Quite rightly, plenty has been said in British food media about the winners of the British Cheese Awards 2017- the industry glitz and glamour event of the year where the country's best cheeses and their producers are indentified and celebrated through a gruelling judging process and subsequent awards dinner.
For those who have missed the coverage, the highlights can be summarised as a pretty stonking night for White Lake Cheese who left the evening five trophies heavier, including the top accolade of supreme Champion for their Pavé Cobble, an ash coated, lactic style ewe's milk pyramid. Other successes came for Westcombe Dairy, Cropwell Bishop, Durrus and Caws Teifi amongst others, and to our own delight Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2017 was awarded to Andrew Van Kralingen from Paxton & Whitfield's shop in Jermyn Street.
With our fingers on the pulse of the cheese world, Paxton & Whitfield always have a contingent of staff involved in the judging of the cheeses and present at the Awards. Ideal, therefore, to bring you a taste of what it is like to be present at the event and just a little gossip from the night itself.
Part of the Royal Bath and West show, the judging takes place on the opening day and was much cheered by the sounds of cattle and sheep and the excited hubbub of the happy show-goers. The judges were separated into groups of two or three, dependent on our experience and between us we helped to judge classes including block, young goats', ewe's and 'British other' - for cheeses not easily incorporated into our categories. There is a huge amount of experience and a vast skill set encompassed within the vavious judges whose ages cover the young to the well-seasoned and who come from a wide range of backgrounds such as the press, previous winners, retailers and industry stalwarts. We were encouraged to be generous with our praise of the cheeses but awards definitely had to be merited.
The awards dinner itself was an exceptionally fun event. In our line of work, especially those of us London based, we attend a fair few award ceremonies but this one is undoubtedly one of the best, rendering some others soulless in comparison. Set in a marquee in the show ground, chairs were set on a tilt and drink was flowing. The cheese community is a small world and the majority of producers present go way back and barely an award was given without heckling emanating from the tables. The whole atmosphere and set up was utterly charming and amongst the mix of relative newcomers and Cheese Royalty not a person seemed unwelcome or uninvolved.
At the recurring presence on the stage of White Lake Cheese's Peter Humphries, it has to be said that we were thrilled for him and not altogether unsurprised. White Lake work incredibly hard to make a huge variety of cheeses and they make them all well. Any feedback given seems to be taken on board and reflected and in the instance of the Supreme Champion Pavé Cobble, a cheese which at the start showed great promise and evolved to become fantastic, has been so well received that we have supplied it as a permanent fixture on the menu at Monica Galletti's restaurant, Mere, since it opened. Unfortunately for Pete, he had somewhere to be early the next day and so was not celebrating in quite the way he would want. As for Andrew's experience the next day when taking part in the Young Cheesemonger of the Year competition, it was far more nerve-wracking. His hands were actually shaking for the first round but dissipated as the competition progressed. He found the Cut & Wrap round less than enjoyable but found his feet for the Masterind and Cheese Identification as being challenged on his cheese knowledge was great fun. All was worthwhile when his name was read out as the winner and announced as Young Cheesemonger of the Year 2017!