Tim Walker, writer for The Independent, tries his hand behind the scenes at the 2012 British Cheese Awards.
The Cotswolds are well known as the weekend haunt of politicians, press barons and Top Gear presenters. But it’s also the power centre of British cheese. As I approach Kingham station on the train from London, I pass the farm where the Blur bassist and cheesemaker Alex James is setting up his latest food and music festival with the help of the nation’s most famous chef, “Jamie Oliver Presents The Big Feastival With Alex James”.
My destination, however, is Churchill, one village and 1.7 miles closer to Chipping Norton, where I’m due to be a judge at the 2012 British Cheese Awards, despite having no qualifications besides a layman’s love of quality dairy products. The founder and boss of the awards is Juliet Harbutt: fearsome Kiwi, international cheese expert and author of a number of cheese-based books. She and James used to make cheeses together, including the award-winning Little Wallop, a goat cheese wrapped in vine leaf and washed in Somerset cider brandy. Nowadays, I’m told, they’re not quite so close. It might have something to do with the tomato ketchup- flavoured cheese that James developed for Asda. I resolve not to mention him.