An Afternoon with Blackwoods Cheese Company

Graceburn
As a huge cricket fan, you would assume that spending six days at the Salisbury Christmas Market with an Australian during England’s recent humiliation down under would be unbearable. Luckily though, Cam and I share a love for traditionally crafted artisan cheese as well. After spending a week together in a smelly cheese-filled chalet, I got to learn a bit about Blackwoods Cheese Company. Set up in 2013 by Cam and his three mates Dave, Rory and Tim, the company makes delicious fresh cheese in Brockley, South East London, using raw organic cow’s milk.

Yesterday I went with Cam to Commonwork’s Organic Dairy Farm to collect the milk for a batch of Graceburn – a fantastic creamy feta-like cheese marinated in oil and herbs. We loaded ten empty milk buckets into the company van – a wagon that bears the faded liveries of both Monmouth Coffee Company and Neal’s Yard Dairy on its sides. We headed south east, gradually leaving the city smoke behind and beating our way into rural kent, past muddy field gates and through winter woodlands.

It was imperative that we arrived just as the cows were having their afternoon milk. in the tank room next to the parlour, we filled the buckets with rich warm milk that came gushing from the pipe all frothy and steaming. While Cam filled up, I sprinkled cheese culture into each bucket so that by the time we were back on the road to London, the cheese making process had already begun.

As we got back on the M20, Canary Warf and the Shard loomed big and bright in the distance. When we got back to Blackwoods HQ, I got suited and booted and received delivery of the milk from Cam through a hatch in the inner factory wall. After adding the rennet and with the room temperature a steady 18 degrees centigrade, our work was done – the curds are then given time to form, before being cut, wrapped in cheesecloth and steeped in brine the next day.

We agreed that we should reward our efforts with beers and Chinese food. After a quick bus journey over to Camberwell, we met up with Rory and Dave, two of the other Blackwoods boys. Over pints and the best Chinese food I have ever eaten (at Silk Road), I got a sense of the exciting stage Blackwoods Cheese Company is at. With orders for their first three fresh cheeses picking up and a new washed rind cheese in the pipeline, the lads are really beginning to see their hard work paying off. An Australian raw milk cheese company taking the English market by storm. What better model to pursuade the Australian Food Standards Agency of the value and importance of raw milk cheese?

You can purchase Blackwoods Cheese Company’s cheeses direct from Cam, Dave, Rory and Tim at Brockley Market and Hearne Hill Market, or from their friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market and Covent Garden.

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Review of The Vine Thai Restaurant, Norwich

Having recently graduated from being an impoverished student at UEA, there have not been many times when I have been able to spend £60 on a meal out. I am an enthusiastic cook and having worked many food jobs I have high expectations. A few people had recommended The Vine Thai Restaurant on Dove Street in Norwich so Annabel and I decided to check it out.

Walking into the restaurant is like stepping into a doll’s house. Two locals were sat at a bar that couldn’t have been more than two metres long in a room that held five small tables. I soon realised that its not the size of the bar that counts though but the quality of the booze in its taps and being a CAMRA pub this was fine nectar indeed; Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, Norfolk Gold and HMY Britannia.

Up the narrow staircase to the side of the bar is the dining room which is equally as small as the downstairs. Through the serving hatch leading to the kitchen I could see plumes of steam as the rice cooker was opened and hear the clink of woks and implements. The waiter was very attentive and though he stood near our table for most of the evening his presence was not at all off-putting. After we ordered, the food came out quickly which is one of the benefits of a restaurant with only six tables.

Mixed StarterMixed Starter

The dumplings in the mixed starter tasted like they were from frozen, the tastiest being the patty at the bottom right of the picture which had a delicate lemony coriander flavour. It was the dips that made the starter though; home made soy sauce and satay sauce; plum sauce and chilli sauce with and without chopped vegetables.

Main course

From the left, Stir-fried beef with green peppers and oyster sauce, Goong pad med ma muang (Stir-fried king prawns with cashew nuts and vegetables), Red Thai chicken curry and Egg fried rice.

I wasn’t blown away by the prawns or the beef. In the former the cashew was the prevailing flavour but the dish was hindered by fairly tasteless vegetables just as the prawns were let down by the unstimulating sauce. Equally the green peppers in the beef were sharp and tangy and the meat was nicely pink in the middle, but that couldn’t make up for another sauce that never really turned up.

The fragrant, slightly chilli Red Thai Chicken Curry saved the day. The dish contained tender pieces of chicken,  rubbery bamboo shoots and a few fresh thai basil leaves tossed in at the end. This delicious aniseed flavour assaulted my taste buds and had me fishing around in the dish to find more; alas they were all gone and only the memory of the leaves remained.

Cleansing lychees in syrop and vanilla ice cream followed and then the bill. The meal came to £57.90; £48 for the set menu for two, and £9.90 for two small glasses of house red. Considering all of the above I thought it slightly on the expensive side, but due to the Thai Red Curry, the friendly service and the novelty of the venue, I still left a happy customer. I wouldn’t fancy tackling that tiny winding staircase after a few rice whiskeys though!

What came first, the Chicken Nugget or the Egg McMuffin?

A basket of potatoes

According to a recent survey, more than a third of 16 to 23-year-olds don’t know that bacon comes from pigs and two fifths failed to link milk with an image of a dairy cow.

Consumers today are prone to instant gratification in so many areas of life. Just this summer I went on holiday to Croatia knowing that there would be sun, a beach and some cultural interest. When I arrived I realised I knew next to nothing about the country’s history, Its politics or even its exact location on the map. What’s the point in bothering to remember these things when we can Google them at any time? We know when we leave the supermarkets that what we have bought tastes good, that it fills a hole, and that it is reasonably good value; so what’s the use is knowing where it comes from, let alone what effect it is having on our bodies?

It takes a nationwide realisation that standards have slipped to kickstart any progress. Take pubs for example. They are fundamental to British culture; the centre of the community. In 1971 we realised that the market on beer was dominated by a few big brewers producing bland processed beers. In 1971 CAMRA (campaign for real ale) was founded and since then ‘the number of breweries operating in the UK has grown fourfold to over 840 breweries.’

Living in Norwich, which has a pub for every member of So Solid Crew, i can attest to the outstanding range and quality of beers, stouts, ales and lagers on offer in our public houses. But what about the people inside them? The defining feature of the British people is no longer the stiff upper lip but rather the limp double chin and it seems that the fatter we get, the better we are at ignoring it.

Adnams‘ Broadside, brewed in Southwold, Suffolk

Just as beer plays a central role in the pub, a key player in British food is bread. The Real Bread Campaign promotes small bakeries that make traditional, long proved bread which is healthier than mass producing companies like Hovis and Kingsmill. A recent study by the Federation of Bakers shows that the market share of white bread was down by 3.2% on 2009, while healthier malted, grainy and seeded loaves have seen a sales growth of 5.1%. I think that Britain is taking tentative steps to becoming a healthier country and I really hope that in the next ten years the Real Bread Campaign will have the same snowball effect that CAMRA has had since the seventies.

Wholemeal Sourdough Bread. Photo by Annabel Dodebier

These three things will make Britain healthier:

1. Buying food that has fewer than 5 ingredients.

2. Buying food that is not processed and does not contain artificial ingredients.

3. Cooking meals regularly and buying ready-meals and takeaways occasionally, instead of the other way around.