Melton enjoys festival of cheese with fair and national awards
Melton has resembled a cheese-lovers paradise over the last week with some of the nation’s finest products being judged at St Mary’s Church followed by a two-day fair selling cheeses from producers across the country at the livestock market.
Unfortunately the scorching hot weather over the weekend, combined with the restrictions of the pandemic, combined to keep attendances much lower than usual for the Artisan Cheese Fair.
Those who did attend enjoyed taste testing and buying a wide range of soft and hard cheeses from stalls, although there was disappointment expressed by some attendees that none of the local producers were selling their wares.
As well as the cheeses, there were lots of other food and drink on sale, although the chocolatiers struggled to keep their products from melting in the heat.
Organiser Matthew O’Callaghan said they had made around a £10,000 loss on the fair - which was the first of Melton’s calendar of popular food events to be held since before the first lockdown in March 2020.
He told the Melton Times: “We had about a third of the people there that we would normally have.
“The hot weather and the pandemic were the reasons people didn’t come in the usual numbers.
“On the day when it is really hot people don’t like buying cheese and going round hot venues.
“Interestingly, we had about 130,000 Facebook vistors of which 15,000 went on to our website but they didn’t really convert into sales.”
On the Saturday of the fair, the presentation dinner was held for the annual Artisan Cheese Awards, following the judging in the church on Wednesday.
The Supreme Champion title was taken by one of Britain’s youngest cheesemaker’s, David Jowett.
His Ashcombe, a French Morbier-style cheese which has a distinct ash layer running through the centre of the cheese, was invented during lockdown.
It beat off tough competition from 600 cheeses from across the UK and Ireland to win the coveted award, as well as the titles for best English Cheese, Best New Cheese, Best Farmhouse Cheese and Best Washed Rind Cheese.
David (30), who also scooped £1,000 cash from sponsors The Fine Cheese Co, said: “I wanted to support during lockdown the farmer that supplies me with my milk so I created this cheese to help him use some of the milk that he would normally sell elsewhere.”
It is the second time he has won the Supreme Champion title - his other victory came in 2016 with his Rollright, just eight months after he had started selling his cheese.
New cheesemakers also did well with other awards - newly-opened Balcombe Dairy (Blue Sky Cheese), which operates out of four containers on a farm, won the Best Blue Cheese Class and Best Small Producer; Woodlands Dairy (Fresh Ewe Cheese) won Best Organic Cheese and Best Micro Producer and Homewood Cheese (Melbury) took the Best Sheep’s Cheese category.
Traditional dairies won their share of titles; Montgomery’s Cheddar winning Best Hard Cheese and took Joint Supreme Champion Runner-Up, while Keen’s Cheddar won Best Territorial and Best PFN and Appleby’s Smoked Best Flavoured Cheese.
Popular favourites Hampshire Cheese (Wigmore – Best Soft Cheese), Village Maid (Maida Vale – Best Cow’s Cheese) and Cote Hill (Cote Hill Blue – Best Vegetarian) also featured.
Ireland sent over 155 cheeses from 31 dairies and won a slew of awards, while Best Scottish Cheese went to St Andrew’s Farmhouse Cheese (Anster) and Best Welsh Cheese to Cosyn Cymru for Brefu Bach.
The cheeses were judged by 60 judges, including buyers from Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Fine Cheese Co, Bradbury’s, La Fromagerie, Neal’s Yard, Paxton and Whitfield.
***The dates for PieFest, at Melton Livestock Market, have now changed to the last weekend in August, the 28 and 29 of the month.