Yesterday, 20th January, was National Cheese Lovers Day. And as we don’t need much of an excuse to eat here at SE HQ, we rushed out to our nearest farm shop and deli, and stocked up on some of our wonderful Sussex cheese. Along with a number of Sussex accoutrements – chutney, butter, crisps and cheese biscuits (a bottle of sparkling wine might have fallen into the basket too). After all, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
There are quite a large number of high-quality cheese producers in Sussex, many of who are award-winning. We tucked into just a handful in our little CheeseFest and this is what we thought.
Sussex Charmer Mature Cheddar
Made by Bookham Harrison Farms who are based at Rudgwick, this cheddar is one of our county’s most well-known cheeses and has become a staple of many cheeseboards. Made using a combination of traditional farmhouse cheese and Parmesan making methods, the milk comes from their grass-fed cows which you’ll often come across when you’re walking in this area. As the first cheese in our cheese-a-thon, it’s robust, full of flavour with a slight tang perhaps reminiscent of its Parmesan influence and has everything you want from a strong cheddar. With the crumbly sweet cheese biscuits (see below), it was super moorish and with French bread, the chutney went well in small quantities.
High Weald Dairy
Another well-known name in the Sussex cheese world, High Weald Dairy is based at Tremains Farm, in Horsted Keynes (I think I fell off a horse there in the 1980s but I digress). They currently produce 15 different cheeses from cow, goat and sheep milk with some fantastic names like Sister Sarah (named after the owner and cheesemaker’s wife) and Truffle Ewe. We sampled two, namely their three-cheese combo of Brighton Blue, Sister Sarah and Saint Giles and their Truffle Ewe.
Let’s start with the Truffle Ewe which I wasn’t expecting to like. And in fact, we all loved it! A couple of years ago, I visited a truffle producer in the south of France. The heady smell of a hundred thousand truffles was addictive and hard to forget and this truffle cheese took me on a gentle journey down memory lane. Apart from the undeniable truffle flavour, it’s slightly peppery yet subtle so we ate it with a very plain biscuit so as not to lose any of its flavours.
The three-cheese combo was up next and although we liked all three individual cheeses very much, I’m not convinced they go in a combo. In fact, I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to eat them together or break them apart. The Brighton Blue is lovely but slightly overwhelms the Saint Giles which is a simple soul who warrants personal attention. Sister Sarah was very distinctive but I wanted to get her on her own rather than mingle in a crowd. We kept to a plain cracker in order not to overcomplicate things.
Alsop and Walker
Based in Mayfield, East Sussex, Alsop and Walker make a range of artisan Sussex cheeses using traditional methods and including soft, hard and semi-hard, mature, smoked and blue cheeses. They’re well-stocked across the county and as Mayfield is our town of the month next month, we thought it only right to try their Mayfield – an award-winning semi-hard cheese. I wasn’t expecting to like the Mayfield either but I did. Fragrant, yes, but a great flavour, slightly tangy and not overwhelming. I loved the smooth texture against the course crumbly biscuit and it certainly didn’t need any chutney.
We have a big baked brie fan here at SE so we decided to bake their Sussex brie as well as their camembert. And so to a confession. For some reason best known to ourselves, we decided to bake the brie and camembert … in the same dish. I wouldn’t recommend this but we did still manage to taste test the two cheeses even if there was a distinct area of overlap. The consensus was that both are very creamy, mild and definitely different from their French cousins. The brie had hints of cheddar and the camembert reminded us of cauliflower cheese (that’s a good thing … we love cauliflower cheese). That was probably due to the creamy, buttery taste. Both were very easy to eat.
Golden Cross Cheese
In between Eastbourne and Uckfield, Golden Cross specialise in goat and milk cheese. We chose their Golden Cross Soft Ashed goat’s milk cheese which can be eaten fresh or matured. It was very smooth and creamy, not too goaty and although I ate it on crackers, I’d love to add this to a salad.
Sussex Charcoal Cheddar
This cheese seems to have been produced by Fine Cheeses Limited for Weston’s Farm in West Sussex but not strictly a Sussex cheese because it was probably made elsewhere (I tried to find out where but I couldn’t). But I was sufficiently intrigued by the idea of a black cheese to let it tumble gently into my basket. It was a total surprise and again, we all loved it! I couldn’t quite identify the flavours – was it truffle again, a nuttiness? It was certainly punch-packing, rich and thoroughly moorish. Once again with the sweet biscuits, I could spend a lot of time with this cheese.
And a side order of …
When embarking on a Sussex CheeseFest, it’s important to make it a fully immersive experience. So we cheese tested with Horsham Gingerbread Bakehouse‘s Sussex Thins which are a light and sweet cheese biscuit and the perfect complement to most of the cheeses. So much so we didn’t really need the chutney and I’d eaten half the biscuits before we started the cheese. We also had Sussex Charmer Cheese and Spring Onion crisps made by the Sussex Crisp Company in Bodiam which have thoroughly Sussex branding on the packet. And we sampled South Downs Butter and Deerview’s Farmhouse Chutney made at Wivelsfield Green. Having grown up on homemade chutney, I am a chutney snob but although this one certainly passed muster, sadly it wasn’t really needed as all the cheeses were more than capable of holding their own.
We loved our CheeseFest (although if I’m entirely honest, I don’t fancy any more cheese for a while). But it did leave one big question unanswered (with that bottle of fizz smiling at me from my basket). What is the best thing to drink with which cheese? After a much-heated debate, we decided there is only one way to determine this … so I’m just off to the off-licence now.
If you love cheese and fancy a unique Sussex cheese toastie, don’t forget to check out our Blue Cloud recipe. Blue Cloud is award-winning and made by Balcombe Dairy, definitely a cheesemaker to watch in 2022!