I recently asked one of my favourite cheese sellers to name his favourite cheese. I realize that this is a cruel question. People ask me this cruel question all the time, and you might as well ask me who my favourite child is, it’s just wrong. Instead, ask me what my favourite washed rind cheese is, or my favourite mountain cheese, or perhaps, my most beloved cheddar.Still challenging, but much more realistic.
However, my cheese seller, when pressed (that’s a cheese pun) admitted to one favourite and that favourite is today’s cheese, “Isle of Mull Cheddar.” It’s taken me quite a while to track some down, as this is a very rare and precious cheese, but for you, readers, and for cheese, I will do just about anything.
Isle of Mull cheddar is made by one family only, the Reades. They are the only family with a dairy herd on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which lies along the coastline of west Scotland. The island is quite “wee” with a population of no more than 3000. Proprietors Jeff and Chris Reade have been making cheese here since 1979. Their cheese is made from the milk of their own herd of cows, and due to the small area of the island, this milk is very affected by terroir-limited grain, and limited grass. To supplement the available food, these cows are fed the “spent grain husks” from the nearby whisky distillery, which is added to their feed (lucky cows). Apparently, this adds a slightly yeasty and perhaps alcoholic tang to this cheese. Wow! I mean, most of us have heard of wine and cheese, but this is the first whiskey IN cheese I have run across.
This is a relatively young cheddar, aged about 18 months, and it’s wrapped in cloth. Can I just say here how mad I am for a cloth-wrapped cheese? I believe this is only my third cloth-wrapped cheese in the over 130 I have reviewed. Maybe I’m sentimental for the days of yore when more cheeses were wrapped, or maybe it’s that funky smell the cloth gets when the bacteria move in, but I really give extra bonus points for this. More cloth please, cheese-makers of the world!
OK enough waxing on, now a word of warning. This is not a cheap cheese. Do you see this slice? Yes, it’s a tall slice, but it cost $8.00 here in Canada. That’s kind of crazy. It is a raw milk cheese (I’m not sure if it’s organic, it doesn’t say) and yes, it comes all the way from a wee Scottish Island where the cows drank spent grain husks all day, but this is one of the priciest cheeses I have sampled to date. Don’t grate this cheddar into your mac and cheese! SAVE IT FOR A RAINY DAY AND A GOOD FRIEND.
First, this is a handsome cheese, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s an old-fashioned cheddar, with a creamy coloured paste but it’s very pale-much more pale than most other cheddars, and darker as it approaches the rind which I am thrilled to say is wrapped in cloth (don’t eat that part, for heaven’s sake.) You can see the texture of the cheddaring in the paste, a little pattern of pressed curds with tiny cracks. It’s a firm cheese, but a little moist, it’s not crumbling like some cheddars. The smell is crazy! I can actually smell whiskey in this cheese, I kid you not, these cows must have been truly “lit” as we say here in Canada. I know human moms who are breast-feeding aren’t supposed to drink as the alcohol passes on through the milk…that’s what has happened here folks. I can absolutely smell booze in this cheese, it’s so interesting! Talk about terroir.
Now the tasting-it’s so complex! It’s actually really hard to explain. The texture is a nice cheddary chew, yes, no crunch, but the taste. It’s meaty, salty, boozy. There’s no tang that I sometimes taste in cheddar, that tang is replaced by an alcohol note. It’s not sweet either, despite it being a raw cheddar. It’s fruity, but without any sweet, like a savoury fruit. It’s completely unlike any cheddar I have ever tasted.It’s funky and yeasty and aggressive. It’s boozy and sexy and weird. I don’t even know that this is cheddar, I don’t even know what it is, it’s kind of out of this world.
Wow, Isle of Mull Cheddar, I think, for once, I’m kind of speechless, or maybe I’m just drunk from eating you. Crazy!