I've always loved cheese. Well, coming from Leicestershire, it's a given. There's good grass here, and cheese makers have been producing excellent Stilton and Red leicester in the county for many years.
That's why I was so pleased when the Artisan Cheese fair at Melton Mowbray came into being in 2011, and it's now the UK’s largest dedicated Cheese Fair.
This year's event was held about ten days ago in the town's old cattle market, with 62 cheese producers showcasing 300 cheeses. They came from all over the UK from as far away as Fife in Scotland, from Cumbria and Yorkshire to Devon and Cornwall, from Wales and Ireland.
First tasting of the day was at the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company stall where I had a chat with David Clarke. He and his wife Jo make few different cheeses...Sparkenhoe is their big hitter , being made in large wheels of ten and twenty kilos. With an excellent flavour, I love the texture of this cheese made from unpasteurised milk. Their Battlefield Blue is also made with unpasteurised milk and then the Bosworth Field is made with raw milk.
It's always a pleasure to see Alan and Jane Hewson exhibiting ..they run the Belvoir Ridge Creamery, and raise native rare breed cows - Red polls, Blue Albions and Kerrys.
I really do like their Slipcote cheese...a tiny circle of cheese which really packs a creamy punch, and it was lovely to be able to buy a bottle of their raw milk.
Of course, Long Clawson Dairy was exhibiting...the times I've been over there at the dairy at Christmas...but there were so many different, new tastes to discover too.
And that's what I like about visiting a cheese fair...it's not just about stocking up with cheese, or trying before you buy. It's the stories I hear, the passion from the producers about their cheese, how they make it, as well as their expert knowledge about each of their cheeses, which is a big draw for me.
I remember two years ago at this cheese fair meeting Graham Kirkham who now runs the family cheese business run by his mother. I tried the Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese , and was bowled over it's creaminess and crumbliness. I asked him for a large cheese for the evening party at my daughter's forthcoming wedding. "When's the wedding date?" he asked . and then felt around feeling each cheese,"This is the one," he said , and gave me precise instructions as to when to take it out of the fridge etc. It was perfect.
I made my way home, like many others,with a bulging bag of cheeses, thinking how lucky I am to live so close to such a good artisan cheese fair, It's very popular too...over 10,000 people visited this two day event organised by Matthew O'Callaghan, pictured here being roped into some morris dancing.
Next year's event takes place on 29th -30th April 2017.