Hooked on Cheese: White Lake’s Somerset Stunners
I first got to know British cheesemaker Pete Humphries of White Lake Cheese during the 2014 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. We were initially introduced to each other in passing one morning, then I happened to run into Pete as I was stepping out of the Moscone Center to grab lunch. I asked if he wanted to join; he said he was more interested in going for a quick pint before returning to the throng of 20,000 food professionals at the Show. His plan was clearly far better than mine, so we dashed down to the nearest pub.
As we settled in to wait for our barley pops to be poured, we chatted about his cheeses – well, about the one I was familiar with at the time: the Rachel, a semi-firm, washed-rind goat’s milk wheel. It has a pure white interior with a slightly molted rind, and a smooth, clean flavor. I was very fond of Rachel (always fun to say) even then, and the idea of pairing it with a cold beer, such as the Blue Moon Belgium White Ale I was drinking, got my mouth watering. Pete told me they make 28 different cheeses at White Lake, a remarkable amount of variety for any cheese plant, let alone a modest-sized artisanal producer. That’s when I knew Pete wasn’t someone to mess with. There are some hardworking cheesemakers in Somerset, England.
* * *
After consuming a fair amount of Rachel (nope, it never gets old) over the next 12 months, I finally saw Pete again at the next Winter Food Show. He informed me that he working on a whole new line of cheeses to bring into the US and, naturally, I couldn’t wait to see what he had in mind.
Lo and behold, at last month’s Summer Fancy Food Show here in NYC, I finally got to taste them. They are all small-format young goat’s milk cheeses, each more distinctive than the last. The first one I tried was the Driftwood: an 8-oz ash-covered log. It has a mild taste with a hint of lemon. This is the goat cheese for people who say, “I just don’t like goat cheese.” (Sidebar: I’m always suspicious of goat-cheese haters; the cheeses are so pleasant and easy to like! Whatever.) The Driftwood is brilliant when paired with a crisp white wine, such as the Pike Road 2015 Pinot Gris, which has light citrus notes and hint of tartness.
My favorite cheese of those I sampled was the Eve, a 4-oz beauty partially wrapped in a vine leaf soaked in Somerset Cider Brandy. The leaf doesn’t fully cover the cheese (as is the case with, say, the French Banon) because Pete wanted the flavor of the cheese’s white bloom to balance out the brandy and leafy notes. This cheese is complex and well composed, with distinctive, earthy flavors. It made me crave a Shandy: a classic European drink of half blond lager and half carbonated lemonade. The freshness of the beer cocktail would be perfect to complement the rich creaminess of the cheese.
* * *
While Pete Humphries’ cheeses are still hard to find in the US, they’re well worth the hunt. Keep your eyes peeled for them in the coming months and remember that we have those hardworking Somerset cheesemakers to thank for all their excellence.