A celebration of Devon orchards and the humble apple

Category: General

Cider and Cheese – Part 2

The Pairings.

A wise man once said – “Cider is Apples pathway to Eternity”.

Ok, it was me. And the phrase stolen from Wills dad, who said the exact same thing, except swap in Cheese and Milk. He also said that what grows together goes together, and here in Devon, we are blessed to be both pasture and orchard rich.

As a cider maker, and cheese fan, I can see the similarities between the two. They are almost two different sides of the same coin. With cider you want to separate the liquid from the solid, keeping the juice, but with cheese it’s the opposite. You want to remove the whey (the liquid) and keep the curds.

Cheeses vary widely in flavour depending on the treatment of the milk, the cultures in the cheese, the length and storage conditions. The makers playing pivotal roles and allowing flavours to flourish.  And it’s the same with cider. In the hands of true artisans, the choice of apple varieties, how they are fermented, how they are stored will produce a range of different flavour profiles. We are not talking industrialised made from concentrate, pack it up and get it out stuff (which exists in the cheese world too).

And, of course,  the environment – for animals the diet is critical. Blind tastes consistently pick out natural grass fed cows cheese compared to silage. Even north side grazing compared to south. Their product is intrinsically tied to their place. The narrative embedded from ground to finished product. And with cider, imagine a traditional Devon orchard, unsprayed, widely spaced to allow air to circulate. The rain providing hydration, the sun its warmth. During the summer maybe the same animals are freely roaming among the trees.  

Cider and cheese both have history. Thousands of years across many continents. And in the last few decades both crafts have suffered to the power of industralisation. But things that are valued are not lost, and recently there has been an upsurge in conscious appreciation, of less but higher quality, of interesting and unusual and full of flavour. Tastes maybe subtle or sculptural, and maybe even challenging – I haven’t given up on washed rinds quite yet!

Real artisan cider and cheese’s time is now. Its strange to thing this combination is simultaneously thousands of years old and yet bang on the zeitgeist.

And of course, and I initially based this on myself and Wills family, Cider and Cheese people are really nice! But the more cheese producers and mongers I meet, and the more ciderists I talk to, the more I know this to be true. These people work with the land, they are connected to nature, they are humble, and they love what they do. Sometimes they argue but all that shows me is that they care. They are producers with love and passion, that truly care about what they are offering.

So lets pick out some of my favourite cider and cheese combinations. Forget wine and cheese, where the flavours can clash. A great cheese and cider pairing for me will elevate both elements. Sometimes the cider releases a component in the cheese – like a nuttiness becomes much more obvious, and sometimes is it the cheese that enhances the cider – a fruitiness is exposed for example. And sometimes, they can both offset and enhance. Maybe an acidity is just dialed down, or a bitter note is softened.

NB. I am a cider maker and have included some of our own creations, but also included some other Devon ciders that I really enjoy.

1, Lets Get the Party Started

Bubbles. Nothing says Welcome to the party like a bottle of sparkling. Not just because the sound of the cork, and the compulsory “WOO” that results, or even because it’s a bottle to share, but mostly because of the energy that it brings. The effervescence, those fiery fleeting and fugacious mouth tingling bubbles, the life and lift and slight light headedness. And as you clink glasses, and sit down to share stories, its customary to provide some nibbles. Olives are ok, crackers go well, but the perfect pairing is some cheese.

SHARPHAM’s Rustic – On its own this is a flavour journey. Creamy up front, with a punchy lactic twang. And then comes the earthy savoury salinity that gives me rock pools at the seaside and coastal walks vibes. Pair this is RULL ORCHARDS Starlight. Supreme Champion Reserve at the 2023 Bath and West Cider Awards. The initial creaminess of the cheese is balanced and cleansed with the fruity flavour and the fizz, and there is just a smidge of Brut sweetness to offset the cheese twang. The soft dryness and 8% alcohol works with the long finish of the cheese.

