I’ve been having a great time at Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2011 since it started on Friday. Out of everything I’ve tried so far there have been two main standouts: the Big Indie Wine Fest, which I’ll cover in another post, and the cheese on sale in St Anne’s Square.
The market they’ve got there is dominated by cheese vendors, who must make up at least a quarter of all the stalls. The quality of some of their produce is ridiculous and has comfortably outshone everything else I’ve got around to tasting in the last few days.*
The easiest stall to be drawn to is that run by the Saddleworth Cheese Company, which is owned by Sean Wilson, who played Martin Platt in Coronation Street. His celebrity is clearly a major selling point – a huge picture of him decorates the stand – and I’m sure they get a lot of business solely because people want to be served by the male nurse off Corrie. But try their cheese, speak to them and you’ll soon see the business is much more than just a gimmick.
Sean’s partner in fromagerie, who has something of the Johnny Rotten about him, is brilliant.** Dashing around the stand making sure all the potential customers try all of the cheeses, he’s extremely passionate and charming; someone who clearly loves his cheese and just wants everybody else to love it as much as he does. He explained to us how all the different varieties were made, where their individual flavours came from and generally did a bloody good job of convincing us we needed to buy some.
With a friend, I purchased all four of their products: Muldoons Picnic (crumbly Lancashire), Hows yer father (creamy Lancashire), Mouth Almighty (tasty Lancashire) and Smelly Apeth (blue). They were all very good, but the award-winning blue was clearly in a different class from the rest.
Four big blocks of cheese – Mr Rotten went out of his way to make sure we got the four biggest slices as part of the four for £10 deal – would normally be enough to keep me going for a while and I had no intention of buying any more. But on a second visit to St Anne’s I ended up getting sucked back in by the fine folks from the Cheshire Cheese Company, who sell some very interesting cheese indeed.
Alongside your traditional mature cheddars and creamy Lancashires, they make some very weird and wonderful truckles, flavoured with ingredients such as toffee, curry and jerk spice. They’ve got a relatively large number of cheeses to try and that they’re able to pull all the strange ones off without making anything truly disgusting is extremely impressive – although I’d imagine Taste of the Raj and Sticky Toffee Heaven probably get a bit much once the novelty wears off.
I bought three rounds off them for £10: Robinsons Old Tom Ale & Mustard Cheddar, Bowland Mature Lancashire, Apple, Sultana & Cinnamon and Traditional Cheshire. All are pretty great, but I think the Old Tom is my favourite.
The final cheese I bought was from the French cheese stand, the name of which escapes me. Looking around at it and struggling to keep the slobber in my mouth, I wanted to kick myself for spending so much on cheese from other stalls when I could’ve got some from there instead. I was looking for a non-dairy cheese for my wife and picked up a beautiful gooey, unpasteurised goat’s cheese, which I think was £3. It’s easily the best cheese I’ve had from the festival so far and I feel I need to go back.
Of course, there are plenty of other cheese vendors – including the famous Mrs Kirkham’s – in St Anne’s Square at the moment and I suppose I should probably try them all for, erm, the sake of fairness. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
Besides, I’ve opened a bottle of port all special. Can’t let that go to waste now, can I?
*Cheese has even outshone these rather addictive pork scratchings from The Crusty Pie Company, which I’m munching my way through while I write this post. They’re also available in St Anne’s Square.
**Besides the food, getting to meet the producers and vendors is the best part of MFDF or any other food festival. Obviously not all of them are cut out for speaking to members of the public, but when you come across a real character who cares so much about their produce, it’s really cool.