Last weekend saw the return of the Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair (I’d link to the website but it still only has a list of last year’s exhibitors), it’s actually billed as the “artisan” cheese fair but many of the exhibitors could hardly be called artisan, Long Clawson for example makes over 6,700 tonnes of cheese a year and I’ve worked in one of the other cheese factories that were there and they are about as far from “artisan” as you can get.
Artisan: (from the Oxford English Dictionary)
- a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
- [as modifier] (of food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients: Britain’s artisan cheeses
There were much fewer cheese exhibitors this year, many of the artisan producers that were there last year were absent this time round bar a handful, but with the term “artisan” being used so loosely to include huge cheese manufacturers I don’t really blame them for wanting to distance themselves from something that devalues the true meaning of the word so carelessly.
I went along on the Sunday and was pretty shocked, not by the lack of small producers which I’d kinda expected but by the sheer rudeness of so many of the show’s visitors. It seemed entirely appropriate that it was held in a cattle market as people paid their £1 entrance fee many pushed and shoved and grabbed greedily at samples before just walking off. Everyone I spoke to in the days following the event said the same thing: “we saw people literally grabbing the knives off the tables and hacking lumps of cheese off from the producer’s tables and then just walking away.” It was depressing. Full credit to the traders though who I think must have all taken some super smiley pills because they were all incredible gracious and friendly in the face of such rudeness. I would have had people leaving my stall with toothpicks protruding from their eyes and hands after several hours of this so huge respect to all of them.
I gave up on moving around the stalls after my desire to whip out a cattle prod grew too intense and opted for a pint of Natterjack cider to calm me down, then an ale and watched the Melton Ukelele Orchestra who were absolutely ace, they played Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones and it totally made my day.
Things had quietened down a bit by then (perhaps the morris dancing had something to do with it) so I headed round the stalls to talk cheese. It was great to see David from Sparkenhoe there again (middle left on the picture above), THIS my friends is what Red Leicester is meant to taste like, its nutty, creamy, unpasturised and made on their farm using their own herd. Unsurprisingly the hands down flavour winners of the day were the unpasturised (raw milk) cheeses, of which I bought about 8 different ones (Keens cheddar, Chorlton smoked and unsmoked Cheshire, Laverstock buffalo mozzarella, Teifi’s Celtic promise, and 2 from the same producer whom I can’t remember the name of) which were all wonderful but my favourite of the day was Kent’s Winterdale Shaw which is Britain’s first carbon neutral cheese. Next time I’m down in Kent I’m going to head over to see them, they are a lovely family making great cheese using their own cows, just the kind of people and cheese that make this country’s food heritage something to be proud of.
There aren’t many photos to accompany this post as I pretty much just wanted to get out of there. It’s a real shame as it has the potential to be a good food fair, just drop the word Artisan or ONLY have true artisan products, get out of the cattle market and into a field with some marquees, have lots of other micro breweries, cider makers, artisan bakers, pie makers and celebrate food that is made with love and care and not forgetting MUCH more of the ukelele orchestra 🙂