What a pleasure it was to spend an evening recently with the Guild of Fine Food at their London office and event space near to Borough Market tasting a score of truly amazing cheeses, and having the opportunity to discuss them with their enthusiastic makers.
The World Cheese Awards
This event was a follow-up to the 34th World Cheese Awards, judged and presented last November in Newport, Wales. Established in 1988, it’s the world’s largest cheese-only event, and this year had attracted a record entry: 4434 cheeses from 900 producers, across 42 different countries.
Like the Guild’s Golden Forks awards, this has become a highly regarded, very professionally run scheme, respected by producers, retailers and reviewers alike. This year’s entries were judged by 267 experts from 38 countries, organised into teams which tasted, assessed and scored all the cheeses, before finally choosing 98 Super Golds, 229 Golds, 576 Silvers and 834 Bronzes.
A winning selection
The cheeses we tried were all Super Golds, and we could quite see, or rather taste, why. They included the overall winner, or World Cheese Champion: Le Gruyère AOP surchoix, entered by Swiss cheesemaker Vorderfultigen and affineur Gourmino – a truly wonderful cheese.
But the one that bowled us over was the rival that took second place: a Gorgonzola Dolce DOP from De’ Magi Formaggi. Presented in perfect condition it was gloriously fragrant and creamy, a real revelation of just how good a Gorgonzola at its best can be.
Amongst the British cheeses we particularly enjoyed the freshness of Sinodun Hill goat cheese, winner of a Best Artisan Cheese award, and Ticklemore’s mellow Devon Blue.
A lovely Norwegian blue cheese Rørosblå was quite new to us, and went wonderfully well with Alde Issider, the intensely appley Norwegian ice cider with which it was paired in a four-course tasting presentation run by judge and food writer Patrick McGuigan.
It was also fascinating to hear from its maker how a cheese of this calibre can be made in a small village a couple of hours from Trondheim, from a herd of just 20 cows.
A Super Gold from a war zone
It was also downright humbling to hear from the maker of Ukrainian Super Gold Syrna Torbynka how she and her colleagues had been keeping production going and standards consistent, despite the Russian invasion. The World Cheese Award was actually scheduled to take place in Kyiv this year, a first for Ukraine.
That has had to be postponed until 2024; meanwhile, and remarkably, 39 Ukrainian cheeses were entered for this year’s competition, with the Guild of Fine Food waiving all entry charges, so as to give their makers a chance to showcase their work at a time of crisis.
It has to be said that these are tough times for all cheese producers and sellers, especially the independent ones. Dairy prices have rocketed over the last few months, even more than those for other foodstuffs. This has been down to a perfect storm of rising animal feed, energy, packaging and transport costs, combined with a tightening milk supply, which wasn’t helped by last summer’s drought.
From now on we plan to allow more time to visit and shop at a cheesemonger or cheese producer to help ensure the survival of good craft cheese – they are delicious.
World Cheese Awards: gff.co.uk/awards/world-cheese-awards/
Guild of Fine Food: gff.co.uk