Davidstow's Special Reserve Cheddar: the cheese redefining the meaning of mature

Davidstow's Special Reserve: the cheddar aged for half a decade

by Great British Chefs 14 June 2021

When it comes to ageing cheese, Cornish cheesemaker Davidstow is all about going the extra mile. They mature their cheeses for much longer than average at every age, from their twelve-month mature cheddar to their unrivalled sixty-month special reserve. We take a look at Davidstow’s cheesemaking process and the effect this extreme ageing has on the cheddar’s flavour.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

In the world of food and drink, ageing is a key process used in the production of everything from fine wines to top quality beef, to develop and improve flavour. It’s also an important step when making a number of cheeses. When you see the word ‘mature’ on the packaging of a cheese, it typically means the product has been aged for between six and nine months. Cornish cheesemaker Davidstow’s mature cheddar, however, is aged for twelve months — longer than many cheesemakers’ extra mature variety. And while it is almost unheard of to age a cheddar beyond two years, Davidstow has now started selling a five-year-aged cheddar, coined ‘Special Reserve’, which until recently was available exclusively to Michelin-starred chefs like Paul Ainsworth, Nathan Outlaw and Clare Smyth. Davidstow’s Special Reserve offers an unrivalled flavour profile and complexity that has earned it worthy attention – but what happens to a cheese when it’s left to mature for sixty months and what are the most important factors when first creating a cheese that’s going to be nurtured and matured for so long?

As with any cheese, the raw ingredients used in production are central to the final flavour, regardless of the ageing process. The team at Davidstow pride themselves on using the finest Cornish milk when making their cheese. ‘We’re blessed in Cornwall with exceptionally high quality milk,’ says Mark Pitts-Tucker, Davidstow’s head cheese grader. ‘So good in fact, that it feels like we’re almost cheating! Only the finest quality Cornish milk from our direct supply farms is used in the making of Davidstow cheddar.’

Just as important to the flavour of the cheese is the starter culture used and Davidstow has its own unique blend of cultures which further enhance the richness of flavour. Unlike some cheesemakers, this same starter culture is used for all Davidstow’s cheddars, regardless of how long they’ll be aged for. This ensures a consistency of flavour throughout the range, as Mark explains: ‘We have a single recipe for cheese, so all we’re doing as we go through the levels of ageing is gradually turning up the intensity. The characteristics that are there within the mature cheese are also there within the older vintages – but they’re massively dialled up.’

image
Mark Pitts-Tucker is Davidstow's head cheese grader, and it's his responsibility to ensure that every batch is of the very highest quality
image
The Special Reserve 60 Month cheddar was originally only available to top chefs, but is now being sold direct to the public for the first time

Davidstow’s range of cheeses starts with its Classic mature cheddar, which is aged for twelve months. After up to another year of ageing, the cheese develops into Crackler extra mature; this displays a further level of complexity and an added crunchiness from the naturally occurring calcium lactate crystals that form within the cheese. Davidstow’s Reserve cheddar is aged for around three years, boasting an even more crystalline texture than the Crackler and a lingering flavour that disappears into a wave of creaminess. It is the newly available five-year Special Reserve cheddar, however, that really sets Davidstow apart.

‘Nobody else in the UK will come close to maturing cheese for anywhere near sixty months of age,’ says Mark. ‘Typical vintages only get around eighteen months, so to take a cheese all the way to five years is simply off the scale. In other countries, you sometimes hear of people keeping cheese for years at very low temperatures where the cheese is barely surviving. We mature our cheese at 10°C to allow it to develop and flourish for the entire process. That’s a top end challenge from a cheesemaking and grading perspective.’

A longer ageing process means there’s more time for something to go wrong, causing potential issues with consistency between batches. Mark and other cheese graders like him take well-established steps to stop this from happening. They taste and analyse the cheese at regular intervals to check that the body, the texture and the flavour are progressing as they should be. This starts at around four months and continues throughout the maturation process.

image

It’s also the job of the graders to identify which cheese is the cream of the crop and will be left to age further. The majority of Davidstow’s cheese is used at mature and extra mature ages and it’s only a small proportion that is matured for forty to sixty months. ‘It’s a bit of a crystal ball exercise’, explains Mark. ‘You’re looking at the attributes of a cheese at a relatively young age and envisaging how the combination of those attributes will develop as the cheese matures further.’

It’s a lot of hard work and effort – but it’s this level of precision which results in such a uniquely complex cheese. ‘I often describe the Special Reserve as being as rough and rugged as the Cornish cliffs,’ says Mark. ‘It’s flinty, it’s robust, it’s jagged yet it still has that rich, intense and complex flavour. Something which is synonymous with all the cheeses we make at Davidstow is a very evident creaminess, which also comes through in a cheese as old as this. This means it has real balance despite having a bit of a kick.’

It’s no surprise that a cheese which takes so long to create regularly appears on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants including Core by Clare Smyth, Le Gavroche, Paul Ainsworth at No.6 and Nathan Outlaw's restaurants. However, Davidstow Special Reserve recently became available for the public to purchase from the cheesemaker’s own online shop, giving cheese fans everywhere the chance to taste a cheddar like no other in their own homes. It’s clear that Davidstow pays a huge amount of attention to every element of the cheesemaking process, from the milk used to the temperature consistency during ageing. This precision is what makes every single one of its cheddars exceptional in their own right and ensures that Davidstow continues to lead the way in British cheddar production.