Spanish-inspired fresh white cheese wins Best British Cheese

The second year of the Virtual Cheese Awards in association with Food and Drink Wales ended in a fanfare of cheesy glory as La Fresca Margarita, a fresh young cow’s milk cheese produced by Feltham’s Farm, was crowed as the Best British cheese.

Joint silver was awarded to Harvey & Brockless by Cellar Dairy for its goats cheese Blanche and Butler’s Farmhouse Cheeses for its oak-fired Red Leicester Smouldering Ember, Wyke Farms was awarded bronze with its Ivy’s Reserve Vintage Cheddar.

The Virtual Cheese Awards was created in 2020 by Sarah de Wit to celebrate and support Britain’s world-leading cheese industry in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic which threatened to decimate the industry.

It was the second year in a row that Somerset cheese producer, Feltham’s Farm, has walked away with the top crown at the Virtual Cheese Awards after it won for Renegade Monk in 2020.

La Fresca Margarita (meaning fresh cheese) is made with pasteurised cow’s milk and was inspired by the cheesemakers’ travels in Latin America and Spain, it comes salted or plain. Margarita is Spanish for “daisy” which grows in abundance on Feltham’s Farm marsh meadow in Somerset. The cheese was developed during lockdown.

The five-hour final of the pioneering cheese awards took place on Friday 7 May 2021 hosted by BBC broadcaster and local food and drink champion, Nigel Barden and was beamed online to 1000s of cheese fans who watched the cheese action unfold.

Sarah de Wit, co-founder of the Virtual Cheese Awards and Cheese & Dairy consultant said: “We’re so grateful to everyone who took part in and supported the awards this year, it was a real celebration of all that is brilliant about British cheese. Feltham’s Farm winning for a Spanish-inspired fresh cheese just shows how innovative our dairy industry is. They take inspiration from cheeses from around the world and give them a bit of British spice.

“It’s vitally important that we continue to support our Great British cheese industry by seeking out and buying new and exciting cheeses, which is now so simple with the growth of online cheese shops. We will be donating money from the event to a Specialist Cheesemakers Association bursary fund which will support British cheesemakers of the future.”

The event featured interviews, panels and cheese tastings with a range of British cheese producers, cheesemongers retailers, chefs and cheese experts including Gill Hall, owner and cheesemaker at Butler’s Farmhouse Cheeses, Owen Davies, MD at Ty Caws, George Lang, The Cheese Merchant and Andy Swinscoe, The Courtyard Dairy.

The final featured seven final cheese categories were all judged live online by a panel of expert cheese judges. The categories included British Cheddar, British Speciality, Best Artisan Hard and Best Enhanced cheese categories.

The panel of expert judges included Dhruv Baker, co-founder of Tempus Foods and Masterchef winner, Tracey Colley founding director of Academy of Cheese, Sam Wilkin, head cheesemonger at the Cheese Bar Group, Perry Wakeman, head of cheese at Rennet & Rind, Emma Young The Cheese Explorer, Holly Shackleton, editor of Speciality Food magazine and cheese buyers from Selfridges, Adrian Boswell and Chris Dawson from M&S.

In an edge-of-your-seat final the Best of the Best British cheese was awarded to La Fresca Margarita which impressed judges with its melt-in-the-mouth flavour and citrus notes.

Marcus Fergusson, cheesemaker owner at Feltham’s Farm, says: “We are completely blown away by this win.  La Fresca Margarita is a lovely queso fresco we developed over lockdown as a counterbalance to our pungent washed rind cheeses.  We loved how it engaged the judges in a different conversation about what to expect from a fresh cheese.  Once again, the Virtual Cheese Awards have moved our cheese industry forwards, because there’s nothing like being able to see your cheese tasted blind by experts in front of everyone…” 

The winners of Best of British cheese across the final seven categories were:

  • Best Cheddar Cheese – Wyke Farms for Ivy’s Reserve Vintage cheddar
    Made to a secret family recipe. This special edition Cheddar is left to mature for over 15 months and selected by Wyke’s master cheese grader to ensure only the very best flavours are selected.
  • Best Territorial Cheese – South Caernarfon Creameries for Double Gloucester
    Wales’ oldest and largest dairy co-operative which has been farmer-owned since 1938. Its Double Gloucester is a classic Territorial, rich, balanced and with a hint of a russet apple and with a deep characterful after taste.
  • Best Blue Cheese – Jones Cheese for Tysul Blue
    Tysul is a soft and subtle blue-veined cheese handmade by Jones’ Cheese Company in Llandysul, Ceredigion. It is mellow and creamy with a slight sweetness.
  •  Best Enhanced Cheese – Butler’s Farmhouse Cheeses for Smouldering Ember
    Butlers has over 100 years of cheesemaking experience. Smouldering Ember is a traditional farmhouse oak-fired Red Leicester cheese which is sweet, gentle and with and underlying smoky warmth.
  • Best Speciality Cheese – Feltham’s Farm for La Fresca Margarita
    La Fresca Margarita means “fresh daisy” in Spanish, because this cheese is as fresh as a daisy. It is a fresh and rich with a bite of milk and hint of lactic sweet & sour – and then a pinch of salt.
  • Best Artisan Hard Cheese – Fred W Read & Sons for Lincolnshire Poacher
    The recipe for Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is a cross between a traditional West Country cheddar and a continental alpine cheese such as Comte. This cheese is usually matured for about 14 to 16 months and has quite a lot upfront with a rich full flavour.
  • Best Artisan Soft Cheese – Harvey & Brockless and Cheese Cellar for Blanche
    This goats cheese has a wrinkly alabaster coat, underneath which lies a smooth paste that is delicate and creamy. At two weeks old, there’s a perfumed aroma of dark forest honey on the nose, which carries over in the final flavour – think honeysuckle, herbs and a peppery tingle.
  • Best Artisan Cheese from Farms Own Herd was won by Lincolnshire Poacher
  • Best Welsh cheese was won by South Caernarfon Creameries for Double Gloucester
  • Best English Cheese was won by Feltham’s Farm for La Fresca Margarita
  • Best Scottish Cheese was won by J & C Reade for Hebridean Blue

Recognising Excellence:

  • Trophy for Sustainability (sponsored by Wyke Farms) won by Isle of Mull Cheese (Brendan Reade)
    The judges described this as an outstanding entry showing true passion for the environment and commitment to farming responsibly for today and the future. The farm produces enough electricity with a small 65Kw wind turbine and also a small water 180Kw water turbine, the surplus either goes to power the Island Bakery or is exported to the grid.
  • Young Cheesemaker of the year (sponsored by Dairy UK) won by Ryan Gee from Hartington Creamery
    Ryan is the 5th generation of Gee`s carrying the cheese making tradition. The last five years Ryan has been learning the art of making 3 PDO cheese, Dovedale Blue, Blue & White Stilton, guided by his Uncle. Ryan is part of a team helping build brand Hartington Creamery, by producing quality Artisan cheese, and developing modern variations such as Royal Blue, Devonshire Gold and Bayley Blue.

Highly commended:

  • Sam Guinness nominated by Felthams Farm & Camilla Warner
  • Carla Lyndsay nominated by Arla
  • Cheese Hero (sponsored by Davidstow Cheddar) won by Shepherd’s Purse Cheese
    Shepherds Purse Brought forward the launch of ‘Fettle’ cheese to give lifeline to sheep milk producers during Covid.

Highly commended:

  • Peter Steer, cheesemonger, Rolling Cheese Helsinki Nominated by Nelli Steer
  • Ian Luxton nominated by Simon Williams – Belton Packaging

For more information on the Virtual Cheese Awards log on to:

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