Many moons ago, I lived in the village of Cotherstone, on the banks of the river Tees. I lived in this pretty house, for just about a year. I was 16 and fell for my first true love while I lived there. He said that he would love me forever – he didn’t. I think that he has long since forgotten my existence but I know that I shall never, ever fully forget my “Stu”. It was a happy place and time for me.

A couple of years later I was living in nearby Barnard Castle, doing my A-levels and spending my Saturdays in a local shop. I worked at “Fishy Wilson’s” a fishmongers, purveyor of game, fruit and veg and fine groceries. I worked on the non-fish side and soon became expert at weighing up exactly a pound of tomatoes and then twirling them up in a brown  paper bag. It took 8 fruits and if you selected exactly the right 8, it was never a smidge over or under weight, but bang on the nose.

I learned another skill at Wilson’s and that was to cut cheese to weight. We would cut some cheeses with a large knife and others with a cheese wire. It took a little practice but I could soon cut a piece exactly to customer requirements.

One of the cheeses that we sold was brought to us each week from up the dale, from a farmhouse up above Cotherstone. At that time we were the only commercial outlet for Cotherstone cheese and I think the total output was but 3 or so cheeses. None of these nonsensical wee waxed jobs of course, just a decently-sized wheel.

I am pretty sure the cheese-maker was called Hazel and I recall her bringing the cheeses down to the shop in a willow shopping basket. She made this simple (very basic!) cheese in her farmhouse kitchen using traditional no-fuss method, souring the milk naturally in the churn. Being a new milk cheese, the Cotherstone would vary in character with the state of the pasture – never tasting exactly the same from one week to  another. Some times the cheese would taste just like sour milk, at others it was mild and salty.  I liked it best as it ripened and the equator of the wheel bulged and spread. The cheeses were “nude” not muslin-wrapped  or waxed and the rind was barely formed.

It was a proper shop and customers were able to sample the cheese before buying. If I sliced off too much then there was a nibble for me too. Many visitors asked about the Cotherstone and most of them bought some after sampling.

As I recall, the cheese was discovered by a foodie writer from one of the big newspapers. I remember it as being The Times but age and a faulty memory may be misleading me there. The cheese took off after an enthusiastic review.

So, when Gill and I were sourcing some Wensleydale cheese and I spotted Cotherstone at the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Co, I simply had to buy some. I shall be having it for tea tonight and am hoping it lives up to my memories.

Cotherstone cheese is also supplied by Neal’s Yard. Now, there is a validation!


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