Competition provides boost to growing UK affinage movement
A new contest celebrating the art of affinage has been launched as British cheesemakers invest more in cheese maturation to boost quality and consistency.
The Affineur of the Year competition, launched by Quicke’s and the Academy of Cheese, will see cheesemakers and mongers across the UK maturing truckles of Quicke’s cheddar in different ways to see how flavour and texture are affected.
Three-month-old cheeses have been delivered to Brindisa, Buchanans, Rennet & Rind, Heritage Cheese, Lincolnshire Poacher, Neal’s Yard Dairy, No2 Pound Street and Paxton & Whitfield, who will mature the cheeses for nine months, before a judging event in February.
“The art of the affineur is perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of artisan cheesemaking,” said Mary Quicke MBE. “We know from experience that the hard work of our farmers and cheesemakers can be elevated or squandered in the maturing rooms.”
The importance of affinage has long been appreciated in Europe, where expert affineurs use time, temperature, humidity and specialist techniques to improve quality. The process has historically been less well understood in the UK, but this is changing.
Neal’s Yard, Cambridge-based Rennet & Rind and Scotland’s IJ Mellis have all invested in specialist maturing rooms in recent years, while cheddar-maker Westcombe built its own cave in 2016 with a cheese robot nicknamed Tina the Turner.
Lincolnshire Poacher invested £500,000 in new wooden shelving and a cheese robot (called Florence the Machine) at its store last year.
“Maturation is something we’ve spent more time on recently,” said co-owner Tim Jones. “It’s part of the evolution of artisan British cheese, which has gone from being a fledgling industry 20 years ago to being much more mature now. Knowledge has grown and people are more experienced. Wholesalers and makers are realising they can add value and create new products by handling the cheese differently.”
Bath Soft Cheese Co built three temperature- and humidity-controlled ripening rooms last year and has invested almost £30k in a bespoke machine, called Basil the Brush, which can brush thousands of Wyfe of Bath cheeses in a few hours.
“It was laborious to do by hand, so it makes life easier, but it will also help with consistency and quality,” said owner Hugh Padfield.