Barber’s 1833: An English Cheddar to Treasure
On: July 28, 2015
As a Cheesemonger, the moments when you discover a great cheese are unforgettable. That’s how I felt when I first tasted Barber’s 1833, an English Cheddar so magnificent that I had to venture to Somerset, England, the home of this fine cheese, when I visited my son last year.
My curiosity of this cheese was first ignited nearly five years ago when wonderful DLM customers, Katherine and Paul Cooper, presented me with four of the greatest British Cheddars and one other I’d never heard of that they’d found in the Somerset region, home of the historically first Cheddar cheese. It was fate when Jeff Babcock of European Imports was telling me about a new British Cheddar they had picked up and he uttered the name “Barber’s.” I was ecstatic. So it arrived to DLM in 2010, and was a hit, becoming a top-seller in The DLM Cheese Shop. That’s how my love affair with this magnificent Cheddar began.
It was late October as I cautiously drove (on the left side of the road, yikes!) through the Somerset countryside and arrived at the Barber’s property, where they have 2,000 cows grazing on 3,000 acres. Having their own cows allows Barber’s to be called a “farmhouse” Cheddar and therefore included in the West Country Cheddar PDO.
I was greeted by Giles and Charlie Barber, the sixth generation cousins who co-manage the facility that’s been in operation since 1833. As we sat sipping coffee, I said to them, “You’re being much too modest! The label on your cheese should say ‘oldest Cheddar in the world’ and not just England.” They tried to think of a maker older and, of course, couldn’t. I dare anyone to!
In large tanks, milk is pumped in, slowly mixed, and then the curd is cut out at the proper time and is pumped to a long machine with a rolling bed filter which allows the whey to drain off. At the end, the curds fall out and the “cheddaring process” begins. Curds are stacked in large blocks and flipped repeatedly, a process of extracting the last bit of whey/liquid.
The stacks are then milled, chopped up, formed into
40-lb blocks, and immediately inserted into poly sleeves/bags and vacuum packed. These are packed into the wooden boxes we’ve come to know and love. The boxes are moved to a special chiller room so they firm up quickly and the bacterial culture (the critical flavoring element of any cheese) are “slowed down” to ensure great quality of flavor over the long aging process. Within a few days, the boxes are moved to a warmer room where they’re safely stacked and aged, a period from 20 to 24 months.
Another major highlight was my visit with the microbiologist who runs the Culture Production operation. He explained how Nicholas Barber, Charlie’s Dad, had learned from the head microbiologist of the company then producing the bacterial culture for Barber’s that the company was about to be sold and the buyers would then be “freeze drying” the culture they supplied them. The meaning of this? Legacy flavors developed over a century would be lost! In a brilliant and historic move, Nicholas hired the microbiologist, built a laboratory, and began producing in-house their authentic and unmodified culture. I was stunned. Not only were the Barbers producing one of the great Cheddars of the world, but they had preserved flavors that would have been lost forever—and they now supply bacterial culture to some of Somerset’s (and therefore the world’s) greatest Cheddar makers.
The Barber’s staff was delighted to see pictures of their cheese at DLM. The realization of how important we as cheesemongers and retailers are to the producers of great food was very powerful to me. After meeting the folks who lovingly produce a cheese that I adore, it makes it taste even better. Knowing what it takes to make such a product and to offer it to you is at the heart of what makes the relationship between people and their food so special.