‘J’adore le Cheddar! Et les flapjacks aussi!’
Madame Maryline Lecampion’s eyes twinkled as she described the food she had tasted at Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival. She was part of a delegation from the French town of Montebourg, twinned with Sturminster Newton. Today the team were promoting Camembert, Normandy’s best-known cheese – and taking every opportunity to try food from the other stands. ‘We have been coming here for ten years now, and it is superb.’
Crowds of people swarmed into the two huge tents lined with stalls. The team from Buckshaw Blewe have been making cheese for five or six years from their sheep’s milk. The blue cheese was delicious and attracted attention. Lyburn Cheese from near Salisbury had an incredibly strong (and delicious) Old Winchester Extra Mature. White Lake Cheese, a Somerset producer, had an excellent range from Driftwood to the interestingly shaped Tor. Some cheese vendors found it hard to keep up with the demand for samples as people made their way around, tasting new cheeses and seeing a few old favourites.
Some cheese producers had been busy in lockdown, creating new varieties of cheese. Book and Bucket displayed their entire range, but a new one, Wilde, is seasonal. “It’s a cow’s milk cheese with locally foraged wild garlic from Cranborne Chase.”
Feltham’s Farm from Templecombe had two newish kinds of cheese. La Fresca Margarita was created in lockdown and is a queso fresco, while the newest cheese, Gert Lush, is a creamy cross between a Camembert and a Saint Marcellin. Wherever you looked, there was the inspiration for a cheeseboard, from Bath Soft Cheese to a Smoke N’ Jack from Padstow Cheese. People were buying the cheese and tasting; some returned for a favourite and others were influenced by a sample that hit the spot.
And the smell. We’re not just talking ripe cheeses here, but the warm, heartening smell of a cheese toastie from Westcombe Cheddar luring people to its stall and the scent of freshly picked apples from Elwell Fruit Farm. Annie and Will from Sparkenhoe Farm in Leicestershire brought some of their finest cheeses made from their cows and attracted attention from impressed Dorset buyers. If you buy Leicester cheese from a supermarket, you should taste their Sparkenhoe Red Leicester- there’s no comparison. “It’s one of the best shows we attend,” said Annie.
You could interact with producers, find out how they make their cheeses and get a few recommendations and inspiration. There were a series of interesting talks by makers too.
But, of course, cheese needs an accompaniment, and the festival had so much choice here as well. There were charcuterie stalls and sellers with savoury biscuits, cider, and gin (so many different varieties of gin on sale and being tasted!).
But the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival has so much more than cheese, and showed how integral it is to the community of Sturminster Newton. There were bird boxes galore from Men in Sheds and a fundraising tombola from Vale Pantry. And so many beautiful crafts, from the man patiently weaving a basket to ornate glass decorations and vibrant knitted hats. There were fairground rides for children and entertainment shows. The organising committee seemed to have thought of everything.
People gathered and sat on hay bales to watch violin and guitar band Ribble entertaining with uplifting music. Families sat chatting, catching up with friends or sampling one of the many food offerings, from Greek souvlaki to Italian pizza. The sun shone on a beautiful autumnal festival, giving people an opportunity to eat outside and enjoy the atmosphere. They came to find inspiration for regional food and some of the tastiest award-winning cheeses in the Westcountry and beyond. Although this year’s cheese festival coincided with a sad and poignant time for the country, the organisers had decided that the event would continue, and the atmosphere was one of life going on.