If you don’t get the reference, watch this. Actually, even if you do get the reference it is still worth watching again!
On our way south to Devon, we passed through Somerset, which amongst other things is known for great cider and for being the home of Cheddar Gorge which gives its name to the eponymous cheese. The Gorge is home to a number of caves and these have been used since the 12th Century for the aging of Cheddar cheese.
Cheddar cheese has no Protected Destination of Origin unlike many other cheeses such as Parmesan, Edam, etc. although since 2007 “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” does have this protection. Which means that cheddar style cheese made anywhere can be called Cheddar and as such, cheddar is pretty much synonymous with “cheese” in many places. If you ask for a cheese sandwich, unless it specifies otherwise, you are probably getting some form of cheddar style cheese. In reality Cheddar can be thought of as being in two camps – mass produced, pretty crappy plastic stuff found in supermarkets (and probably in that “cheese sandwich” you ordered) and craft made cheese, which is totally different.
Real Cheddar is white or creamy in color, not orange. The orange color in some cheddars comes from a colorant that was originally used to simulate the color of high quality milk from Guernsey or Jersey cows. Sometimes such cheese is now called “red cheddar”.
Only one local maker of Cheddar is left in Cheddar Gorge, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese company and we stopped in to sample their various varieties. On one side of the counter are “pure” Cheddars, aged for different amounts of time, as well as a smoked option, which is also traditional. The different age of the various kinds makes a big different to their taste and texture. On the other side of the counter are flavored versions with cider, herbs, fruit and the like, which masks much of the subtle notes of the cheese.
The more mature varieties are more crumbly, a little like aged Parmesan, and have really good flavor. Interestingly the flavor of artisanal Cheddar will vary from month to month because of what the cows are eating from season to season. Mass produced stuff is made to be completely consistent (i.e. generally pretty bland) year round. We ended up buying Oak Smoked and mature varieties to enjoy on our travels. Since we rarely have cheese in our diet, this is a bit of a treat.
We drove up through the Gorge itself, which is very pretty. One side of the Gorge is owned by the same owners as Longleat and is very commercialized with pricey cave tours on offer. The other side is owned by the National Trust and preserved in an undeveloped state.
Back in town while Dad got some ice cream, I sampled some local ciders. I have begun making my own cider at home, as so am somewhat familiar with the process. Cider is big in these parts (at the small supermarket near our rented apartment in Torquay there are about 30 varieties of cider on sale!) At the shop in Cheddar Gorge I learned that this manufacturer does not add any yeast to their apple juice, but instead relies on the natural yeast found around the apples, which also means each batch tastes a little different.
From Cheddar Gorge, we drove on to Torquay on the coast which will be our base for the next week as we explore Devon and Cornwall and also relax. When we got into town it was about dinner time so we found a local Nepalese/Indian restaurant and ordered some take out food to take back to our apartment. Kelly and I went for a walk while they made the food and passed another Indian place called “Balti Gardens”. Kelly quipped they should have called it “Balti Towers”!
Just in case you don’t get the full reference, John Cleese, as in the man trying to order the cheese in the sketch went on to create and star in “Fawlty Towers”. I remember hearing the real life story that inspired Fawlty Towers. The Monty Python crew were staying in Torquay in the early seventies at the Gleneagles Hotel. They had such a rotten time there that they all moved out, except for John Cleese. Little did they realize that he was using the experience as research for a new TV series. The Gleneagles Hotel was knocked down last year, but Fawlty Towers will live for ever!