Saturday, September 20, 2014

Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar

Well this is interesting.  Barbers is a brand that has been unfamiliar to me for the past twenty-five years or so that I have been in this business...and I'm an English Cheddar fan!  Caerphilly and Wensleydale have been my go-to faves through the years because of that incredible sour edge they have which, by the way, is probably also why they don't sell so well here.  Barbers, which I just tasted for the first time less than an hour ago, is more moderate in the sour department and more mainstream in general than the others mentioned above.  It's aged two years too so it crumbles just right for aficionados of that sort of thing.

Barbers today is a sixth generation family business that was started back in 1833.  If my adding machine is to be trusted, that makes it a hundred eighty-one years old!  What makes that number even more remarkable is that Barbers is the only English Cheddar maker today that still makes cheese using the traditional starter cultures dating back to 1833!  Everyone else went to pre-packaged dry starter kits in the 1980s.  For this reason the European Union has granted them PDO (protected designation of origin) status for "West Country Farmhouse Cheddars" and to ensure that the original cheddar starter cultures are preserved, Barbers built a laboratory on their property to protect them from their obviously threatened extinction.

So why is this so important?  The friendly bacteria strains that originated in the milk of the region a couple of centuries ago were recognized by cheesemakers of that time to be the most important flavoring ingredient a cheese would get.  Dairymen would trade the strains they had with others in the hopes of creating cheese that had a deep, complex, and unique flavor.  Over time and with the help of technology the best strains were isolated and are now the private preserve of the Barbers who now may legitimately claim to market the Cheddar with the most historically traditional character.

The Barber extended family runs Maryland Farm in Ditcheat, Somerdale England, the same venue where they started in 1833.  Today it is a large modern mechanized operation thirteen miles from the village of Cheddar.  Their milk comes from their own 2,000 Holstein Fresian cows fed on their 2,500 acre farmland and from neighboring dairies.  While the operation is very modern, it is still very traditional.  The milk is pasteurized but no growth hormones or antibiotics are given to the cows.  Cheesemakers make hands-on decisions about adjustments in processes from season to season and batch to batch.  Cheddaring, the process of cutting and turning the curds, is also done by hand allowing the experienced cheesemaker to feel the curds in order to make any procedural adjustments at that time.

The Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar is the flagship cheese of the company.  It is creamy and sharp with savory and sweet notes.  Some reviewers get hints of caramel and toffee and nuts and fruit.  It also has the calcium lactate crystals for crunchiness.  Food pairings would include fresh apples and pears and rye bread.  The cheese would also pair with English cider and any of a number of ales, porters, and stouts. 

This Friday the 26th of September between 5 and 8pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections presents new Italian wines from his incredible portfolio.  If you like Italians, don't miss this one.  I also wouldn't mind if you became a follower of this here blog!

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