NORSWORTHY Goats – I love this soft giving textural feel, with its clean and milky flavour. Theres a gentle sweetness backed up with nutty notes and a taste sensation of frangipane. This is not a funky barnyard cheese, but rather dried grass and herbs giving the illusion of walking through a hay meadow on a warm summers day. Pair this with BOLLHAYES Perry. Real authentic perry shouldn’t be confused with pear cider, the latter being cider just with pear flavouring. This perry harvested in 2016 and bottled the following year, starts with a beautiful champagne-esque bubble, with a honeyed pear and almond cake vibe. But its layered with an outdoors, summer grass and herbs note, like having a picnic with a view of the rolling Devon countryside, that matches the goats cheese perfectly. For a Brut Nature (bone dry) this is a very soft and gentle perry, the lower sweetness complementing the less fat found in the goats cheese, with a citrus note that just helps to cut through.

2. The Late Weekend Lunch.

Small indulgences when they are properly savoured are part of fully enjoying life. And on the weekend I match simplicity with the full gourmandise. Two pieces of lightly toasted rye bread with some thick cuts of SHARPHAMS Brie. Pop in the microwave for 12 seconds and watch longingly as the plate completes its revolution and a half. You will see the cheese just start to bubble, and then as you cut it long thin strands cling to the knife and then to your fingers. It should just have started to melt and fill out any gaps on the toast.

This particular Brie won Platinum at the 2023 Food Drink Awards and its easy to see why. There is classic soft cheese creaminess, and an appealing mushroom flavour. Not as simple as a bag of white button mushrooms, its much more subtle and intriguing than that. Like an autumnal walk in the woods. Its dry and the crepuscular rays of dabbled sunshine feel warm. Yet you still reached for the big coat. Theres a carpet of orange and auburn, and you cant help kick some leaves up. Just off the path is the unmistakable scent of the season, with logs, moss and the certainty that out of sight they are hundreds of mushrooms.

We open and share a bottle of RIDGE + FURROW, Naturally sweet Medium. A cider made using the tricky technique of arrested fermentation, slowly reducing the speed of the yeasts conversion of sugar to alcohol. When done well you are left with a naturally sweet full juice cider, with relatively low alcohol. No water or sugar is added, so its full of flavour. And this particular bottle is a delight at just 5% ABV. Full of apple, with a hint of spice and a melt in the mouth pastry vibe, like opening a box of Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good pies. Theres a full bubble and a velvety soft feel, that just offsets the texture of the cheese and rye toast. The freshness and fruitiness of the apple found in this drink, pairs delightfully with the slighty earthy and more complex cheese.

3. Its been that Kinda Day.

I always keep a few SANDFORD ORCHARDS The General in the cupboard. That situation when you get in after a hard day and need a drink. Its not a session, or a situation where you want to open a bottle to share, but you feel like you deserve a drink. If its just the one, it needs to be a good one. The General is 8.4% alcohol, and you can feel its spiritous nature as it warms, but without any of the fiery alcoholic burn you get from spirits.  Theres a lot going on, baked apple and spice, burnt orange, soft oak you get from a used barrel. Theres a deep stone fruit flavour, with a rum and raisin richness. Sweetness, with just enough acidity for lift, and a soft grip on your cheeks. At the 2023 International Cider Challenge this scooped best tannin led cider. This is a sipper, so it needs a corresponding nibbler.            

I cut myself a big chunk of Devon Oke. This a hard cheese, made at Stockbeare Farm on the edge of Dartmoor. I love its firm texture that allows me to nibble, without making too much of a mess, and when paired with the General it needs to have a punchy full flavour of its own. One of the key rules with cider and cheese pairings is to try and match intensities. There is a deep nuttiness, dried rather than fresh, and somewhere between cashew and hazelnut. It doesn’t melt in your mouth, rather you have to savour each chew, and if you close your eyes it creates a gustatory hallucination of being out on the moor, at dusk with the wind gusting across the granite hilltops and heather.

