Now, whilst I am not particularly noted for self-restraint in any area of life, there are certain foodstuffs that I simply cannot be trusted with. You should never, for example, leave me unsupervised with one of those big bags of crisps that are supposedly for sharing; you will not only return to find I have eaten the lot, but you will also then have to listen to me complaining about how I feel a bit sick. Similarly, I came home from last year's International Cheese Awards in Nantwich having over-indulged to a quite shameful extent, clutching my stomach in a theatrical manner and bewailing my belly ache, and proclaiming to anyone who would listen how I would never, ever eat cheese again.
Well, I've been again today, and the fact that I can barely type these words through the fug of my cheese coma should give you a fairly clear idea how much of a valuable life lesson I managed to extract from last year's experiences. To be fair, to place someone with a weakness for dairy items in a marquee the size of France, entirely filled with cheese, and expect them to show any kind of self-control seems foolish: there are around 600 cheese makers displaying their wares at this year's show, and pretty much all of them have counters positively groaning with trays of samples - in other words, trying six different blue cheeses by 10.30 this morning was, in my view, entirely acceptable. The exhibitors range from tiny artisan producers to the giants of the high street (TESCO had done their stall up with fancy lettering rather than their usual branding, but I wasn't fooled into stopping), and all of them are lovely people keen to tell you about the craft behind their cheese. Obviously I didn't sample every cheese from every seller (don't look at me like that - I said I didn't), but here are some of my favourites from the ones I did snaffle during my saunter round The Great Cheesy Tent.
- Claxstone Smooth Blue. This one was named Supreme Champion at the National Cheese Awards 2012 - and deservedly so. It is soft, creamy and mild - so mild, in fact, that there was no problem at all with the fact that this was essentially my breakfast.
- EuriLait's unpasteurised Paysan Breton Camembert Pays. I love a good, ripe, runny Camembert and this one was perfect - full of taste but stopping just short of being too much like feet. Excitingly, it is available at Sainsbury's under their Taste the Difference branding - I intend to buy a lot of this from now on (oh - if I were ever to eat cheese again, which obviously I'm not. Well, not for a few days, anyway).
- The Little Milk Company's Sliabh na mBan Vintage Organic Cheddar. This collective of 11 Irish organic dairy farmers makes four different cheeses using its own milk but this one is by far the best - a really strong, nutty mature Cheddar aged for 12-24 months. Here you see a lovely man about to cut me a modest sliver, shortly before I rugby tackle him out the way and snarf the whole lot.
- Everything from Brindisa. Best known for their London tapas restaurants, turns out that these Spanish food specialists also have excellent taste in cheese.
- Dewlay Garstang Blue. I already knew I liked this strong, creamy blue - but I now also know that they do group tasting tours (I just need to find another 14 people to go with me, so if you're interested...)
- Staffordshire Cheese Company's Dovedale Black and Blue. I'd had the Dovedale Blue before - but this one has had cracked black peppercorns added in a stroke of sheer cheesy genius.
- Almette soft cheese from the Alps. I'd planned to go straight past this stall, thinking it would be some dreary Philadelphia-type stuff, but a nice lady persuaded me to try it and it was a revelation - a gorgeously milky whipped confection that I would most probably eat straight from the tub were I to be allowed any.
- And finally, as I'm just back from Amsterdam I must just mention the new packaging for Old Amsterdam. I've written before about this aged Gouda, but whilst we like the cheese, we didn't like the packaging - too Gothic apparently - so here's the same delicious cheese with its new simple, non-threatening branding:
You can try all of these and more when the show is open to the public tomorrow - Wednesday 31st July - as well as watch demos from James Martin, Will Holland and Matt Tebbutt. Full details are available on the show's website, where you can also download all the results of today's judging (I was not asked to be a judge, as they no doubt realise I would be no use and would simply like them all), including the Supreme Champion, which at time of writing had not yet been announced. Not for nothing have the International Cheese Awards been voted the 2nd best food festival in the UK by The Independent - now if I can just learn to practise a little more decorum, I will be ready and raring to go for the 2014 awards...