Within its 23 x 13 miles, the picturesque corner of Britain known as the Isle of Wight, is blessed with England’s best sunshine record, Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown claiming the highest temperatures.
Thanks to the fact that conditions in the Arreton Valley are similar to those in Bordeaux, local farmers produce an exceptional range of vegetables and fruits, including garlic, sweetcorn, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and saladings. Now, the island is producing a selection of locally produced cheeses. What’s more, the cheeses are produced from unpasteurized milk which give them an unsurpassed flavour.
Twenty-seven year-old Richard Hodgson, a former TV Editor, returned to the Island last year to join his mother , Mrs. Julie Hodgson, in setting up the island’s first cheese factory. A former hotelier, Mrs. Hodgson had been a keen cheese maker, making the cheeses in the kitchen of the Totlandhotel she operated until recently.
A chance remark by a chef/cheesemaker who visited her hotel set her on a more ambitious road with her cheese making and this led her to turn her knowledge and love of cheese into a business venture. She was convinced that there was a demand for a local cheese from both native islanders and the visitors who flocked to the island’s tourist spots.
Determined to get everything perfect, Julie and Richard undertook an intensive course on cheese making before embarking on commercial production. Right from the start they decided on unpasteurized milk because “it’s only unpasteurized milk that allows the true flavour of the island grass to come through” said Julie. They found this at Queen’s Bower Farm where Michael Reed is licensed to produce unpasteurized milk from his Guernsey herd. “We wanted complete traceability for the milk” said Richard, “so it comes straight from Michael’s next door dairy, through a pipe into the vats. Feet rather than food miles!”
Anyone who had seen the old barn and cow-shed at the farm would be amazed at the transformation into the dazzling, white, bespoke cheese dairy it is today. The operation to turn the premises from a cow-shed into a dairy, took almost a year and was overseen by Richard.
Available are two roulade-type cream cheeses, one with garlic and herbs and one with crushed peppercorns, a relatively young, soft blue with the characteristic taste of a Roquefort, a semi-hard mellow cheese similar to Cheshire and a medium strength cheddar style, which, due to the unpasteurized milk will have a more distinct flavour than ordinary cheddar. Available at selected delicatessens and hotels, Farmers’ Markets and Farm Shops on the island, Farmers’ Markets in Hampshire, Isle of Wight cheese is indeed, very special.
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