This post is inspired by some delicious goat cheese that we picked up at the Fielding Cottage (@fieldingcottage) stall at the recent Essex Food and Drink Festival. The cheese was Norfolk Mardler, which excited me initially, because ‘mardle’ is (ashamedly) one of the few words of Norfolk dialect that I know (meaning ‘to chatter’). It also caught Pete’s eye – he’s not a fan of the soft, crumbly texture of many goat milk cheeses – but this was quite different.
Fielding Cottage are based in Honingham near Norwich and have only been producing goat cheese since 2010 when they launched their soft ‘Ellingham’ cheese, and since then have been going from strength to strength.
As I mentioned before Norfolk Mardler is a bit different; a waxed, eight-week matured cheese, which is gorgeous and creamy. You can still very much tell that it’s a goat cheese from the taste, but with its bright yellow wax coating and firmer texture, it’s looks very different. You can buy both cheeses direct from the Fielding Cottage website, along with their goat meat and cosmetic products.
This got me thinking about local cheeses, and if there is such a thing as a typical cheese from Norfolk, Suffolk or Essex. We’ve definitely tried a few, ranging from the lovely creamy, veined Binham Blue and the brie-esque Norfolk White Lady, to Suffolk Gold, a firmer cheese, which definitely stands up to its name in terms of colour. The image below shows Norfolk White Lady at the bottom, with Binham Blue next to it, alongside a Stilton (top) and an Italian cheese which I can’t remember the name of. But there doesn’t seem to be a certain type of cheese that the region as a whole is known for – not a modern cheese at least, which led me nicely on to a bit of history, or should that be cheestory?! Maybe not…
When talking about the food carried on ships in the seventeenth century in her book A History of English Food, Clarissa Dickson Wright says: ‘It’s true that ships also carried vegetables and kegs of butter, but these were difficult to keep fresh, and such cheese as was carried was usually one of the very hard Suffolk or Essex varieties made from the thinnest of skimmed milk.’.
This tied in very neatly with an entry about Samuel Pepys’ dislike of hard Suffolk cheese on the Sciapod Dairy Diary blog, (@SciapodDairy), which is a really interesting project about rediscovering the lost cheeses of Suffolk, and is well worth reading and following. Also check out the Sciapod Dairy timeline of Suffolk cheese, which tracks the demise of Suffolk cheese in favour of butter making in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, right through to new modern dairies being setting up.
It’s these new cheese makers who are defining the modern cheeses of the region. People like Fielding Cottage and Fen Farm Dairy (@FenFarmDairy) near Bungay in Suffolk, who have just launched a new cheese called Baron Bigod are doing exciting things for quality local cheese, and are well worth looking out for.