The 4 kilo wheel of Ashmore Farmhouse is on the cutting board and I’m holding the cheese wire above it. It’s 7.30am on a Wednesday, the first day of my working week at The Goods Shed, Canterbury, and there is a new cheese to open.
It’s from a new batch and I have no idea how good it is going to taste. All hand-made cheeses vary from batch to batch: sometimes good, sometimes great. I’m about to find out.
The rind is pale grey, like lichen or old stone, and slightly rough to the touch. It has protected the cheese for six months from the outside elements while allowing it to gently lose moisture, drying the cheese and intensifying the taste.
The wire cuts through the rind, with the crisp crunch of a boot on thick, fresh snow. After the crunch it glides smoothly through the cheese. That’s good: The wire is sensitive to the slightest irregularity in texture. It you can feel a slight tugging, a momentary resistance as it hits a hard spot, the prospects are not good.
This one opens like ripe fruit. Ashmore should always be slightly creamy, and without the cracks that are characteristic of West Country cheddars. Then comes the smell. Even before tasting, the smell should be fresh and sharp. It will settle down, but that first whiff should be an expelling of the ammonia that fills a ripening room, stinging the eyes and burning its cleansing way through blocked sinuses.
I probably don’t need to taste it, but my appetite has been wakened, and my palate, this early in the morning, is at its freshest.
The Champagne houses say it’s best to taste wine before you clean your teeth in the morning for the same reason. And why rob yourself of the pleasure of a nibble of Ashmore Farmhouse, creamy, slightly sharp with a long lingering flavour?
Next there’s a new 3.5 kilo Bowyer’s Brie to cut. Pinch it between finger and thumb. Is it slightly pudgy, does it guiltily remind you of the pinch-an-inch test of the tyre on your waist? It does? Then the chances are it’s ready.
The brie is cut with a carving knife. An unripe brie will need downward pressure to get through the chalky centre. A ripe brie will suck greedily at the blade, slowing it as it’s drawn across the cheese. Cut it in half, and then into quarters. Gently ease a wedge away and the parting edges should only reluctantly yield, opening to a paste that quivers on the verge of melting. Some supermarket bries have been tweaked so they will never achieve that runny ripeness. Instead they are are frozen in perpetual immaturity. Who could do that to an innocent cheese?
And now to unwrap a ripe Caerphilly. It’s going to be a long, lovely morning…