Can you name the 13th Best Cheese in the World – at least as judged at the World Cheese Awards in Bergamo in 2019? It’s a ludicrous concept of course, every cheese is unique, like every wine, but when the answer is Brighton Blue who in this city is going to argue?
From the start I have to admit it’s not made in Brighton; we suffer from a serious shortage of cows. It’s made by Mark and Sarah Hardy at High Weald Dairy, near Horsted Keynes. So why is it named after Brighton? How many other places are there in Sussex beginning with B? Burgess Hill Blue? Billingshurst Blue? They don’t quite have the allure that our city brings to the table.
What is it about the cheese that’s so special? It’s a question of texture and flavour. For texture it sits midway between soft and hard: it holds its shape but isn’t hard or crumbly like a Stilton. It’s all a question of how hard they try to separate the whey from the curds. Mark and Sarah don’t try too hard but, once the cheese is made and in the store, they turn it three times a week to aid the loss of moisture. That gets it exactly right.
But what’s really special is the flavour. It’s slightly salty with a delicate almost perfumed taste. It’s exquisite. That flavour comes from the mould, which is Penicillium roqueforti. That’s the same mould used to make Roquefort (and, incidentally, Stilton), but the Hardys use a milder version – number 3 on a scale of 1 to 9, whereas Stilton uses a 7 or 8. It’s cultivated now, but it’s ultimately derived from the wild moulds found in the limestone caves at Roquefort.
When you look at the cheese you see that the blue colour is not diffuse through the cheese, but it’s in clumps and sometimes in streaks. This makes some people think that the mould has been injected. It’s not; it’s mixed into the milk at the very start of cheese-making. But it doesn’t go blue at this stage because for that it needs oxygen.
So the cheese is made, left to sit in store for a week, then pierced with a battery of long needles. Oxygen diffuses through the shafts created when the needles are removed and the blue colour and flavour start to develop. It’s usually ready to eat after 7 weeks, but cheese is a living thing and no timing is set in stone.
Blue cheeses often become even more interesting with time and I look forward to keeping my next Brighton Blue for a bit to see how it develops.
Which wine should you drink with it? I’ve written before about matching fortified wines – Sherry, Port or Madeira – with blue cheese, but Brighton Blue is too delicate for that. Red wine (but again not too overwhelming) would be fine. A Sauternes would be marvellous as would any sweet white wine that isn’t too cloying.