Blessed are the cheesemakers

You don’t have to live in France to be proud of your local cheese; with Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers down the road we Hampshire Hogs can love our local curd too. It’s all made from the milk of their own cows that they treat with care and they are not Cheddar.

Unsurprisingly, we found Lyburn at the wizard Hampshire Farmers’ Market and visiting their stall is one of the great treats of every visit there. Not only are the cheeses champion but the owners are utterly lovely people, and we all like to buy things made by lovely people.

Lyburn Old Winchester

On our first visit my eyes happened upon the Old Winchester and, as I demanded at that time that all cheeses be incredibly characterful and mature, that was what we stuck with for a couple of months.

Old Winchester is sold at over 16 months old and is described as being like an Old Amsterdam. It is certainly a hard, drier style of cheese that throbs with mature, complex flavours. I loved it beyond words.

You think Old Winchester starts off hard? No, in its youth it is soft; it is life that makes the Old Winchester hard. In earlier stages of evolution it is simply Winchester at 9 months old and at 10-14 weeks Lyburn Gold.

Lyburn Gold

Since I, like my taste in cheese, have mellowed and no longer demand extremes of maturity we tried these a couple of months back and blow me they were stunning. The Winchester may be less strong but the flavours are just as complex, it has a more yielding texture. Lyburn Gold is mild but tastes fantastic with its creamy delicacy. Lyburn Gold may now even be my favourite.

Lyburn also make a mould-ripened cheese similar to Tomme de Savoie which is very creamy, sweet with a good earthiness. However, since my only serious exposure to this has been a few hundred grams eaten with a jar of Perfect Pickles extremely powerful pickled onions I may not be best placed to comment on the sophistication of its flavours.

I do feel for the owners of Lyburn as their stall is plagued, to a lesser degree, by the same type of people who used to infest Neal’s Yard Dairy when I would buy cheese there. These people made me incandescent with fury.

It took me a while to understand why people would queue for ages, demand to try five or six different cheeses then buy a wedge of something so thin the imagination could not handle it. The answer was simple, they didn’t actually like cheese.

Lyburn Winchester

If you like cheese you buy a few wedges of cheese each of several hundred grams and realise these will not last you that long. You only buy 150g of cheese if you are too neurotic to enjoy yourself with something good. We normally have between 5 and 13 cheeses in the fridge so 400g each of Winchester and Lyburn Gold are good sizes; they really don’t last if I’m feeling peckish.

Lyburn are less affected by this warped mentality than Neal’s Yard, presumably because people have a healthier attitude to life in Hampshire than in London. Yet, often I see someone try all the cheeses then pick up the smallest wedge on display. A hydroscopic picture taken at this point would show me to be steaming and I really want to have words. Loud words. Get a big piece of really good cheese and revel in the enjoyment it provides!

And that is very much the point with Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers produce, it’s extremely enjoyable. The cheeses are characterful, individual (and NOT Cheddar) and all bursting with incredible gratification. It is hard to have more fun with cheese, at least in a way you can talk about with the vicar.

Lyburn have a website and you can buy their cheeses from there or go to a farmers’ market and meet the lovely people themselves – you’ll want to buy as much as they’ll sell you.