The coveted Supreme Champion award at yesterday’s (Thursday’s) Artisan Cheese Awards in Melton was won by a producer which names some of its cheeses after convicts who were transported from England to Australia in the 1800s.
Fittingly, the Blackwoods Cheese Company’s winning entry was Edmund Tew, who was sentenced to a trip Down Under after stealing cheese, as well as beer and bread, from a Leicestershire householder.
An article in the Leicester Chronicle from 1829 describes the court hearing, Tew’s seven-year sentence and adds: “The prisoner heard his sentence with the most perfect indifference.”
Little did he know that nearly 200 years later people would be enjoying an award-winning cheese named after him.
Blackwoods Cheese Company, which is based in Kent, won £1,000 as a result of entering the overall champion.
The company’s Dave Holton said: “We’re so excited to have won the Supreme Champion award against such incredible competition from other British cheesemakers.
“We’ve worked tirelessly to get the cheese making-process right and ensure a fantastic flavour for our cheese.
“This award makes those efforts worthwhile and it’s a real honour and a privilege to receive it.”
Judges chomped their way through 522 cheeses from 117 cheese-makers at this year’s event, which after just three years is firmnly established as one of the most prestigious in the industry.
Head judge Tim Brown, of Melton Cheeseboard, and his judging colleagues decided the winners of 16 categories, including those containing the milk of cows, sheep and goats. blue and organic cheeses, vegetarian ones and those with a washed rind.
Organiser Matthew O’Callaghan told the Melton Times: “The Blackwoods company is very interesting because of the way they name their cheeses after convicts.
“The Edmund Tew was a very worthy winner.
“It’s a soft cheese with a mould on the outside, it has a lovely flavour which is not over-powering and it is extremely moreish.”
There was success for local producer, the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company, which scooped a gold award for its Sparkenhoe Red Leicester.
The record contingent of Irish cheesemakers had plenty to celebrate this year too, with class wins for the Galway Goat Farm and Killeen Farmhouse Cheese, among others.
Mr O’Callaghan believes the artisan event now ranks fourth in terms of major cheese awards, slightly behind International Cheese Awards at Nantwich, the British Cheese Awards in Somerset and the Global Cheese Awards near Frome.
He said: “I would say we rank fourth which is pretty good after just three years.
“A lot of the large producers tend to enter the other three and ours is one that the smaller cheese-makers like to win.”
The near £2million renovation of St Mary’s Church has improved it enormously as a venue for the cheese awards, and the British Pie Awards, acording to Mr O’Callaghan, who organises both events.
“The changes to the church make it so much easier for us to organise an event at,” he added.
“When judges are looking at cheese or pies you really need to have good lighting and we certainly have that now in St Mary’s.”
For the first time after the awards judging, the public were invited to attend the church for a special ‘cheese feast’, where they could taste some of the cheeses with a glass of wine for £5, with proceeds going to the restoration fund.
Many of the producers will now be focusing their attentions on selling their wares at the Artisan Cheese Fair, which is at Melton Livestock Market, on May 5 and 6, from 10am to 4pm.
Results from the 2018 Artisan Cheese Awards at Melton:
Supreme Champion: Edmond Tew (Blackwoods Cheese Company); Runner-up: Coolea Extra Mature (Coolea Farmhouse Cheese Ltd).
Class winners: Soft (no additives) - Winslade (Hampshire Cheeses Ltd); Semi-soft - Durrus Og (Durrus Cheese Ltd); Hard - Coolea Extra Matured (Coolea Farmhouse Cheese Ltd); Blue - Bath Blue (Bath Soft Cheese); Cow’s Milk - Edmund Tew (Blackwoods Cheese Company); Sheep’s Milk - Berkswell (Ram Hall Dairy); Goat’s Milk - Killeen Cheddar (Killeen Farmhouse Cheese); Vegetarian - Norfolk Mardler (Fielding Cottage); Raw Milk - St Jude (Whitewood Dairy); Organic - Bath Soft Cheese (Bath Soft Cheese); Farmhouse - Soft Mature (Grumpy Farmer); British Territorial Cheese - St Andrews Farmhouse (St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company); Protected Food Name Cheese - Extra Mature Keen’s Cheddar (Keen’s Cheddar Ltd); New Cheese - The Three Sisters (Galway Goat Farm); Washed Rind - Sheep Rustler (White Lake Cheese Ltd); Flavoured Cheese - Connage Gouda with Cumin (Connage Highland Dairy).
Sponsors for this year’s awards included Fine Cheese Co, Paul Thomas Consultancy, Melton Town Estate, NFU, Bradbury’s Cheese, Bentons, A La Carte Packaging Solutions, Marks & Spencer, Melton Mowbray Food Partnership, Vegetarian Society, Melton Borough Council, Harvey and Brockless, Neal’s Yard, Howes Percival LLP and La Fromagerie.