4. The Nice meal.

Life can be busy, so we try and make moments to cook something nice. Not many things cannot be improved with cheese and cider. I make sure I use great cheese, and I always buy a bigger chunk  than I think I need. In a proper cheese shop when the monger offers up the knife say “just a bit more”. Scrambled eggs sprinkled with small cubes of cheddar just as you turn the heat off. A soft cheese tossed with tomato, basil and pasta becomes the most incredible yet simple weeknight meal. An autumnal pear and ewes cheese salad. A brilliant blue added to a peppery marrow and potato soup not just taking it up a level but a route straight to the top tier. The salt of the cheese balancing the peppery note, the cheese proving a deep rich creaminess.

Pair these meals with great ciders. For something big and hearty look at GREEN MAN – Major and Ellis Bitter. Both classic Devon apple varieties, ripening nice and early so can be picked in the sunshine. But needing time to soften. This is the 2019 vintage.

Ellis Bitter is chameleous, taking on the attributes of the apple varieties it is fermented with, or the barrel it is aged in. So it is the Major apple that is really showcased here. Plenty of fruit – late autumnal almost over ripe apple, pumpkin, spice. Theres a petichor note – rain on dry surfaces, but if I let my imagination take me I feel like its called Major as there is an almost battlefield esque note. Wet tyres, just the faintest smidge of piston grease and dirt, a waft of the night after a bonfire. Like the sort of scent Sly Stallone would wear. Its complex and intriguing. Theres a slight bitterness but it feels balanced with the mouth filling fizz. It needs the nice meal, but as we have discovered the meal can be better for the cider too. The dryness of the cider showcasing any sweetness.

For something fresher and lighter then try SANDFORD ORCHARDS – Katya. It’s been made using the Martinotti method, so secondary fermented in the tank and then transferred to bottle. There is a nice crisp bubble, which highlights a fresh late summer aroma. Apple, but also berry, possibly strawberry but there’s a slight sour freshness that takes me to raspberry. Theres a salinity in there, with the pink tones taking me to a sunset on a tropical island beach. In the mouth, theres a nice sweetness, with an underlying acidity to give it backbone, and a the slightest hint of tannin to make the tongue do a salsa roll. This would be mega with any earthy cheese/food combination you can come up, or even something with a little spice.

5. The Cheeseboard

Everybody loves cheeseboards. The connection, the moments of togetherness, and taking time to enjoy are all brought together with a few really good cheeses and a serving platter. We sit and we nibble, and we chat, and we allow ourselves to consciously appreciate. They are very simple to put together, so it’s a shame we don’t bring out the cheeseboard more often. To paraphrase  – Families or Friends that Enjoy a Cheeseboard with Cider Together, Stay Together.

For a normal evening with friends, we clear the plates away and choose 3 Really Good cheeses. This provides enough variation, and nice aesthetic on the plate. At Christmas I have been as high as 9, and need to pull out the big board. Add in the crackers and the chutneys, a bit of fruit, some sweet peppers, gherkins or cornichons, maybe some nuts and it starts to take over the table. It ebbs and flows over the two week festive period, sometimes even featuring a hunk of Christmas cake.

Whatever the scale I suggest always including a really good cheddar and for this choose QUICKES Vintage Clothbound. There are some lovely rich and creamy cheddars around, but for full on depth of flavour this is hard to beat.  Quickes cheddars are traditional clothbound, with a flavour that transcends any normal cheddar. Its creamy with a melt in the mouth texture, with savoury notes like lifting the lid on a complex slow cook. It finishes with a piquant eqsue note that triggers the synapses and makes the mouth water.

Add a Blue. If Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola are considered the 3 Kings of the Cheese World, then this is the shooting star leading the way.  TICKLEMORE DAIRY and the Devon Blue. This recently won Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards. To say its incredible may be an understatement – it’s the 8th best cheese in the whole world.  Crumbling and so soft it melts in the mouth, you cant help but close your eyes in enjoyment. Theres a salinity and it takes me to a new place. It feels like I am standing in glistening caves, but its definitely not the Wookey Hole experience of my childhood. We are not speleologists crawling along damp potholes. As I close my eyes I feel the scale of the cave. Its tall, three of more double decker buses and deep. Theres a feeling of grandeur. More Dark Knight Rises, than dark and dingy. There is a stunning waterfall in one corner, and a humidity, but the clean freshness take me by surprise as cool air passes through. I love this cheese. Its hard to describe, its complex, but its super rewarding. You lick your finger and ensure every morsel is captured.

