I've just got back from a cheese-packed day at Cheese School in The Ethicurean and Barley Wood Walled Garden near Bristol. It was put together by Fiona Beckett and Jess Trethowan and comprised a number of cheese themed sessions.Upon arriving we made our way through the spacious gardens to the cider barn field, where 30 places had been laid out in a vintage tent. After a lovely fresh cup of coffee it was on to introductions, then it was a time to try some cheese, after all that's why we were all there!

The vintage mess tent decorated by Toast, lovely colours.    

The first session gave us a chance to hear from a selection of cheese makers about their history and their craft and, perhaps most importantly, getting a chance to try some of them. First up was Todd Trethowan and his brother Maugan who tell us the three main tenets of good cheese are unpasteurised milk, animal rennet and being handmade.

Carephilly, GWR, Old Demdike and Stichelton
 We're given a chance to try Gorwydd Caerphilly first. A crumbly creamy centre with thin mushroomy breakdown and a composty rind. They also experiment with a salt-brine washed rind cheese, Gorwydd Washed Rind (GWR) a pungent and gooey masterpiece that has recently won an award in the British Cheese Awards.

Old Demdike, a washed curd sheeps cheese is up next and we meet Tim Homewood, the cheese-maker. It has a similar scent to a gouda but much sweeter due to the use of sheep's milk. Closer to human milk its apparently easier to digest.

Joe Schnieder is up last but certainly not least with the wonderful stitchelton an unpasteurised Stilton style cheese (he's not allowed to call it stilton however as its PDO specifies pasteurised milk!) A salty and sweet fruity and creamy blue cheese, less acidic than some stilton and very quickly consumed. I made copious notes but all you need to know that if you haven't yet tried this cheese you should seek it out.

The next session is on designing a cheeseboard. We get a talk on how to put cheeses together, storage tips and  some ideas for novel cheese boards and plates. Fiona got all artistic with some sycamore leaves and we try a selection of breads from Tom Herbet from Hobbs House Bakery as well as hearing about his recipe for the ultimate cheese toasty, which leaves everyone salivating for more cheese. I don't very often host dinner parties but I certainly have plenty of ideas for cheese courses now!

Just before lunch is one of the sessions I was most looking forward to the wine vs beer "smack-down" which I will blog about later in the week as it serves a post of its own.

Piping hot Beetroot Soup
 Lunch is next, prepared fresh for everyone by the Ethicurean. We get a vivid red beetroot soup with goats curd and fresh bread. Mains is a fresh salad straight from the garden with Old Demdike, fresh pear and honey roasted walnut. Later in the afternoon with have a succulent toffee apple cheesecake made with apples grown in the Ethicurean's own orchard.

After lunch we were presented with a selection of English and French cheeses for a comparison of how technique can give completely different cheeses for a similar recipe. French cheeses are warmed to a greater extent when setting and thus are a bit more rubbery and fruity in texture than their English equivalents. My favourite of the bunch is Tunworth, a Hampshire Camembert-style cheese with earthy mushroom flavours

The we headed out into the cider barn, still fresh with the smell of ripe apples, for a demonstration of cheese making from Tim and Angela. We see two methods, both with rennet set and lactic set. Its surprisingly easy and hope to get hold of some cheese cloth to have a go myself some day soon. To finish the day we get to try some local ciders and some of the apples fresh from the orchard. We also get a good sized piece of stinking bishop, a Dorset cheese washed with perry.

Unfortunately my taxi turns up before I can try the single-varietal ciders. It'd been a cheese-filled day and I would have liked to have stayed for more but I got plenty packed in and feel I know more about cheese now, which should help me to write my monthly pairing blogs with a bit more knowledge.

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