Although a cursory glance over a typical supermarket fridge gives the impression that Cheddar, Stilton and Red Leicester rule the roost when it comes to home grown cheeses, there are actually over 750 commercially produced cheeses currently in the UK. We’re fortunate in Sussex that some of the country’s finest cheese makers are located right here on our doorstep, says Nick Mosley.
From the quality of grass and feed, via the husbandry of small flocks and herds, through to the skill, knowledge and passion of the cheesemaker, there are a lot of steps to make – and potential pitfalls to avoid – to ensure a cheese has its own identity, is consistent and – most importantly – a tasty product.
With rapidly changing food trends and the seemingly unstoppable growth of consumer and chef interest in locality and provenance, the past couple of decades has seen a resurgence in farmhouse cheese production influenced by traditional British styles and techniques alongside a new wave of cheeses that take inspiration from continental classics.
In my mind, there is only place in Brighton to buy great cheese, and that’s Curds & Whey on Western Road. I’ll throw in here that they’ve also recently opened in Worthing too so our coastal neighbours don’t have to travel far for a quality cheese fix any longer.
There’s been a cheese shop on this site for at least a decade, and Curds & Whey’s David Deaves has managed both businesses with aplomb. What David doesn’t know about British and international cheeses simply isn’t worth knowing. My colleague Andrew Kay appropriately nicknamed him ‘Deaves the Cheese’; safe to say the title has stuck.
Curds & Whey is all things to all cheese lovers – it’s a shop, bar and dining experience. You can pop-in to peruse a huge range of cheeses – and charcuterie – from Sussex and further afield to buy and take home. At lunchtime, hearty rustic sandwiches are grabbed by busy local workers, then as the day progresses the extensive seating area begins to fill up with friends enjoying a glass or two of wine and matched platters of cheese and cured meats. David also regularly hosts tutored cheese and wine tastings for those who are want to delve further into the produce.
I slipped in after work on a wet Wednesday evening for a tasting platter and – perhaps unusually for me – a single glass of wine. I was greeted by the very affable Harry who certainly knows his Brie from his Camembert.
A sharing platter of cheese and charcuterie with bread for two people is priced at £30 and is a very pleasant way to while away an hour or two. As my reason d’être in life is to do everything I possibly can to promote Sussex food, drink and hospitality, I asked Harry for an exclusively Sussex board. And to be honest, I also wanted to ensure that my favourite English cheese – East Sussex-based Alsop and Walker’s Mayfield – would be making an appearance.
Thankfully it did. I first sampled Mayfield about a decade back at Jeremy’s Restaurant and I absolutely loved it. Mayfield is a creamy, nutty Swiss-style cows milk cheese – complete with holes, or ‘eyes’ as they’re known in the business – and proudly claimed a gold medal at the World Cheese Awards. It is absolutely delicious.
Two cheeses from High Weald Dairy in West Sussex also featured. I must say I like a strong washed rind cheese but I’m not a huge fan of the blue style but High Weald’s Brighton Blue is fairly mild and moreish. For me, the star product of their range is the Sussex Slipcote, a really fresh soft cheese with a sharp edge. Also on the platter was Alsop & Walker’s Sussex Camembert – soft, gooey and mushroomy – making it perfectly spreadable on the ample hunks of crusty bread served alongside the cheeses.
Curds & Whey are also champions of locally produced charcuterie. I guess many of us associate charcuterie with France, Italy and Spain but there are a huge number of artisanal cured meat producers popping up in the UK proving there’s more to British cold cuts than boiled ham.
Harry served me South Downs beef Bresaola from Beales Farm and South Downs Cured Ham made by Dave Jesse of Calcot Farm near Ashurst in West Sussex. Both were superb – great examples of their categories – and clearly produced with skill and care.
What is great food, without great wine? I’m a sucker for chardonnay from Burgundy so I deviated from my Sussex theme for my grape juice. It has to be said though that Curds & Whey probably has the widest selection of Sussex sparkling wines to be found anywhere – around 40 are on the list. Personally – if you’re looking for local – then I’d recommend the sparklers from Wiston Estate from West Sussex and Gusbourne Estate from Kent.
If to brie or not to brie is your question, then this curd be the place for you.
Curds & Whey, 34-35 Western Road, Brighton BN3 1AF