If you can I suggest adding a washed rind to the cheeseboard. I have travelled across the border into Somerset with Merry Wfye from the Bath Soft Cheese Co. This cheese is washed in cider every other day for four weeks, feeding the natural microbiome found on the rind. Classic orange hue, with an aroma that’s like a walk through the farm. Theres a giving pliant texture, and taste of a roast dinner, slighty meaty with a side of green autumnal veggies. Its certainly a cheese to consider and discuss.

And for the cider pairing there is only one. Its hard to match the intensity, the complexity, the character across the cheeses. RULL ORCHARDS Pomological. It just Works. The cheeses are made better by the drink, and the drink is made better by the cheeses. I am happy to admit that when I first tried it, it tried to pull my teeth out of my gums, with its tannic structure, but two years in a ex Rum barrel has, in the mother of all humblebrags, transformed it into something rich and decadent. Big spirituous rum and raisin on the nose, and time has softened the tannins into just the most velvety smooth flavour. Theres enough sweetness to balance the salt of any of cheeses, and a dark rich stone fruit vibe that’s reminiscent of Port. But its better, and made and grown here in Devon.


The timeless tropes of friendship, team-mates, wingmen have endured for a reason. What makes us human, and what brings meaning to our lives, are our connections to each other. Friends or partners lift you up, they give you confidence and make you better. It’s a relationship that complements each other. It brings out the best in each other. Its reciprocal and its symbiotic. One plus one is more than two. From our story –  McGrath and Warne, Adams and Keowne, Maverick and Goose. Cider and Cheese, of course. Mike and his best friend.

Cider and Cheese – Part 1

Now That’s What I Call Nostalgia.


“GET DOWN. I think he’s seen us”

I dropped to the floor. Forcing my body down into the woodchip. One ear up listening for the clunky unlatching of the aluminium sliding doors. The hounds would be next. Tearing their way across the lawn, jaws gnashing and frothing.

Thankfully it stayed quiet. My heart paradoxically pumping too fast for me to move.

After a moment or two I lifted my head slightly and peered towards the house. No sign of any movement – I could just make out the dogs sleeping soundly on the living room floor. Two old Labradors, curled up tight.

And then as I turned my head I could see my friend standing behind the Hydrangea smiling inanely, like a back garden Where’s Wally.

I picked myself up and we jumped over the short fence that separated the gardens. We were in the clear now but for some reason I stayed hunched over just in case. He had me rattled. I brushed bits of damp chip off my clothes, and knew mum would immediately pick up on my earthy mushroomy aroma.

“You’re a Stinky PooHead”,  I told him.


The return journey through Mr Bakemans garden always held the jeopardy.

Our Estate had been built around an old orchard. The only access into the trees was down a gravel lane past the garage block with its multicoloured doors. This led to large wire gates always chained shut.  Chain link fence surrounded the plot, with two layers of barbed wire taught at the top.

Inside the grass was both long and non existent, where the old trees and low branches cast deep shade. Large patches of stinging nettles and bramble meant it did not look welcoming. But to two young boys it was an island of adventure.

We could get into the orchard without too much issue. There was a second access – known only to two young intrepid explorers. At the back of my garden, behind the bamboo we had created a created a staging.  Some old ceramic pots balanced upon a broken wheelbarrow that I had rescued from the skip.

Not the safest of working platforms and just high enough to pull yourself up. Once perched precariously on the top of the wooden fence you could dangle a leg either side with about 10cm separating you from the barbed wire.

Then if you swung both legs you could get enough momentum to pivot like an 80’s Russian athlete on the pommel, and with both legs together complete the dismount. The barbs were sharp. My first time I wore shorts and gave myself quite a graze, a tiny trickle of blood evidence that I needed to get higher and keep the legs closer together. Better shorts than my school trousers though – tried that once and near enough ripped them in half. Mum wasn’t happy.

