The history of Ashmore Cheese.

That determination is shared by Pat. In a corner of the store she has been experimenting with some semi-hard cheese that she tried to perfect when she was on her farm. She had made in in her cellar and called it Tillingbourne. Once, when James Aldridge has dropped by, she brought him one that she had been ripening, illegally had she intended selling it, in a damp cellar. The Beckenham cheesemonger had tasted it and beamed 'I am really proud of you Pat. You'll probably never do it again.'

His backhanded praise hasn't prevented her trying, although at Cranborne she fears that her store, regulated for ripening the hard cheese, isn't moist enough for her semi-hard.

Both she and David regret that they no longer own their herd. They have, though, opted for the next best thing by working with a farmer who is ready to share detailed information on what he has been feeding his cows. He'll take their advise not to add certain foodstuffs to the cows' diet, for instance kale, which might cause a taint. They have never deviated from raw milk as the basis for Ashmore.

Should they or the public that buys their cheese be frightened of E. coli, listeria or tuberculosis? Listeria has never caused any problems with hard cheese. E. coli, which can cause serious food poisoning, has been spread by contaminated cheese. What is not realised in the general hysteria that is whipped up by the media if a case occurs, is that people are far more likely to suffer an E. coli attack by drinking water from a vending machine, or outside of the UK, by drinking tap water.

As to tuberculosis, the fear of unwittingly making cheese from infected milk has persuaded many specialist cheesemakers to pasteurise. Pat argues that her milk comes from a single herd that is tested monthly. In any event, the disease develops slowly. It isn't present in the milk until the disease is well advanced, by which time it would have been diagnosed in the herd and the cows put down.

When they go to markets the Dobles feel they are encouraging their customers to distance themselves from the mass-produced product in order to develop a sense of respect for crafted food. Once people set their expectations higher, and taste a little more carefully, they will be repaid by the extra pleasure that the unpasteurised cheese offers them. That is where an accelerating change in the way those who can afford to are eating is borne out by Pat and David's experience at Winchester Farmers' market. In its early days they were the only cheesemaker. Now there are seven.

Step over the threshold of Lord Salisbury's Cranborne Stores and the same commitment to food that has been produced carefully and on a small scale is equally apparent. This isn't a smart deli. Despite its ownership, it's the village shop. Yes, it stocks Brillo pads, Mars Bars, Heinz Ketchup and the Daily Mail, but the meat counter is packed with the pork that has almost disappeared from English tables during the lean-good-fat-bat decades of intensively farmed cheap meat, and it also has a counter with Ashmore, Woolsery, Keen's, Daisy and a dozen more cheeses.

Extract from West Country Cheese Makers by Michael Raffael are reproduced by permission of Birlinn Ltd. www.birlinn.co.uk

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