Best & Worst New Cheeses on the Block

The world of cheese keeps evolving

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cheese varieties

The world of cheese keeps evolving

© Shutterstock

New – as in seasonal

Traditional cheese styles like Cheddar, Camembert or the Spanish Manchego evolved over hundreds of years so can hardly be called new, but ‘new’ might mean the new season’s cheese, as until the advent of modern animal husbandry in the 18th century, cheese was only made from spring until autumn, when animals naturally give milk.

The Swiss family cheese makers Jumi have a Vintage Alpage which is a good example of seasonal cheese, as they only make this cheese in the spring when the new pasture is particularly rich and complex. It is then matured for two years.

The Vintage Alpage 2020 has just arrived on their stall at London’s Borough Market. It’s an alpine style, like the more famous Gruyère, so quite sweet, nutty with perhaps a hint of white chocolate, a grassy herbal note enriched by a Marmite-like umami flavour.


New – as in rediscovered

Another kind of newness is something I’m going to call new-old cheese: new versions of a recovered tradition. A great example of this is the Irish Carraignamuc. It’s made in East Cork at The Lost Valley Dairy by Mike Parle and Darcie Mayland with a little help from their young son Ned. Until the Anglo-Norman invasion, cheesemaking flourished in the rich pastures of the aptly named Emerald Isle.

Tragically all traces of these native Irish cheeses were wiped out over the long occupation and there is little memory of what they were like. Mike wanted to create, or re-create an indigenous Irish cheese and took as his inspiration a traditional Italian tomme. Tommes are low-tech cheeses, easy to make without much kit, and it is quite likely that ancient Irish farmers made something similar. Like all tommes, Carraigmuc has a firm yet giving texture, a simple milky flavour with notes of earth and hay, enlivened by an acidic tang. Mark, Darcie (and Ned) have been making it for less than two years, an impressively short time to develop such excellent cheese.


New – as in unintentional

Sometimes a new style occurs by accident, like the goat’s milk Tomme de Chambrouze made by Isabelle Douillon on the slopes of the Rhône-Alpes in France. Chambrouze is large for a goat’s cheese, it comes in a fat disk about eight inches across, which is vanishingly rare as the fragile structure of goat’s milk makes it hard to make larger cheeses.

After making her annual allocation of the AOP Charolais, a small wrinkly cream-coloured cylinder, Isabelle still had milk left, and, not being wasteful decided to try ladling curd into some larger moulds she had lying around. With skilful practice and gentle handling, the larger cheeses  held their shape. With a higher ratio of paste to rind, Chambrouze doesn’t break down, soften and become intense like the smaller Charolais, but retains a firm chalky centre and a bright refreshing acidity. Just the thing for a summer picnic with a glass of something cold and crispy.

 

New – as in newly interpreted

The world of cheese is, largely, a collaborative one, and nowhere is this collegiate approach better expressed than in Yarlington, which has appeared on British cheeseboards in the last few months. It is made by David Jowett in Gloucestershire and washed by West Country affineur Sam Wilkin in a cider made by Tom Oliver.

Based on the Savoie Reblochon – a cheese of ancient pedigree with medieval monastic origins, Yarlington is not a completely new style, but where the French cheese gets one brief wash in brine and is usually very mild, Yarlington is washed repeatedly until a pink sticky rind develops. This gives the cheese a barnyard pungency, with sweet, fruity notes coming through from the cider.


New – as in ill conceived

Since the 20th century, there have been some completely new, consciously designed cheeses, although the results have not always been to my taste. In the 1980s, British cheese fans were confronted with a brand-new blue cheese called Lymeswold, developed with the help of a marketing agency who invented an imaginary village to name it after.

The cheese was deliberately created as an export product to address the balance of payments crisis, a terrible reason to make a cheese, and it didn’t go down very well. English satirical magazine Private Eye mocked it brutally, calling it 'Slymeswold', and perhaps mercifully, the ill-starred cheese soon sunk into oblivion. We will pass over those creations of product development teams with all manner of ingredients like white and dark chocolate, lemon and orange zest and gin, all of which I have found to my utter dismay in one single cheese. They are not for me.


New – as in never been there before

Consciously designed cheese does not always turn out badly though. One triumph is the wonderfully named Renegade Monk, developed by onetime corporate comms director Marcus Fergusson in 2020 in Somerset. Somerset is the home of Cheddar and Fergusson was too sensible to go up against the great old Cheddar making families with their hundreds of years of combined experience, and so he decided to invent a completely new style, combining two of his favourite ones, washed-rinds and blues.

Renegade is made as a soft cheese, and ultimately washed, but Fergusson adds the blue mould Penicillium roqueforti to the milk in the vat. While the cheese is too soft and creamy to develop the veins you would normally see in a blue, the mould makes its presence felt in a peppery aroma and a spicy note, which combined with the powerful farmyard flavour of this well washed cheese, makes for an intense experience. Also, their farm is outside the village of Templecombe, once an outpost of the Knights Templar, the original renegade monks.

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