On Location: Ticklemore at Sharpham Dairy in Devon

Sharpham Dairy Owner Mark Sharman with a wheel of
Ticklemore, made just that morning.

If you’ve had the opportunity in the United States to taste Ticklemore, a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese made at Sharpham Dairy in Devon, England, you are likely familiar with a creamy, white rinded cheese shaped liked a flying saucer that is often oozy around the rind and packs a flavor punch.

Turns out, that cheese doesn’t exist in England. In its home country, Ticklemore seems much younger, is a firm and crumbly cheese, with gentle, floral notes.

“I’ve eaten it in the United States, and I’ve got to say, I’ve tried to re-enact getting it to the point where you all eat it over there, and I can’t do it,” Sharpham Dairy owner Mark Sharman told us during a visit this week. “There’s got to be something about the environment and time it takes to get to you that turns it into a different cheese. I’ve brought some back here for my staff to taste, and we all agree it’s fantastic. In fact, you might be getting the better end of Ticklemore.”

Available in the U.S. through Neal’s Yard Dairy, Ticklemore has been made by Debbie Mumford at Sharpham Dairy for the past 11 years. Before that, it was made by Robin Congdon at Tickelemore Dairy, not far from Sharpham. When Robin ran out of room to make both Ticklemore and the three blue cheeses he was also making, Debbie completely took over the production of Ticklemore, and now it’s called Sharpham Ticklemore. The Sharmans still buy goat’s milk from the same farm Robin used to, with the goats grazing on the edges of Dartmoor, an area of moorland in south Devon, England.

Baby Ticklemore cheese in the Ticklemore nursery at Sharpham Dairy.

While Ticklemore may perhaps be the best known cheese from Sharpham Dairy in the United States, you may also have tasted Sharpham Rustic, a semi-hard raw milk cheese made from a herd of 60 Jersey cows owned by the Sharmans that graze on pastures overlooking the River Dart. It has a funky rind that is often multi-colored with many a rainbow of yeast molds, but Mark says they “get away with it” because the cheese is called “rustic.” Sharpham Dairy also makes a variety of other cheeses, including Sharpham Square, which will be served on the cheese board this year at Wimbledon. They also just unveiled a new cheese, Cremet, a soft goat’s milk cheese with added cow’s cream. Yummy.

Mark was kind enough to serve us a variety of his cheeses, paired with Sharpham Wines. Oh, did I mention, he also owns and operates his very own English winery, making a variety of white, red and sparkling wines? Who knew the English made wine? In case you don’t believe me, here’s a map of all the English vineyards that hangs in the Sharpham Vineyard tasting room.

Hey, thanks global warming for allowing grape vines to grow in England!

I particularly enjoyed the Sharpham Summer Red, which goes really nicely with some of the washed rind cheeses they’re making. Not readily available in the United States, they have a very nice e-commerce store on their website.

Thanks so much to Mark and the crew for giving us a personal tour of his dairy and vineyard. It’s a treat visiting such genuinely nice people who make stellar cheese and wine. Carry on!

On Location: Duckett’s Aged Caerphilly at Westcombe Dairy

Westcombe Cheesemaker Tom Calver stands in the
doorway to the family’s underground Caerphilly aging
cellar in Somerset County, England.

Perhaps without even realizing it, a maverick, next generation cheesemaker at Westcombe Dairy is rapidly changing the face of Old World cheesemaking in Somerset, England, bringing a fresh perspective and energy to the region’s traditional cheeses.

While cheesemaker Tom Calver may be best known for making Westcombe Traditional Farmhouse Cheddar – one of only three unpasteruized farmhouse cheddars left in England – today, he also crafts the amazing Duckett’s Aged Caerphilly. The cheese is named for the late cheesemaker Chris Duckett, who taught Calver how to make the cheese before passing away in 2009. Just a year before, Calver, a trained chef, had fulfilled the role of prodigal son and returned to his family’s dairy after an apprenticeship at Neal’s Yard Dairy. He’s since become the dairy’s well-known lead cheesemaker, changing up the family’s signature cheeses and creating new traditions.

While Duckett’s Aged Caerphilly was always good, Tom’s taken what is historically a Welsh cheese to a new level by converting one of the historic family home’s cellars into a dedicated Caerphilly aging room and diverting a spring through it to create the perfect temperature and humidity for the cheese’s maturation.

Contrary to much of the horrible plastic Caerphilly cheese that we get in the United States, this real deal Caerphilly is rich with a clean lactic tang and flavors of fresh mushroom and citrus. Tasting it here in England has made me finally understand what all the fuss is about with this English cheese. The folks at Neal’s Yard Dairy know this, too: “It’s a tricky cheese to get right, but when everything comes together in concert, the result is magnificent, and this cheese stands among the finest in the world.”

Duckett’s Caerphilly, perfected by Tom Calver.

Of course when you point out this high praise to Tom, he generally looks fairly sheepish, shrugs his shoulders and contests he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. He’d rather spend time thinking up new ways to make old recipes better than take credit for what he’s already done right.

Case in point: while few would argue it’s hard to improve upon the family’s traditional Westcombe Cheddar, a bandaged 50-pound drum of pure beauty, Calver is executing steps to take the cheese to the next level. He’s using less starter culture and slowing down the make time, letting the milk and curd speak to him, rather than following a strict timing schedule that traditional Cheddar makers have adhered to for years.

During our visit today, he also unveiled a complicated scheme to change the way the curd for Westcombe Traditional Farmhouse Cheddar is cheddared, which involves a series of wooden plates and cheese cloths somehow pressed down on the slabs of curd. After attempting to demonstrate this new technique, he was basically greeted with a general look of WTF? from his American visitors. Of course, Calver was not phased by our skepticism even a tiny bit.

“My number one goal is to create a better texture, which will lead to a better flavor,” he said. “My perfect texture is one that is al dente and a bit bitey. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get the cheese just right.”

The current aging cellars for Westcombe Traditional
Farmhouse Cheddar.

Getting cheese just right is something Westcombe Dairy has been succeeding with for years. The company was launched in 1890 by Edith Cannon, whose traditional Cheddar was legendary in the region. In the early 1900s, records show a “Mr. and Mrs. Brickell” took over the farm and dairy, continuing to make cheddar. The second generation of Brickells grew the business in the 20th Century to include several neighboring farms and ramped up production.

Even the World Wars could not stop Westcombe Cheddar. The cheese not only survived the wars, it flourished in the decades of austerity that followed. During the 1960s, Richard Calver, Tom’s father, joined the business as a partner, and to compete in the rapidly expanding industrial age, transitioned the company into making block cheddar and modernized the cheese factory. It wasn’t until the artisan cheese renaissance of the late 1990s that the family reverted back to traditional bandaged big wheels. Today, Tom Calver continues the family quest to make superb, unpasteurized, bandaged cheddar wheels rivaled only by his counterparts, Jamie Montgomery and Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar. I would say he is succeeding.

And in further news, father and son Calver are contemplating expanding the dairy by building a 100-foot tunnel into the hill behind their cheesrie that will house an American “Jasper Hill-esque” type of aging facility. The expansion would allow the family to produce more cheese and expand further into the American export market.

“The excitement of the Americans towards cheese is infectious,” Tom told us today. “You’re looking for more flavor and more aged cheese, and we want to send more of that type of cheese your way.” 

Bring it on, Tom!