A turophile is a lover of cheese. That’s most people, in our experience. Our catering team are certainly obsessed with the stuff, and that’s why we always serve cheese, in every cabin, on all our flights. But what makes cheese so addictive? Of course, you can always enjoy a few mouthfuls without thinking too much about it, but as far as we’re concerned it’s whey more than just a food
Delve a little deeper, and cheese becomes incredibly interesting. There’s the variety, for a start. Exhaustive resource website Cheese.com lists 1,831 different types from 74 countries. The art of cheesemaking is so old it predates recorded history. In other words, people were making cheese more than 4,000 years ago. And then there are the cheesemakers, whose knowledge and handed-down techniques bring an infinite range of textures and tastes to our tables.
British cheese rated among the best in the world
British cheese used to be considered the poor relative of the sophisticated French fromage but now competes on level terms with established cheeses from across the Channel. You can now find some of our world-beating homegrown brands on the menus of Michelin starred restaurants the world over, thanks to the creativity and skill of contemporary British cheesemakers.
Our inflight catering team are definitely all turophiles, and they’ve recently introduced a range of carefully curated British cheeses into our Upper Class cabin. With the help of our cheese partners Harvey & Brockless, the panel tasted a huge number of cheeses during the selection process and chose ones that were not only incredibly tasty but also well suited to flying. Like all our onboard cheeses they must also be vegetarian and made from pasteurised milk. One of the cheeses, Brighton Blue, is produced very close to our base at Gatwick, so we went along to see how it’s made.
The making of Brighton Blue
Mark and Sarah Hardy run the High Weald Dairy, set amid glorious Sussex countryside. After moving back to the UK from Kenya in the 1970s, Mark found many fellow farmers looking to sell unwanted sheep’s milk. Spotting an opportunity, he went on a crash course in making Halloumi cheese and converted one of his barns to start his first cheesemaking plant. High Weald Dairy now produces a delectable range of award-winning cheeses.
Meet the cheesemakers
Head cheesemaker Chris Heyes made that classic move from high-pressure city job with a long commute to the dairy, where he learned his craft from the retiring cheesemaker. The whole process is a fascinating mix of craft and science, and Chris’ enthusiasm and love of cheese are evident as he demonstrates the process of making Brighton Blue.
Each batch of milk is different; it can vary depending on the time of year and the diet of the cows and sheep. A good cheesemaker recognises the subtle differences and uses their skill to constantly monitor things like pH, and keep a careful eye on the process. The result is cheese of superlative quality; not mass produced but made in small batches by people with a passion. And judging by the rows of awards lining the small farm office it certainly works.
Chris especially enjoys making Brighton Blue, which is a particularly labour intensive process. The result is a cheese that easily holds its own among the world’s best blue cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort.
Here’s how it’s done:
Once the fresh milk has been delivered from neighbouring farms, a vegetarian rennet alternative is added to coagulate the milk. The curd is then cut into one-inch cubes using special cutters and allowed to stand for 3-4 hours while being constantly stirred. It’s then drained and the whey is disposed of (that’s a whole other blog post there).
The curd is then packed into moulds for 24 hours, turned out, soaked in saltwater for a further 24 hours and then stored at carefully controlled temperatures for one week. At this point, the blue mould culture called Penicillin Roquefort is introduced using spikes. The cheese wheel then goes into storage for five weeks before it’s ready to be cut up and sent to our caterers for loading onto our aircraft.
Fascinating fromage fact
During World War Two the Ministry of Food ordered all British cheesemakers to stop production of all cheese apart from ‘Government Cheddar’. Although this unimaginative cheese played an important role in feeding wartime Britain, it had the unfortunate consequence of almost wiping out production of other cheese types. It wasn’t until nine years after the war that the ban was lifted, and only then could British cheesemakers once again begin making different types of cheese.
