Eat out, drink up
e 9 cheese
Traditional cheesemaking is holding its own against global big business, thanks to cheese connoisseurs such as IAN MELLIS. Words: Miles Fielder
esus Christ once proclaimed: ’Blessed are the
cheesemakers.‘ All right. the Messiah may have been
rnisquoted in Monty Python‘s Life of'Briair. but cheesemaker's are blessed in their artisan ways. While global business has all but destroyed the local underdogs of other industries. cottage industry cheesernakers continue to make yellow and blue art out of milk and whey.
HOMMAGE AU FROMAGE
lan Mellis knows this more than most. lle sells the fruits of the cheesemakers‘ labours in live shops (three in lidinburgh. one in Cilasgow. and one in St Andrews). The Scot opened his first shop on Victoria Street. lidinburgh. in 1993. and has just launched his latest in Morningside. Prior to this. Mellis himself was a blessed cheesemaker. lle trained in lnverness and refined his art over a decade of producing Cheddar's. Stiltons. and more.
It‘s Mellis” knowledge of the ‘science and art‘ of making cheese that sets his business apart from the supermarkets that stock factory-produced cheeses with unirnaginative names like Seriously Strong Cheddar. Why buy a ‘(irade four Cheddar“ when you could savour something called Valency or Vacherin — or the marvelloust monikered Lincolnshire Poacher"?
The eccentric names of such cheeses reflect the unique pleasures of each. The l‘rench Vacherin (2). for example. comes wrapped in tree bark which forms a little round pot. If you pop the whole thing in the
oven on low heat. Vacherin becomes a cheese fondue (and if left to mature long enough. Vacherin fondues by itself). Valency (4). on the other hand. looks like a miniature pyramid. albeit one covered in green mould. The mould of this soft. tasty goats cheese is quite edible. lt‘s produced by what Mellis terms ‘friendly bacteria'. This is what gives blue
cheeses their veins. their ﬂavours and. as it turns out. protects
Cedric Minel is a y0ung man with a love of cheese. a second-hand van and a clever concept. Into the vehicle goes top notch French tromage and the man and van set off on a weekly tOur of Edinburgh. The mobile cheese shop is something Minel remembers from his boyhood in Lyon. but in Scotland the idea has both Originality and a large slice of Gallic charm.
The real key to the success of Cheesee Peasee, however. has been the quality of the goods on sale which, according to Minel. are 'as fresh as if you were in Paris'.
His range of over 30 cheeses includes favourites such as the salty bite of Roguefort. though Bleu des Causses is a creamier. less imposing cow‘s milk equivalent. For under a fiver you can take away a dish of the wonderfully gooey St Felicien or a patty of Banon from Provence which comes wrapped in chestnut leaves.
To check times and locations. or place an order. call Minel on 07951 251073 or log on to www.cheeseepeasee.com. (Donald Reid)
the product from becoming inedible. According to Mellis. it’s safer to eat cheese than it is to drink bottled water.
Mellis has hands-on relationships with his suppliers. After his own palate has determined what cheeses he‘ll stock. he works with the makers to get the cheeses just right. Once they‘re in his warehouse. Mellis and his expert staff mature the cheeses. not putting them into the shops until they taste perfect.
That‘s a tricky trade. Cheese matures constantly thanks to live bacteria. For Mellis to meet his high standards. he has a relatively small window in which to sell his goods. Then there‘s the fact that cheeses are seasonal. (ioats. for example. don‘t produce good enough quality milk all year round to make. say. a strong. mature Briguette (1) available all 12 months.
Business gets particularly complicated at Christmas. when the shops sell six times as much cheese than at any other time of the year. and Mellis has to plan ahead for demand. But Mellis is happy about cheese being seasonal. He likes the variety it offers customers.
That said. one cheese is always in Mellis‘ top ten bestsellers: the mighty Blue Stilton (3). Made in Britain. it‘s virtually the only cheese the notoriously patriotic French will import. Creamy yellow. acid-blue veined. battleship hull of rind and best enjoyed with a glass of port or wine and apples. Blue Stilton is the flavour of Christmas.
(io on. support your local cheesemaker.
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Food editor Barry Shelby remembers what got his /UIC€S going this culinary year
A visit to the isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides illustrated what is best and worst about food in Scotland. Here, surrounded by the bountiful sea. a noble hunk of fertile land rests in the mild trade winds off the Morvern Peninsula. You would reasonably anticipate the food to be fresh — if not necessarily gourmet.
Alas, some things never seem to change and chancing a meal randomly at one of the island's inns is unlikely to exceed anyone’s expectations. It's mostly standardised pub grub that you would find in any howff from Coatbridge to Carnoustie: haddock that‘s been breaded in some mainland factory miles from Mull, shipped in frozen and dropped in a vat of hot oil. Swell.
But it's not all grim. At the port of Tobermory. with its row of pastel coloured buildings now immortalised by children's TV. you ﬁnd the fishermen hauling in the catch. The famous Fish and Chip Van is here on the pier and there are few places where you can get a fresher ﬁsh supper. A clutch of restaurants — such as the nearby cafe bistro at Mull Pottery — manage to secure a bit of seafood before it gets shipped southward. And around on the opposite of the Island. Isle of Ulva Oysters sits tantalising across the narrow channel from Mull's west coast. Locally caught sweet and peaty oysters are available at the cafe by the ferry.
But most memorable is a trip to the fishmonger. A bounty of scallops. smoked haddock, and fresh trout are brought back to the cottage for three consecutive feasts. devoured while watching the sun set and whales swim by.
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