As a WI member you’d think I’d be used to agricultural shows, but in truth, the last one I went to was with my high school and away from looking at shire horses and pigs, involved most of us buying stuff from a joke stall, including fake cigarettes filled with talc, so they ‘smoked’ when you puffed on them (probably one of the many reasons I’m an ex-smoker).
So I want you to imagine a big white tent in the middle of a field. No, bigger than that. No, still bigger.
Little bit bigger than that.
Big enough that when one of our group headed off to the loos we were waiting 20 minutes for them to trek back from one end of the tent to the other. Yes, that big.
Now I want you to imagine it filled with cheese. From Babybel to Gorgonzola, smoked, fruited, flavoured, processed, unpasteurised to downright dirty (in a good way) cheese. Over 4,400 types of cheese were packed into this tent to be sniffed, sampled, judged and prizes awarded as part of the International Cheese Awards and all this as part of the Nantwich Show.
Oh and, I’m led to believe, 47 different kinds of butter (I offered to help if someone had given me a loaf of crusty bread, but this was politely declined).
As a cheese fan, this invitation to come visit, meet producers, learn and well, sample, required no consideration at all – I usually have enough smelly cheese in the fridge that my cats will actually back off if I go to open it. This also means I rarely have to give out morsels of human food. Bonus.
I also got to chat to the lovely Nigel White of the British Cheese Board and ask important questions, such as ‘how do you become the Secretary to the British Cheese Board?’ (via similar roles in other areas, not as I’d hoped by simply consuming large amounts of cheese), ‘what’s your favourite cheese? (not allowed to have one, it would show bias and that just isn’t on) and ‘what’s your favourite cheese recipe?’ (from a 1970s cookbook designed to help people cook in a more frugal manner and involves an adaptation of Shepherd’s Pie with a cheese and breadcrumb top).
Hard journalism at work there.
As well as an inordinate amount of cheese to sample, some of which isn’t even out in the shops as yet (including a stunning Cropwell Bishop Stilton potted with honey, some Orsom cheese that just begs to be eaten and an, erm, interesting Billy Bear ‘cheese’ product) we were also able to witness the admission of new members to the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers (International Cheese Guild) who aside from wearing fabulous hats and robes, also work hard to promote cheese from a number of angles – from the above average cheese fan, to dairy workers and food scientists.
And even after this, the cheese fun hadn’t ended, for there was a fascinating cheese and whiskey pairing with some Irish cheese producers, which we enjoyed alongside my local cheese suppliers (I spend enough in there to warrant the offer of a ‘tab’) Hickson & Blacks.
Whilst there was some discussion as to some of the pairings, Teeling Whiskey and Little Milk Company Organic Cheddar was the favourite at the sampling. Needless to say, I’ll be exploring cheese and whisk(e)y pairings a little more often at home…
Though, Keeley, Samantha and I (and no doubt everyone else there on the judging day) went home with very full tummies and mountains of cheese purchases, I was hugely disappointed to miss the chef demonstrations as part of the Nantwich Show itself, including that gorgeous Yorkshireman (I don’t know many women who don’t fancy him to be honest) James Martin.
As I couldn’t be there, the day job needed me, all round good egg and bastion of the ICA Press Tent, Liz stepped in and asked him a couple of questions, including why he keeps coming back year after year:
‘Because you keep inviting me back! There’s nothing else like it that draws this amount of people in and it’s good to be a part of it.”
It’s no surprise he keeps being asked to return, with two sold out demonstrations, though he doesn’t get much time to look around the show, but did admit “I bought a JCB digger last year!”
The International Cheese Awards are now done and dusted til 2015, awards awarded, trophies collected, cheeses sampled and palates tested. Oddly though, I’ve still not sampled enough cheese.
Now how do I go about becoming a judge next year….
With huge thanks to the ICA, Liz and to both Liz and Samantha for the images.
My invitation to the awards was offered without any charge, lunch and breakfast provided. Any cheese taken away from the event was purchased by myself.