Thursday, 29 September 2011

Burt's Blue Cheese - Altrincham, Cheshire

It's British Cheese Week; the time of year which fromageophiles such as myself use as an excuse to stock up on the good stuff, retreat indoors and only emerge after the last gooey globlet has been wiped out of the fondue.

So taking a break from the annual face stuffing, I'm resting my mandibles and sitting down to write a piece about the one cheese you should be searching out this week.

Burt’s Cheese is the new kid on the artisan cheese block. Handmade with all natural ingrediants by Claire Burt in Altrincham since 2009 it's since gained such critical acclaim that the cheese took Gold in the Specialist Cheese Makers Class at the International Cheese Awards 2010 in its first year and is now featuring on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the North West.

Claire Burt with her gold award

Focusing on quality rather than quantity, Claire Burt hand makes the cheese herself in small batches with pasteurised milk from the local dairy co-op, in a small dairy one mile from her house. The cheeses are pierced during maturation, which encourages the blue veins to develop, along with the cheese's flavour.

So, what's it like? Burt's is a small cheese; a dainty blue truckle, with an interesting blue mould bloom covering the surface. Each cheese comes in an individual paper wrapping and sealed with the date it was made and when it will keep to. On opening you are presented with a very pretty, lopsided, circular cheese with a faint aroma of mushrooms. As Burt's is handmade in small batches, each one tastes slightly different and looks unique. If you can face cutting open something of such beauty, revealed is a beautiful off-white, soft cheese with blue veins running through the middle.

Burt's Blue - with thanks to Smell My Kitchen Blog

This isn't a knock your socks of piquant blue that you can smell from the other side of the room; it's far more subtle than that. Burt's Blue is very creamy and soft, with a luxurious mouth feel. After the initial heavy dose of cream, there's a marked sharp top note, followed by a salty, warmer finish.

The creamy density and slight sweetness of Burt's Blue is great with the sharp fruit around now, some cox apples went particularly well, as did the slightly under ripe pears I 'borrowed' off the tree at work. I wouldn't suggest you pair the cheese with overpowering flavours, but sitting on top of an oatcake really shows off the full range of flavours in the cheese. Chef Jason Palin has also come up with quite a few recipes for cheese including the Welsh RareBurt - proving it's versatile as well as tasty. However, for me, simple is the best - wedges of Burt's on its own – pure and delicious.

Burt's Blue showing blue veins

So impressed was I with the cheese I managed to pin Claire down in between cheese batches and caring for her young son Noah to give me a brief insight into how Burt’s got started.

How did you get in to cheese making?
I was working for Dairygold Food Ingredients in Product Development and was lucky to be sent on a cheese making course, plus got to visit dairies across Ireland, UK, Italy and Denmark. I got really interested in it, then I made some cheese in my kitchen and it started from there.

What was your first cheese like?
It actually turned out like a cheese! But I didn't unfortunately get to taste it as I'd just found out I was expecting, so my husband had to be my guinea pig. Luckily it didn’t do him any harm so I carried on.

How it all starts - the curds and why of Burt's Blue

So how do you get from cheese making in the kitchen to a proper product on shelves?
I kept making cheese at home and when I worked out it was something I wanted to do, I spoke to Environmental Health about a fit for sale product. From there it was about getting into the local shops and luckily both Red House Farm and my local deli in Goosegreen, Altincham were impressed enough to take the cheese on. I did go back to work as I'd been doing this on my maternity, but my heart wasn't in it and now I produce Burt’s Blue full time.

Do you still turn out the cheeses in the kitchen?
No! I've been very lucky to find a small room that adjoins the Cheshire Cookery School just up the road from my house, which is very handy. I had a few false starts finding places, but this is my permanent home now. I've kitted the room out with plastic wall cladding, vats, moulds and all the other cheese making paraphernalia. It's a proper dairy. The cheese is both made, matured here and packaged here.

Any disasters?
Thankfully not too many and not what you term proper disasters. We initially used a single farm to produce the cream and the milk, however they couldn’t change their rounds to suit us and this was a big problem in the warm weather. We now buy off a local co-op instead and this suits us much better. I think the only proper has been during the cold weather all the pipes froze so we had no water to make the cheese with. As they thawed they burst and we had considerably too much water!

Burt's Blue at four weeks old

What have you learned in the last year?
It’s been a massive learning curve and I learned so much, each day I’m learning new things and think I always will. Finding the right suppliers, working with stockists, getting the cheese right, all the different coats on the cheese; it just carries on. However sometimes you realise things are beyond your control. There's a saying that cheese never sleeps; I think that goes for the cheese maker as well! I still very much feel like a beginner and am very excited about what the future holds.

Ps The cheese is suitable for veggies too, so we can all enjoy!
Burts is now stocked in the following places: Cheese Shop, Chester; Cheese Hamlet, Didsbury; Barbakan Deli, Chorlton; Cheese Emporium, Altrincham Market; Red House Farm, Altrincham; Cheshire Smokehouse; Good Cheese Company; Pendrills, wholesaler (supplies into Northcotes); Sam's Fresh and Local, Bramhall; Cheerbrook Farm Shop; De Fine, Sandiway; The Hollies Farm Shop, Cheshire; Hopley House, Middlewich; Williams & Sons, Holmes Chapel; Yellow Broom, Twemlow; Sextons, Lymm; Pokusevskis Deli, Heaton Moor; Ken's deli, Westhaughton. And you can catch Claire at the Altincham Producers Market, held every third Saturday of the month.
Burt’s Blue Cheese, 14 Grosvenor Close, Altincham, Cheshire WA14 1LA –
07709 394292 – Claire@burtscheese.com – Twitter

http://www.burtscheese.com/