon peel in it, such that … if you put too much of it in your mouth at one time–and it didn’t take much–the cheese dissolved and disappeared within seconds of beginning to chew it … leaving nothing behind but woody, chewy bits of extremely TART lemon peel.

In other words, the initial taste of lemon and cheese was there in the beginning … gloriously so … but the finish was just bad! :(

Not to be thwarted, I kept looking … and–as a surprise for a recent Ladies Day–I managed to scrounge up two more fruited English dessert cheeses for our snack this time: an Apricot Stilton and a Blueberry Wensleydale :)

The Apricot Stilton was pretty, and ROCKIN! :)

To give you an idea of how much lemon peel they’d tried to shove into the Lemon Stilton version, take a look at the heavy amount of apricot in the picture below … and multiply it by at factor of at least two :( That’s why is was tooooo woody/whangy for casual snacking. There was just WAY too much lemon peel in that version.

This Apricot Stilton, however, is PERFECT for just about anything you want to do with it! The soft, creamy white cheese was heavily studded with soft, chewy dried apricot chunks, which made it insanely yummy the way we ate it: room temperature cool and simply poised on a lightly-salted rice cracker. It was amazingly tasty that way–sweet and cheesy at the same time–yet, the entire time I was eating it … I kept imagining it warm and slightly melted inside of one of my homemade whole wheat English muffins. It would be AWESOME that way!  And–bonus points–I bought it at Trader Joe’s for less than $10/lb … so they may offer it at a Trader Joe’s near you–or you can ask for it–AND they may have it again at my Trader Joe’s :)

Second on the plate came a Blueberry Wensleydale I found at my local Costco … again, for less than $10/lb.

First bite … and I started wondering if I could turn this cheese into a cheesecake! Unlike the Apricot Stilton, the Blueberry Wensleydale contained less fruit … that was also more concentrated in smaller areas of the cheese than the tons of apricots in every inch they gave you in the Stilton. That arrangement of fruit definitely gave it a different taste in the mouth, one where you could savor the rich, slightly sour cream taste of the cheese … separate from the parts that were bursting with sweet blueberries. It–too–would be awe-inspiring melted inside of a homemade English muffin … or pretty much any other cracker or bread you threw at it!

Final score: They both deserve A’s in my book … for different reasons.

The Apricot Stilton shows you how well cheese and fruit can mix together on a one-to-one basis. And when I say fruit … I mean FRUIT … not peel. I’m not sure who thought lemon peel would make a good addition to Stilton or any other cheese … at least, in those quantities … but they were wrong! A little bit might be nice *if* it’s in very small pieces … but, as a rule, lemon peel is just too tough and woody–especially after the cheese has sucked all the moisture out of it during the aging process–to use chunks that big in that sort of overwhelming quantity. In addition, it’s just WAY TOO INTENSELY-FLAVORED to use that much of it in a mild cheese, too. The lemon peel just took OVER …….

….. but the apricot became a sweet and fruity companion for the cheese instead. The combo was soft and light, only slightly chewy, and–quite simply–delicious! I will definitely be buying more of it in the future! :)

Likewise, the Blueberry Wensleydale will find its way into my fridge again soon, too. I really am serious about trying my hand at making a Wensleydale cheesecake at some point. The combo of ripe blueberries and soft cheese is delicious–and blueberries are my husband’s favorite fruit–so, at less than $10/lb … Costco needs to keep stocking it … so we can keep enjoying it! :)

About Lane

Just a canner ... on this food journey called life :)
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