Monday, 24 June 2013

Badgers and Cheese (pre-editing) - Published in the South Shropshire Journal 21/6/13

The Great British Badger Bash is underway down in the West Country. It’s too early to work out if it’s going well (“well” being an entirely objective term depending on whether you’re a badger or not) but unsurprisingly it’s already causing a hoo-hah.

I’ve read the pros and cons of this operation and perhaps it’s not really in my remit to delve too deep into this, but as a fully paid-up and dedicated cheesemonger it’s of frontline relevance to me. Like any dedicated cheeseman ought to, I deal with many of my suppliers directly. Many - arguably often some of the best - cheesemakers are dairy farmers. The impression I get is that bovine tuberculosis is a massive pain in the what-nots, and that old Mr Badger is far from an innocent bystander when it comes the spreading of this disease.

Now we all know that badgers have been being bashed by farmers since BTB began. You’ll never find anyone who’s actually done it, but everyone knows somebody who has. Let’s get real here, how many people have really hit a badger with their car? And how many badgers do you find “sleeping” (as I frequently lie to my daughter) by the side of the road? Quite. We may as well make it legal for a bit and see what happens.

So it’ll be interesting to see how this cull works out. In time the figures will speak for themselves. Until they do, I wish that people would get their heads around the fact that the countryside and its goings-on are not always pretty and fluffy. Nature does not organise itself, and because we’re at the top of the food chain and considerably more intelligent than badgers and dairy cattle, we need to get involved. Unless of course you’d rather not eat meat, vegetables and fruit, or drink milk, wear woolly jumpers and so on.

I need to sell good cheese in order to make a living, so I could do without badgers buggering things about. And good cheese, properly made by people who care, is quite the most remarkable thing. Possibly more messed around with over the years than lovely old bread that I extolled last week, by the early ‘80s artisan cheesemaking had all but died out in the UK, but now, and especially in our neighbouring counties and our own, craft (not Kraft) cheese production is thriving.

The work of the artisan chessemaker is so incredibly skilled. There’s science there, but more than anything else there’s the intrinsic instinct and ‘feel’ that comes with passion and experience. When tasting proper cheese you’ll get a sense of place – what the Frogs call terroir – of where the cows grazed, what the weather was doing, and what the milkmaid was wearing. Really, you will, and I don’t want those pesky badgers getting in the way of something as gastronomically glorious as that. 

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