But to get back home you had to go through the neighbours. Previous adventurers, or maybe a badger, had created a shallow gap under the fence, and by some quirk of 1960’s builders here a footballs width gap existed between the chainlink and the timber cladding of Mr Bakemans back boundary. We know it was exactly that width as our first foray had been to rescue a ball that had got perfectly trapped. We didn’t need a ball from that point on.

We had used rocks and logs to fill this gap to about half way creating an almost perfect staircase. Will was just a little taller and would go first, arching under the bottom of the chainlink before pulling himself up almost vertically. He would lift himself just enough to carefully peer over towards the house. Recon. And then without a word he would be gone. I was a bigger lad and it was a tight fit. I was always worried I would be stuck there, for days, until I slimmed off the Christmas weight.

“Michael to Recon”


“Michael to Recon. Over!”

Mild panic provided assistance and I scrambled up and over, not knowing if the area was clear.


I loved the orchard. Not the apples, which were nothing like the Golden Delicious sometimes found in the fruit bowl. But as a place of adventure, and the time spent with my friend.

He was much cooler than me. Better at sports, more social, better clothing. I wasn’t cool at all. I remember I had a suitcase for school. Black faux leather, with brass buckles. Stuffed full with all my books. He had a cool backpack slung over one shoulder and he laughed and skipped down the corridors. I had to drag my homework from class to class with two hands.

School wasn’t really for me. These wonder years filled with being peannuted, where your tie is pulled so tight you have to cut it off, lumpy mashed potato and parker pens. So the holidays and having someone to share with was lush.

I think the only reason we first became friends was that we lived so close together. Our school had students from all over, so a friend that you could BMX to, was valued. I had a playstation which would fill any rain delay, but most importantly I had the orchard.

During the long summer holidays, hours would be spent in there. We invented games. Apples were great balls. Trying to hit each other while the other moved like a robot saying “HIT ME”. We were both cricket fans so I would bring out the big turning leg breaks or the flipper. He was taller, and lean like a right arm fast and would pitch it outside off. Between the two of us English cricket wickets fell like apples from the tree.

Sometimes we would pick up rotten ones and throw them at a trunk and watch them explode. You had to watch out for wasps though.  Or worse.

One apple tree, that we had nicknamed “Chicken Balls” dropped its apples very early (its fruits were really sweet, but then came in with a sour kick). Once I picked one up from the floor, and as it turned in my hand, I could see that it had been hollowed out. Staring back at me was the mother of all wasps. 5 times the size, black eyes, bright yellow face and it looked annoyed.  I could see its lips move, and half expected its mouth to open and an inner jaw extend out towards me.

Tyres were kicked and fires lit as the dig daddy started its engines. This was not the annoying buzz of a wasp, but the terrifying roar of a fighter jet and it was on attack mode, like having a MiG on your tail about the get lock on. I turned to run, but the long grass pulled at my legs. A bramble stem grabbed at my shoe and I fell to the ground. I covered my head and waited for fire to reign down.

Somehow, this slamming of the brakes confused my attacker, and it flew right on by. “Crikey that was scary”. I still wasn’t much of a swearer.

All the trees had names. ‘Ghost’ had elongated cylindrical shaped apples with a funny knobbly bit by the stem, like a bed sheet draped over your head on Halloween night. The colour a haunting photoluminescent whiteish yellow hue. ‘Beet’ had fruits that looked like beetroots, squashed and dark red. ‘Chicken Balls’ was renamed after this to ‘Jurgen’ in reference the supposed dive Will witnessed. Arms out, a shriek, like I had just been Martin Keowned in the penalty box.

One of our favourite activities, was just plain old tree climbing. Some of the trees had fallen over, but some were massive.  ‘Tower’ was huge. If you could get to the top, you could see over the houses, to the rolling countryside behind. You could see the park, where the silly kids played, and the new housing estate being built. You could see the village pub, and make out the corner shop. You could see the sun slowly start to set, and realise it was tea time, and by the end of the summer holidays, you could feel the drag of school coming for you.

I always found the climb down much harder.

One time I must have shaken a branch and a load of apples fell to the floor. Into a wasps nest. And within seconds a hoard of wasps was patrolling the bottom of the tree. “Oh Barnacles!” This was trouble. If they decided to come for me I was stuck. I broke off a bit of ivy as something to waft around, and started to climb back up.

