As we live in Gloucestershire I thought it was appropriate to choose a cheese to pair wines with for which Gloucester is famous. Double Gloucester was once made only with the milk from the breed of Old Gloucester cows, which are now almost extinct. By 1975 only one viable herd of Old Gloucesters remained, yet today through the concerted efforts of the Gloucester Cattle Society, the breed is no longer quite so endangered with close to 400 breeding females now surviving. They produce milk with small fat globules and high protein content which exceptionally well suited to cheese making.
The county of Gloucestershire has been a centre of British cheese production for centuries. The making of cheese here has been documented as early as the 8th century, and many of the region’s festivals and celebrations include cheese rolling. Every spring locals come together to race large rounds of Gloucester cheese down Cooper’s Hill. This delicious (but sometimes dangerous) tradition dates back to the 18th century.
Gloucester cheese has two versions: Double and Single Gloucester: the Double is a richer full cream product, while the Single was frequently made of part-skimmed milk or when the cows were on inferior forage. Both types have a natural rind and a hard texture, but Single Gloucester is more crumbly, lighter in texture and lower in fat. Double Gloucester is allowed to age for longer periods than Single, and it has a stronger and more savoury flavour. It is also slightly firmer. Both types are produced in round shapes, but Double Gloucester rounds are larger.
Despite its old age, the cheese didn’t become popular until the 1700s. During this time, a new rind treatment was developed that enabled the cheese to keep longer and withstand travel to major cities. With this treatment, Gloucester was left to ripen in curing rooms and regularly rubbed with bean and potato stalks. Turned twice a week, the cheese developed a rind as tough as leather. In fact, Gloucester became so sturdy and robust, cheese buyers used to jump on rounds of the cheese with both feet to test their strength. If they didn’t crack, they were safe for travel.
Another development came in the form of Gloucester’s now characteristic golden yellow colour. In earlier times, it was widely believed that cheeses of rosier hues were richer in flavour. So makers of Gloucester began using carrot, beetroot juice or saffron to colour the cheese. Research suggests Gloucester may have been the very first dyed cheese. Today its pale orange colour comes from annatto, a natural orange-red dye obtained from the pulp of a tropical fruit.
Wine which would suit Double Gloucester cheeses are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot from the Montagnac range, both priced at £5.37. They are both produced in the Languedoc, well known for its cult wines and petit châteaux, by a small co-operative dating back to the 1930s.
The vineyards stretch from the banks of Thau Lagoon to the foothills of the mountains on the right bank of the River Hérault where the ancient river bed stones are similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich and velvety easy drinking wine and is a rich ruby red with a superb intensity of ripe, blackberries with a touch of prune and cedar wood. It has a fruity aroma with a hint of green peppers and has soft, smooth tannins.
The Merlot is a dark garnet colour with lovely perfumed cherry aromas and a hint of dark chocolate. A whiff of grassy flavours mingles well with the ripe black fruit. It's well balanced and complex.
Gloucestershire Squab Pie
This old recipe doesn't involve pigeons in case you are wondering – but lamb! You can use the remains of your Sunday roast to prepare it and if you prefer, you can top it with pastry rather than mashed potato.
1lb cooked lamb
2 cooking apples
5fl oz stock (lamb, chicken or vegetable)
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200°C or 400°F. Peel and dice the potatoes and swede, place into a large pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Peel, core and slice the apples. Slice the onions and then blanch the apples and onions together in boiling water for 5 minutes.
Drain well. When the potatoes and swede are tender, drain them and mash together with half of the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a greased, deep, oven proof dish, place alternate layers of lamb, then the apple and onion mix. Pour the stock over the layers and add the swede and potato mash. Dot the top of the mash with butter, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.