I can’t seem to get enough of the PBS series, Downton Abbey, and neither can you. This became clear at the Cheddar class I taught on Friday night at Tria’s Fermentation School. It was a Masterpiece Theater-loving crowd (lots of beards and one waistcoat); Lady Grantham would have fit right in.
By the end of the night, we’d eaten seven Cheddars, and there was hardly a crumb on the tables. After everyone left, I couldn’t help but imagine them settling in on their settees at home with a spot of port and an episode of Downton Abbey cued up for a nightcap. Since today is Sunday, and you’ll surely be watching, let me offer you a few crumbs of wisdom about building a Downton worthy cheese plate.
|Photo credit: JBUK_Planet|
First off, Downton Abbey is shot in Cheddar country, in Hampshire, just one county over from Somerset. Highclere Castle (above) is the actual name of the palatial estate, and it’s just a jaunt from London, home to one of Europe’s best affineurs, Neal’s Yard Dairy. Should you decide to holiday in Hampshire, make sure you pop into Neal’s Yard for a whiff and a nibble. Lord Grantham would insist.
Secondly, you’ll want to serve some traditional farmhouse West Country Cheddars, which would have been fairly easy to come by in 1912, before the advent of Britain’s agricultural depression in the 1920s and ‘30s. Before World War II, Britain developed a Milk Marketing Board that streamlined industrial cheese production, decimating small cottage industries. Many great cheese recipes were lost, but a few have been revived.
Lady and Lord Grantham lived during a veritable Cheddar heyday, you might say. For a taste of some of these extraordinary cheeses, scout out the following wedges for your next Downton Abbey viewing party:
Mrs. Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire
A gentle, citrus-bright clothbound cheese made from milling the curds of three days’ milking. The texture has earned it the nickname “floofy monstah.” You’ll understand why. Character: Mrs. Patmore
This wickedly creamy goat’s milk cheese has a layer of beautiful surface mold and a decadent, fudgy center. It’s a bit naughty and a tiny bit two-faced. Character: Lady Mary
One of the best loved traditional West Country Cheddars, this is one of three recognized by Slow Food. It’s made by hand by Jamie Montgomery at his farm in Somerset. It’s a cult cheese for anglo-loving Cheddarphiles. Character: Lord Grantham
To rival Montgomery’s, a traditional Cheddar that’s earthier and more aggressive. This clothbound beauty is made by George Keen, a legend in cheesemaking. Character: Mr. Carson
This smoldering character is named after a 17th century ballad. It has Cheddarish traits, but there’s a bit of Gruyere lurking in the background, making it a bit of a split personality. So of course, you can guess which character it best represents. Character: Thomas the Footman
This piquant, ultra traditional version of Stilton is made with raw milk, unlike other Stiltons on the market. It’s very feisty and worth every penny for its craggy, churlish nature. Character: Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
For more ideas, pick up a copy of Great British Cheeses , by Jenny Linford (DK, 2008). Downton Abbey, Season 1 is available for streaming on Netflix. Season 2 streams on PBS.