I considered jumping but that was crazy. My supposed friend was no-where to be seen. Then he suddenly reappeared, running towards danger, holding what looked like Mr Bakemans garden water sprayer. And as he misted the wasps they settled, and the numbers reduced.

Eventually, I was able to climb down to safety. What a wingman.

But, in all truth my favourite activity was lunch. There was safety at lunch. Will’s backpack would come with us. And his dad owned the village Deli. There would be bread, and cheese, and some chocolatey treats. A carton of juice to share. We would carefully select an apple from the thousands that surrounded us. If you ate your apples you could be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.

And we would just talk. Best starting eleven, who the nice girls were, what we were going study at College and what we wanted to be when we grew up. We loved films, and would quote movie scripts, and sing songs. We would argue, but that inconsequential friendly back and forth. I was more grunge and he was more Britpop. I still rocked the long curtains with undercut. He was short back and sides. He was rocknroll star, I was all apologies.

And to fill every cliché, one time he pulled out a bottle of White Lightening. Just the once. It really was terrible.

I worked at the Deli twice a month.  I probably got, and definitely only kept the job, because I was Wills friend.

No shops were open back then, so Sunday was the time to clean and restock. 9am to 12. Home for Sunday lunch with a few pounds in my pocket. The shop was quite long but narrow. Counter on the left as you entered, opposite dark brown shelves floor to ceiling that stocked every deli item you could think of, and one of those bells above the door that chimed when I arrived and left.

There was uproar around the new supermarket being built close by, but for now the village had the staples. The corner shop was for magazines, and sweets/chocolates. 1/4lb of lemon sherbets were my go-to. Then the butchers, the bakers, the fishmongers, a flower shop, a photography place, and the deli. Everything you needed, but across 7 small independents. While the village worked themselves up into a stupor about progress, I couldn’t see the harm. Somewhat naively I thought both the supermarkets and the independents could do well. 

Will’s dad was a true turophile. A cheese connoisseur, a fromage fancier. He loved cheese, and was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. Often I could stop work while he told me incredible stories. Like the caves in Roquefort. 6 small businesses with just a cave each, walls glistening with moisture, the temperature that never changed, and the tiny cracks through the rock that provided just enough air flow.

Or the cows of Parmigiamo Reggiano, grazing on the lush riverside valleys in North Italy, their feed a mixture of grass and wildflowers, and the cheese soaked in sea salt and then aged for years.

He was so effusive and cognoscent that for a while I thought I would become one of these affineurs – the masters in charge of aging the cheese. Checking on the truckles, brushing them, turning them. Some of the blocks weighing up to 125kgs. Nearly 2 Mikes!

I could delay stacking the shelves with a query or two. Can you really taste the difference between grass and barn fed. Absolutely. In a blind taste 100 percent could pick out the grass fed. Whats the biggest ever cheese. A 20 Tonne Cheddar taken round the country on a Cheesemobile (only in America!). But, If I pushed my luck and asked him too many questions, or what that cheese tasted like, he smiled and told me to get back to work.

I probably should have got the sack. One time I was unwrapping a pallet, and as I used a knife to cut through the shrink wrap I noticed a pool of liquid start to form on the floor. Without realising I had samurai-ed a tiny slit into all the cartons on the outside. Unbelievably careless and egregious. I desperately looked round for something to blame, or a way out, but it was clear what had happened.

When I told him, I could see his face drain. Probably a day, or mores takings, slowly weeping onto the concrete. I waited for the anger, the swearing, the telling off, but nothing came. I was devastated I had let him down.

“Whoopsy” he managed.

When he gave me the money at the end of the shift I made sure I left it on the counter.

As it turned out that was one of the last times I worked at the deli. I was too chicken to go back the subsequent Sunday, and when I did go I felt it really hard to repair the damage I had done. A month or two later I told him that I was going to have to concentrate on my studies as the exams were looming, and as always he was lovely and supportive.

“If that’s the case then its time to try some of these cheeses you keep asking me about”.