Putting British cheese onboard was the idea of Chet Hansra, one of our Inflight Services Food and Beverage Managers. “I’m a great fan of British cheese and wanted the very best onboard our flights, highlighting the unique differences of cheese sourced from the Scottish Isles compared to those from Welsh and English mainlands” said Chet. “I love showcasing artisanal producers that some of our passenger may have never come across until their Virgin Atlantic experience” “I’m so impressed with High Weald. We know that our British customers are buying more and more British cheese, so we’re delighted to be able to promote some of the smaller independent cheesemakers’ work onboard. Brighton Blue is an award-winning, thoroughly delicious addition to our Upper Class cheeseboard.”
Our Upper Class British Cheeses will be onboard in three cycles over the coming months:
Orkney White Cheddar
Orkney Island Cheddar is created from milk produced only by farmers from the Orkney Isles. This cheddar is individuated by its nuttiness, not overly common amongst Cheddars. Typically matured for 10 to 18 months, the aroma is always clean and characteristic of strong cheddars. International Cheese Awards 2016, Silver
West Country Brie
Crafted at Lubborn Creamery nestled in the lush valley of Cricket St Thomas, Somerset. The creamery pioneered the craft of making soft-mould cheese over 30 years ago in the UK. West Country Brie is creamy with a mild, fresh flavour and a soft edible white rind. As it ripens from the outside in, it becomes softer, richer and with a fuller flavour. International Cheese Awards 2011, Gold
High Weald Dairy is family owned and run by the Hardy’s from their farm in West Sussex. Brighton Blue has a slightly open, semi-soft texture, with a mellow blue flavour and fragrant aroma. The piquant blue green veins in the cheese deepen as the cheese matures and the strength of the blue will become stronger. International Cheese Awards 2013, Bronze, and British Cheese Awards 2013, Silver
Mull of Kintyre Cheddar
Originating from Scotland’s craggy west coast, expertly crafted in the historic Campbeltown Creamery, which has been producing cheese since 1923. Rugged, bold and full of character, our cheddar is slowly aged, then hand selected by our master cheese graders to ensure its firm body and deep, rounded flavour with nutty, sweet hints. International Cheese Awards 2010/11/12, Gold.
Made by Carwyn Adams at the multi award winning organic Caws Cenarth Creamery in the heart of Wales. Drawing on six generations of cheese-making expertise, this delicious soft white brie-style double cream cheese has a lovely creamy flavour and an interesting fresh citrus taste with an underlying hint of sea salt. Yorkshire Show 2016, Gold.
From the family-run Cropwell Bishop creamery in Nottinghamshire, Shropshire Blue has no actual link with the county it was named after. It was first invented in 1970 by a cheesemaker in Inverness, who adapted a Stilton recipe by adding annatto to give it a sunset orange colour. Stilton makers eventually adopted the cheese as their own. Creamy, but without the same level of spice as Stilton, the cheese has caramel hints and a nutty finish. British Cheese Awards 2016,
Rutland Red Leicester
Leicestershire-based Long Clawson is probably best known for its Stilton, but the dairy also makes its home county’s famous red cheese. Made with traditional methods used by the company’s founder Thomas Hoe Stevenson more than a century ago, the pasteurised cheese is buttered, clothbound and matured for six months to produce a flaky texture and caramelised flavour. Great Taste 2016, 2 stars. International Cheese Awards 2014, Gold.
Created on the farm, with organic cow’s milk, this Brie reflects the fresh and clean meadows of the river Dikler that the cows graze. With a hint of mushroom flavour and a clean pure white outer mould the cheese makes a great treat for any lover of quality food. Taste of the West Food and Drink Awards 2005, Gold.
The Stone family of Highland Fine cheeses near Tain in the Scottish Highlands have been making traditional Scottish cheeses since the 1950’s. Strathdon Blue has similarities with the kind of soft, spicy blues made by the French and Italians – this cheese has a soft, yielding texture with pockets of blue and some slight veining, very aromatic. 2014 World Cheese Awards, Super Gold.
Visit the High Weald Dairy website to find out more about Brighton Blue, book a cheesemaking course or discover their other cheeses, including some fantastic celebration cakes made purely from cheese.