Berkswell Sheep's Milk Cheese: England's Flying Saucer
Put into effect in 1954 when spaceship sightings were rampant, the French have a law stating that flying saucers cannot land in Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards. If one is ever spotted landing or hovering, the CdP's mayor has the right to put the "cigare volant" into their immediate custody. In the midlands of England, however, flying saucer shapes are encouraged. Berkswell is possibly England's most famous sheep's milk cheese.
Formed into the flying saucer shape (or a flying saucer back when alien ships were oblong and round, because really, who knows what our advanced space friends are driving these days) by the basket mold the curds sit in while draining, Berkswell is a three-pound natural rind sheep's milk tomme with light yellow-brown rind and a creamy golden paste that starts to crumble and flake as it ages.
Berkswell is made by the Fletcher family on their 16th century estate. The family's owned the farm for six generations, but didn't start making cheese until the nineties when a local cheese shop convinced the family that rather than just sell them their sheep's milk, they should make cheese with it. Thank you, English cheesmonger.
Like many sheep's milk cheeses, Berkswell has a buttery taste- think browned butter or melted ghee. Also greeting you are lemon zest and fresh hazelnut notes. Because it's a seasonal cheese in the sense that the ewes milk changes seasonally with what they're eating while grazing, the flavors change throughout the year. I've detected notes as different as pineapple, fresh mushrooms, or even pine from one month to the next
The Fletchers turned to a Caerphilly recipe when they first started making Berkswell, but if you've tasted a wedge of this saucer lately, you know the make has changed. Berkswell is now slightly grainy, firm, and more akin to a pecorino, but a tad less chalky. Though England has more sheep topping its gentle hills than California has organic vegetables, most are used for meat, so finding sheep's milk from here is still a lovely exception.
Wine Pairing: I love Berkswell with a dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc or a high acidity, red-fruited wine like Gamay or Cab Franc.
Food Pairing: Like pecorino shaved over spring's favas or asparagus? Try Berkswell instead. Or, slice thin pieces of the tomme over fresh pasta and top with olive oil and freshly ground pepper. I also like it with a simple dose of marmalade. I served it with Frog Hollow's blood orange strawberry marmalade for the photo.
Where to find: Ask your local cheesemonger who carries Neal's Yard Dairy cheeses (sometimes it just needs to be pre-ordered), or try some from Murray's online.
Fun recipe: Delicous UK's zucchini & Berskwell soufflle. White wine pairings apply!