A few bank holidays ago, (May 2, 2015, to be precise) the gent and I visited the Melton Mowbray Artisan Cheese Fair, with no idea what to expect. The things we knew were: it was on for 2 days, it was in May, and there would be cheese. How much of it, and how good it would be we decided to take a chance on.
There was a lot of cheese, and it was very good. And there was gin. It was also very good.
First, a little about Melton Mowbray. It’s a small town that’s known for two very big foods in Britain, though if you’re reading this from Britain, you probably already knew that.
I have to confess that I’m not a big pork pie fan, generally… I’d never been convinced that they were worth eating. The examples I’ve had were always too fatty, with really dense, lardy crust and cold pork in the middle. Honestly, even the best pork pie is probably not going to convince me that any of those things aren’t true. However, when in Melton Mowbray… We split a stilton pork pie, and the sharp earthiness of blue cheese really helped balance the fattiness and richness of the pork/pastry combination.
The fair itself was interesting and busy, but not too over-crowded. It only cost £2 to enter, which is apparently twice the price of previous years, but well worth it.
The weather the day we visited was pretty terrible, so that might have scared a few people away. There is a lot of jostling and pushing forward for samples, which can be a bit trying when you want to sample something, talk to the producer or take a photo, which is why some of my photos ended up being at pretty weird angles.
If you got the opportunity to speak to them, most of the producers were friendly and keen to talk about their wares. Most of the people there really were small (or fairly small) providers that you wouldn’t necessarily find in your local supermarket, so it was nice to get insight into the joys of cheese making, gin distilling and making cheese-making kits.
There were around 75 different stalls across the cattle market and they included cider, bread, ice cream, wine, and cheese of course… there was no lack of great British products.
We ended up taking 6 cheeses home, and it took serious willpower to not buy more than that. There was the creamy Dorset White from Chalke Valley, a blue goat cheese called Nanny Williams from Loosehanger Cheese in Salisbury, a beautiful brie-styled cheese from Tunworth in Hampshire, a traditionally full flavored blue (yeah, there’s a theme) from Cote Hill in Lincolnshire, a deliciously strong, aged Red Leicester made by Leicestershire Handmade Cheese, and finally, a beautiful Stichelton, which is exactly a stilton, but made with unpasteurized milk.
There were also some very interesting talks on, most notably a history of Stilton cheese, from one of the UK’s big stilton producers. It was a great explanation of how the Midlands became a home base for many foods (as it was a natural stopping point for people traveling through the country), how much of an effect war rationing had on cheese production (immense) and what makes a stilton a stilton.
But I can’t wrap up this overview without talking about the two gin distilleries we tried, both of which were fantastic. Recently I’d had a bad run of picking gins without tasting them, but we were very confident about taking both of these home… after sampling them. Burleigh’s Gin has robust flavor and uses citrus and spices to great effect.
The second tried-and-loved distiller is called Da Mhile, from Wales. While there’s an interesting version with seaweed as a botanical, we stuck to the regular gin, which is made with mint. I was skeptical at first, but the mint isn’t overpowering at all, and adds an interesting fresh dimension to a g&t.
As a final note, it must be said that there was a great ukelele orchestra, playing hits from across the decades.
if you find yourself with the opportunity to visit the Melton Mowbray Artisan Cheese Fair, I would recommend it, but only if you’re willing to wander around for a few hours, sampling cheese, alcohol and pies, and coming home loaded with goodies. You’ve been warned!