Classic British Isles Cheese Class and Interview

jessica / May 29, 2012, 3pm

It is a rare moment when we can say that we have brought the British Isles to America.  There will be a lucky group of us that will share this moment on Tuesday, June 5, from 7-8pm, in our new classroom space, The Homestead.  British cheese importers, Lillian Wilkie and Chris George, will be on the platform, getting up to their elbows in the curd, as a cheese maker would say.  They have both worked for Neal’s Yard Dairy, the most reputable British cheese distributor in the world.  British Isles cheese texture varies from soft to hard and everything in between. You will taste washed rinds, natural rinds, and cloth bound rinds.  These British classics will remain timeless.

Want to get a taste of  a life devoted to British Cheese Makers?  Lillian and Chris give their thoughtful answers to the burgeoning demand.

Q:  Why do you think  Neal’s Yard Dairy has become the international leader in Cheese Distribution from the British Isles?

Lillian:  Through its close relationships with cheesemakers. The relatively small size of the UK allows staff from NYD [Neal's Yard Dairy] to visit cheesemakers every week, whether it’s personally picking up cheese, experimenting with new recipes, working on solutions to [production] problems, or just seeing what’s new. Updates from each farm are passed right along to mongers on the cheese counters, and those same mongers pass feedback both good and bad right back along to the producer, so there’s this constant exchange and dialogue, which makes everyone better at their jobs. On an international level, we keep in close contact with our stockists around the world and track the cheeses we send out, so we help to maintain the quality of our cheeses even when they’re thousands of miles away. For example, we hold back a cheese from certain batches that we send out for export, and simulate the conditions it will be kept in during the journey and then in a stockist’s cold room. We taste it periodically so we know exactly how our cheese should be behaving during its lifespan on a stockist’s counter.

Chris:  I think, in short, it’s due to a mix of honesty and passion. This is apparent at every level of the business and manifests itself in extreme attention to detail (we’re talking OCD here). From selecting the best producers and then working with them on a one to one basis, trust and respect develops from the producer to the shop customer.  Neal’s Yard Dairy… puts a great deal of time, energy and thought into aging and maturing their cheeses [in the cheese caves/aging facilities of NYD].  Cheese makers entrust Neal’s Yard Dairy with the hard fought fruits of their labour.  [As a result], the cheese makers can dedicate more of their time to production and let NYD focus on the aging of their cheeses.  No customer leaves the NYD shop without trying the cheeses…Artisan cheeses change, and good cheeses aren’t cheap so tasting is fundamental to NYD‘s philosophy….

Q:   Name a British Farmhouse Cheese Maker you hold in high regards: the integrity of their production, their land and animal management, and their final product.

Lillian: I hold them all in high regard, but a special mention goes to Linda Dutch, maker of Berkswell at the Fletcher’s Ram Hall Farm. [ Berkswell is a raw, hard sheep milk cheese from West Midlands, England].  I’ve been lucky enough to join her and her team during cheese making, and was so impressed. In the midst of boisterous laughter and gossiping she and her all-woman team manage to intuitively take this crude, irregular curd, pile it with some considerable force into everyday kitchen colanders, throw some salt at it, and produce this refined cheese with a consistent, almost feathery paste. It’s like watching alchemy, it’s crazy. A large window separates the cheese room from the grazing sheep and Linda will pop out occasionally to save the life of a newborn lamb or two.

Chris:  This is the hardest question of all… a supremely, confusingly and unfairly tough question. I am lucky enough to have worked with many of the UK’s best artisan cheese makers- From Mary Holbrook to the Gorwydd Family Farm to Caroline Atkinson- so picking one over another feels a like a (small) betrayal… I am going to let bias guide my decision and pick Joe Schneider. Not only is he New York State born and bred (you like him already don’t you?) but he is also a friend and someone who has worked alongside Neal’s Yard Dairy to resurrect a British classic in the form of Stichelton.  Stilton is all pasteurized these days and has been since the late 80′s, but Joe has worked hard over the last few years to create an unpasteurized cheese in the Stilton vein (forgive the pun) making the cheese entirely by hand, using milk from a small organic herd in Nottinghamshire, England. As a style of cheese it’s very unforgiving and difficult to master so to say Joe took on a challenge would be an understatement of massive proportions. But take it on he did, and he continues working hard to master this classic cheese style.  In conclusion, let me say sorry to all of the other amazing cheese makers that I didn’t mention. You know who you are!

Q:  What is your favorite British Cheese and beverage pairing?

Lillian:  I’ve very fond of a rich Kirkham’s Lancashire with traditional damson jam, stones in. Or Berkswell with a sweet and spicy pepper jelly. Or a classic – ripe Colston Bassett Stilton with a mellow stout or porter.

Chris:  I’m going with a cliché, because the thing about clichés is they’re usually true.  For my cheese I’m picking two (you can’t stop me). They are Colston Basset Stilton or Stichelton (they’re both wonderful and batch to batch they continually vie for supremacy) and I’m going to pair them with an English Barleywine (or even American, the style has certainly taken off over here).Rich, creamy, dark, fruity, salty, sugary, malty…….I could go on.  It just works.

British Cheese Portraits

A portrait of a couple of the cheeses we will sample, pair, and learn about.  It only gets better when you can actually taste it.




Classic British Isles Cheese Tasting Menu


Ticklemore: Pasteurized goat milk, Semi-soft natural rind style, Devon, England


Lancashire: Raw cow milk, Cloth-bound natural rind style, Lancashire, England


Ducketts Caerphilly: Raw cow milk, Natural rind style, Somerset, England


Berkswell: Raw sheep milk, Natural rind style, West Midlands, England


Keen’s Cheddar: Raw cow milk, Cloth-bound natural rind style, Somerset, England


Colston Bassett Stilton: Pasteurized cow milk, Natural rind blue style,  Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire , England

Includes wine and beer accompaniments and an assortment of condiments and palate cleansers selected by Lillian and Chris.


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