Cheese, supermarkets and Hilaire Belloc

Earlier today I was watching an old episode of A bit of Fry and Laurie and at one point Stephen Fry used the brilliant construction: “Unless I am more vastly mistaken than a man who believes that Hilaire Belloc is still alive.” This reminded me of the frighteningly long time since I had encountered his output. Consequently, I searched a online and stumbled upon his essay On Cheeses – it was a hoot. I reproduce a paragraph below:

Consider the cheese of Rocquefort: how hard it is in its little box. Consider the cheese of Camembert, which is hard also, and also lives in a little box, but must not be eaten until it is soft and yellow. Consider the cheese of Stilton, which is not made there, and of Cheddar, which is. Then there is your Parmesan, which idiots buy rancid in bottles, but which the wise grate daily for their use: you think it is hard from its birth? You are mistaken. It is the world that hardens the Parmesan. In its youth the Parmesan is very soft and easy, and is voraciously devoured.

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Which brings me to my main theme. The online supermarket I patronise, Ocado, delivered goods for my lunch today including the piece of Keen’s Cheddar pictured left. There are a couple of points about this which I, as a fellow of vaguely advanced years, find stupefyingly brilliant.

Firstly, it is Keen’s Cheddar. Not merely Cheddar, mature Cheddar nor that loathsome contrivance ‘mild’ Cheddar. Certainly not the nauseatingly anodyne filth I witnessed as a young chap possessing the worrying appellations ‘yellow cheese’ and ‘orange cheese’. No, this is a properly characterful bit of cheese made by a named and rightly-praised producer. Freaking triple-A.

Secondly, you may have spotted the vein of mould running through the cheese. Ideally, you’ll be so un-phased by this that you didn’t notice, but to those of us living in Blighty it would not be so long ago that seeing a bit of fungus in our Cheddar would be cause to reject it in disgust. Things have changed.

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They’ve changed for the better. I also ordered some brie, Ocado list thirteen different types of brie (including the mysteriously monikered ‘lighter brie’, is that related to lighter fluid?). I got a rather decent camenbert as well, out of the twelve different types they sell. As I was once a young child growing up in a somewhat unsophisticated food culture I find the contemporary availability of such cheesy comestibles to be mind-bogglingly pleasing.

I recognise that I am rather fortunate to live in London where an online supermarket has a large enough pool of cheese-noshing customers to stock a broad array of fermented curd, but such delights are generally within the reach of most of us on this fair isle. That makes me pleased as chips.

I shall leave you with another paragraph from On Cheeses (you can download all of Hilaire Belloc’s work from Project Gutenberg):

Then there is your cheese of Wensleydale, which is made in Wensleydale, and your little Swiss cheese, which is soft and creamy and eaten with sugar, and there is your Cheshire cheese and your little Cornish cheese, whose name escapes me, and your huge round cheese out of the Midlands, as big as a fort whose name I never heard. There is your toasted or Welsh cheese, and your cheese of Pont-l’evêque, and your white cheese of Brie, which is a chalky sort of cheese. And there is your cheese of Neufchatel, and there is your Gorgonzola cheese, which is mottled all over like some marbles, or like that Mediterranean soap which is made of wood-ash and of olive oil. There is your Gloucester cheese called the Double Gloucester, and I have read in a book of Dunlop cheese, which is made in Ayrshire: they could tell you more about it in Kilmarnock. Then Suffolk makes a cheese, but does not give it any name; and talking of that reminds me how going to Le Quesnoy to pass the people there the time of day, and to see what was left of that famous but forgotten fortress, a young man there showed me a cheese, which he told me also had no name, but which was native to the town, and in the valley of Ste. Engrace, where is that great wood which shuts off all the world, they make their cheese of ewe’s milk and sell it in Tardets, which is their only livelihood. They make a cheese in Port-Salut which is a very subtle cheese, and there is a cheese of Limburg, and I know not how many others, or rather I know them, but you have had enough: for a little cheese goes a long way. No man is a glutton on cheese.

As Mr Fry and Mr Laurie would say, “Soupy twist!”