To me, the language of cheese is like poetry. Beautiful, stirring poetry, constructed from an anthology of intensely evocative words that curl around the tongue and summon powerful gastronomic desires, desires that beg to be satisfied immediately.
Yes, I may harbour a rather far-fetched love and adulation of cheese, but I’m definitely not alone. Cheese captures the culinary imaginations of millions, who, like me, are enamoured by the seemingly endless varieties it can conjure.
A deep love of cheese is not an unusual characteristic to possess, but Leeds has taken its collective obsession one step further. Since 2011, a group of cheese-crazed folk have gathered at the top of the Adelphi pub each month for a sacred cheese gathering, flooding my twitter timeline with lust-inducing pictures in the process. The concept is simple: a bounty of REALLY GOOD cheese, a different theme each month and a bit of cheese education thrown in too. Why wasn’t I there!?! Where do I sign up!?
I joined Homage2Fromage in June, unable to resist its allure any longer. Best. Decision. Ever. It felt like coming home, if home is the magical, cheese-wonderland of your dreams. Cheese stations decorated the upstairs function room of the Adelphi, piled high with tantalising varieties belonging to the theme ‘Best of British’. Labelled only by number, the cheese was shrouded in a mystical allure and restraint was a maddening challenge. When ‘cheese’ was eventually called, I was left behind as people actually ran. Yes, RAN. Bizarre brilliance, just one bite of the cheese was enough for it to make sense. This was the real deal, cheese that rendered all previous cheese experiences inferior. Especially the cheese provided by Andy Swinscoe.
Andy was the special guest of Homage2Fromage that June night, owing to his status as an acclaimed cheesemonger and proprietor of The Courtyard Dairy, a specialist cheese purveyor and refiner in Settle. Andy talked fervently and fluently about all-things unpasteurised cheese, regaling us with the plethora of cheese-based trivia he’d accumulated throughout his career. His passion and knowledge for cheese was completely inspiring, and I, like the rest of the room, quickly fell under the cheesy spell he cast. As well as chatting cheese with us, he brought with him a spectacular cheddar from Wales’ Hafod Estate – tangy, buttery and smooth with an intensity I’d not experienced in a cheddar before. I was in love.
This was two months ago, and although I’m now a fully-fledged Homage2Fromage member with three visits under my belt, the memories of the cheese we tasted that first night have lingered. I’ve been itching to visit The Courtyard Dairy, so when we were passing through on the way back from a wedding in the Lake District, well, you know the rest…
Forgetting the cheese for just a second, The Courtyard Dairy gets a great big tick for the location it inhabits. A Yorkshire stone labyrinth lying just off the A65, it’s surrounded by cascading green countryside for miles either side, countryside punctuated by ribbons of drystone walls that adorn the build-up to one of Yorkshire’s three peaks. A stunning drive, the road itself felt like a destination, but we weren’t here for the scenery. We were here for the cheese.
If you’ve not been to The Courtyard Dairy before, go. Immediately. I’d thought that the building was just home to Andy’s cheese shop, but in fact The Courtyard Dairy is housed within ‘The Courtyard’, which roughly translates into a cornucopia of JOY. Probably. A sunny, gravelled outdoor courtyard is overlooked by a select group of enticing emporiums which include a dainty little café, a brasserie, a biodynamic wine shop, an interiors’ vendor and even a Yorkshire tweed shop! Who knew?!
Enticed by a blackboard etched with a small selection of cheese-based lunchtime dishes, we made a pit-stop at the outdoor café before heading into Andy’s den of cheese. My eyes lit up as we spotted our waitress scurrying over to The Courtyard Dairy to arm herself with cheese, and the humble salad I’d ordered was transformed. A simple arrangement of marinated roasted vegetables – red peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and pickled onions – played a supporting role for the stars of the plate – two hearty chunks of Dorstone goats cheese. The ashen, soft rind swathed a dense, creamy hunk of cheese, imbued with a sharp, gratifying tang. DIVINE.
The perfect appetiser for our visit to The Courtyard Dairy, we finally walked through the doorway and I felt immobilised by awe. Cheese towered across a hefty counter, a spectrum of yellows, whites, greens and browns that emitted such an intoxicating aroma that I wanted to dive in immediately.
Before I could make a fool of myself, Andy said hello and instantly began offering us tastings and facts relating to the cheese on offer. This was my kind of shop. Definitely not a ‘for show’ cheese emporium, Andy and his partner Kathy have built a collection of the finest unpasteurised cheeses from unique, artisan producers who share one unifying factor – quality. As well as sourcing the cheeses, Andy and Kathy refine and age them, creating a spectacular range of cheeses that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
Although I love cheese, I’m no cheese expert and the task to choose just a few was a tad overwhelming. Guided by Andy, I chose the two Hafod cheddar varieties that we were introduced to at Homage2Fromage, the Dorstone goats cheese that had featured in my lunch, and a delectable Tunworth camembert. Cheese board for tea it was!
Homage2Fromage and The Courtyard Dairy work together wonderfully to feed Yorkshire’s collective cheese obsession, providing yet another glowing example of winning collaboration in our fair country. The Courtyard Dairy continues to supply cheese to Homage2Fromage, which in turn continues to promote its wares to cheese-obsessed punters like me. As a result, the cheese producers sold by The Courtyard Dairy, like Hafod and Dorstone, get their name rightly in the minds of cheese-aficionados, so everyone’s happy! It’s what I love most about the Leeds, and Yorkshire, food scene, and long may partnerships like this continue.
You’ll find The Courtyard Dairy on the A65 near Settle, visit the website to find out more. And if you haven’t yet signed up for Homage2Fromage then what are you waiting for? All info on their website: http://www.clubhomage2fromage.co.uk