Despite all the conversations and working around it every week we had never once sat down and tried the cheese together. He carefully curated a hefty cheese board and sat down next to me. For the first time he didn’t act as my boss or my friends father, but opened up about his own fears.

With a Nostradamus style prescience he forsaw the loss of the village shops, the crushing power of the supermarkets and the industrialisation of food. Despite their illusion, these big, rapacious, multinational companies weren’t there to support small communities, with tiny local producers brushed aside up as incidental debris after a storm. Like Bull Pullman in Independence Day he forsaw that the supermarkets did not want to peacefully co-exist. Even with this cool film vignette it was all a bit too heavy for a mid teen about to sit his GCSE’s. I do remember the message though.  What is not valued is lost.

He told me about one of his smallest producers, who made an amazing goats milk cheese. How troublesome goats could be, and that he had given them all names.

“Like Michael”, I offered in complete innocence.

I had never heard him laugh out loud before. An out of nowhere paroxysmic howl of a laugh like I had just told the worlds best joke. When he pulled himself together he explained my stupidity.

“Boy Goats aren’t very good for milking”, he explained as he started cutting.

To be honest some of the cheese looked, and smelt awful. In the orchard Will normally just brought a big chunk of cheddar and we gobbled it down without thinking. But this was a tasting.

“This is supermarket cheddar”, he explained as he cut open the plastic. These cows have a different lifestyle and diet to small farmhouse operators, the milk may travel vast distances, the making is often automated, and its made to recipe.

“This is farmhouse cheddar”. I was blown away by the differences.  Made by artisans, wrapped in cloths and aged carefully.

At 16 I still had the palette of a young boy with meals either Coco-Pops or Fish fingers, so this was my first foray into flavour. Then he cut off a small piece of washed rind. It smelt like old socks, and it wasn’t for me. Enough of that in a young lads bedroom.  Next was the moudly one, and I loved it. What was this creamy salty phenomenon!

When I was growing up my parents both worked hard, and so food was treated as fuel.  There was no spices, no seasonings, the flavour profile we searched for was ‘filling’. While Will and his family were fully immersed into flavours and textures I preferred to watch my milk turn chocolately. But this was eye opening. What had I been missing. Food was not just fuel. It could be nourishment.

“Wait until you are old enough to try this with some cider!”

And then with an unnverving and knowing smile he added “….real Cider”.


Soon after I went off to College, and so it was Christmas before I returned to the village. A few of the village shops were now empty, with glass painted white, and for let signs affixed to the fascias.  Thankfully the deli was still there, now serving coffees, but the inside as I remember.

Lots of questions from the parents at dinner. A few little white lies about how much work I was getting done. Before dad dropped the bombshell – Planning for 8 new homes in land at the back.

“Where the garages are?” I asked.

“And that bit where the trees were. ”

“The orchard?”

“Yeah, they came in a few weeks ago and bulldozed it through. Before they even had planning. I mean its not that anyone used the space, but still”

“No bloomin way!”. The words sort of shrieked out as a half mumbled profanity. My parents both looked shocked. “OH whatever. I don’t care about it”.

Except that I did. Truly. That sick empty pit of your stomach pain.

I picked up my plate and cleared it in the kitchen, before heading straight out into the back garden. I knew it was rude just to get up and leave the dinner table. “Sorry” I mumbled. The wheelbarrow was rusty but still there, the pots on the floor in pieces, and the fence strips had started to fall apart.

It was a true Sarah Connor experience as I stared through the chainlink fence at complete devastation.

Holes where tree roots had been ripped out from the ground. The large piles of prunings that had formed huge Hugel mounds in the back corner, and were evidence that in the past somebody had cared for it, had been dragged to the centre. The frogs, the snakes, the hedgehogs that we knew lived there were certainly dead. At the centre was the charred remains of a large bonfire. I think I recognised Tower, chainsawed at knee height, but its huge trunk still standing.

My Nokia beeped. A text message.

“I ASSUME U KNOW? Will”. We hadn’t spoken for months but like the best friend he was he must have just sensed and reached out.

“FUCKING DEVASTATED”. Excuse the language.

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