Last week I was invited along to be a judge for the Artisan Cheese Awards.
Hundreds of pieces of cheese awaited me in St Mary’s Church in Melton Mowbray all battling it out to be voted the nations best ahead of the UK’s Artisan cheese festival held in the city this weekend (5-6 May)
It was the first time I’d judged the prestigious event which gives artisan cheese makers a platform for their product as well as supporting small businesses, and a far cry from the time I woke up on the kitchen floor surrounded by empty Diarylea slice wrappers after a night out at Oktoberfest. I like to think I sit somewhere in the middle when it comes to my cheese knowledge but I wasn’t sure of the judging process, after all, there were a record number of over 500 cheeses competing, it would be crackers to try all of them in one day.
Upon signing in I found out that we had been put into groups for judging, with four people in each group. There were 16 categories including cheese containing the milk of cows, sheep and goats. blue and organic cheeses, vegetarian ones and those with a washed rind. Joining me in my group were two people from fine cheese outlets and John Peart Ambassador/Advisor for the British Culinary Federation We were to be judging the raw milk category.
As it was held in a church, proceedings began with a service with a difference as the resident vicar gave a humorous speech about cheese. It was then down to business as we chomped our way through the 38 cheeses in our group, judging them on appearance and presentation, body and texture and flavour and aroma; the points awarded in each section were added up to give a total score out of 100. Cheeses scoring over 70 points earned a bronze award, above 80 earned a silver award and those above 90 were awarded a gold. We also had to give comments to help the producers and warrant our scoring.
I admit I’m one of those people that can easily eat a huge wedge of cheese given the chance and yes, I have binged on a packet of grated cheese Bridget Jones style before now sat on the kitchen floor in front of the fridge.
Judging, however, was more refined as we nibbled on little slivers of cheese with slices of apple and glasses of water to cleanse our palates.
Of course, every good cheese judge needs a break – and a buffet. Obviously, we tucked into Melton pork pies and…..cheese sandwiches.
In all the judging took almost four hours, after which the coveted Supreme Champion award was won by a producer which names some of its cheeses after convicts who were transported from England to Australia in the 1800s. Blackwoods Cheese Company’s winning entry was Edmund Tew, who was sentenced to a trip Down Under after ironically stealing cheese, from a Leicestershire householder. Blackwoods Cheese Company, which is based in Kent also won £1,000 as a result.
The judging has also made me think twice about picking up a standard block of cheddar from the supermarket. Though I can’t guarantee I won’t be binge eating grated cheese on the kitchen floor again any time soon.
The cheese fair itself will welcome more than 60 cheesemakers and producers, showcasing over 300 of the UK’s rarest and most sought-after cheeses to taste and buy. As well as cheese there will be traditional Melton Mowbray pork pies, cider, cakes, beer, chocolate, wine, charcuterie, and more. There will also be a full programme of talks, tastings and demonstrations.
Further information and tickets are available online from www.goleicestershire.com/artisancheesefair or from Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray and the Visit Leicester Centre. Admission is £5 (£4 in advance), with children under 16 free. Group rates can be requested by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
By Tanya Louise